March 23, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 90  

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Be like Mike: Mustangs’ rookies sharing spotlight

By Aron Yeomanson
Gazette Staff

Matt Prince & Meghan Hart/Gazette
ARE YOU EATING EVERYBODY’S LUNCHES? STOP IT! Mustangs’ men’s hockey teammates Mike Rice (left) and Mike Stathopoulos (right) are the most physically-mismatched duo since Twins. Either that or The Gazette has Photoshop. You decide.

A shared first name isn’t the only thing Western hockey players Mike Rice and Mike Stathopoulos have in common.

Both men had very successful rookie campaigns this year, in which the pair flourished offensively while playing on the Mustangs’ dynamic top line with team captain and all-time leading scorer Justin Davis.

By season’s end, the two wingers earned positions on the Ontario University Athletics West Division All-Rookie team as well as the OUA West Division All-Star team. In addition, Stathopoulos was honoured as the league’s Rookie of the Year.

After honing their skills at the minor hockey level in Toronto, both men joined the ranks of the Ontario Hockey League. Rice was a member of the Brampton Batallion before eventually winding up with the Erie Otters. Stathopoulos earned a place on the London Knights’ roster for four straight seasons.

While playing hockey in the OHL, both men enjoyed a fair amount of success. Stathopoulos proved himself a viable offensive threat, scoring 231 points in his final 190 games with the Knights.

“I had a lot of fun ,” Stathopoulos says. “My second year was when Mark and Dale Hunter took over and the plans for the [John Labatt Centre] came in. There was a lot of excitement around the team. I got to play with a lot of great players.”

Rice did not put up the same offensive numbers as Stathopoulos, but his junior career was impressive nonetheless. He helped the Otters to a berth in the 2002 Memorial Cup tournament and managed 33 goals in his final campaign in Erie.

“We won the OHL championship, and it was a great experience,” Rice says. “Unfortunately, we had a tough week at the Memorial Cup, but the whole experience — especially winning the OHL championship — was awesome.”

Upon completing their final seasons of junior hockey, it was the pair’s competitiveness and desire to win that played a large role in their decision to attend Western.

“Western has always had a great hockey program, and I looked at the guys coming back this year and I thought we had a great chance to win,” Rice explains. “As well, Western has a great tradition academically, and I figure if you get a chance to play on a top-end hockey team and get a top-end education you have to take it.”

While both players were used to the hectic schedule involved with OHL hockey, their first seasons at Western saw them attempt to adjust to the subtle difference between the OHL and the OUA.

“The big difference is competitiveness,” Rice explains. “In the OHL it was competitive almost every night, but in the OUA there are some teams that you should beat 8-0 — it’s hard to get up for those games.”

“For me, it was more a matter of getting used to living on your own and having your own place,” Stathopoulos adds. “Getting used to going to school was a bit of an adjustment as well.”

In their time at Western, Rice and Stathopoulos have shown their ability to make such adjustments. Both have had impressive rookie seasons and attribute their offensive output to their teammates.

“The guys I played with had a huge part in my success,” Stathopoulos says. “The team as a whole really did a good job in making the first-year guys feel welcome.”

Mustangs’ head coach Clarke Singer notes that it is important to acknowledge the differences between the two.

“They are both different types of players and they contribute in different ways,” he explains. “Stathopoulos is a real skill guy who is very intelligent. We count on him to run our power play and he has a huge impact on our offense. Rice, however, is more of a power forward. He’s great around the net.”

With nine players leaving the team this off-season, the 2004/05 Mustangs will no doubt look to Rice and Stathopoulos to play an increased role.

“From a leadership perspective, we’re in a situation where all of our captains are leaving, so we need Stathopoulos and Rice to step up and provide leadership,” Singer says. “At the same time, there will be an opportunity for them to step up and play more of a role on the ice as well. I think this will give them a chance to be even more effective than they’ve been for us this year.”

For Rice and Stathopoulos, next year is an opportunity to rectify the mistakes which caused an earlier than expected summer to occur this season.

“We just have to keep doing what we did in the regular season,” Stathopoulos says. “In regards to actually filling the spots, I know a lot of guys across the OHL who want to come play here.”



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