After helping take Quinnipiac University to the Frozen Four and its first national championship game in school history last year, defenseman Mike Dalhuisen signed an entry-level deal with the Sound Tigers. The Nijmegen, Holland, native talked about how he got into hockey and his thoughts heading into his first professional season.
Bridgeport Sound Tigers: You come from an untraditional hockey country. What was your upbringing in the game like and how did you first get into it?
Mike Dalhuisen: I got into it because my dad was a huge hockey fan. Funny enough, my parents actually met when they were 16 years old because of hockey. It doesn’t really get very cold in Holland, but my mom had a hockey stick and my dad asked her if he could borrow it so he could play with his friends. So they just hit it off from there. My dad’s always been a hockey fan even though Holland is really a huge soccer country. So when he had a boy he said, “He’s definitely going to become a hockey player.”
BST: So you must have played soccer too, right?
MD: Oh, yeah. Everyone did. You’re pretty much born playing soccer. You play in recess, before and after school. Even in between hockey practices I was playing as much soccer as I could. But when I moved away from Holland and started playing more hockey I had to give that up.
BST: When did you move away?
MD: I moved away from Holland with my whole family when I was 11.
BST: Hockey is kind of unique in that players move away from home when they’re pretty young. What was that adjustment like and how did you react to it?
MD: I reacted to it by just going. I played two years in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League and then three more in the USHL. I knew if I wanted to make it to the NHL one day, I was going to have to sacrifice a lot and I couldn’t really look back. Either you do what you have to do or you don’t make it at all. I just went and kept in touch with my mom and dad a lot. It was somewhat tough the first year, but I was fortunate to have great billets (host families), so that made it a lot easier for me.
BST: How do you think getting four years of college hockey experience before turning pro is going to help your game?
MD: I think it’s already helped me a ton, not just hockey-wise but also mentally. I’ve matured a lot over the past four years and I’ve learned a lot about dealing with ups and downs and time management. A lot of things that you wouldn’t really have to deal with if you were just playing hockey. In juniors, you pretty much just show up at the rink and then have all day to do whatever you want. In school, it’s a lot of keeping up with everyday tasks and classes and things like that. I think I struggled my junior year. I had a couple of off games and I was getting scratched, but that really prepared to deal me with both success and failure. So I think those past four years have helped me in more ways than I could have imagined.
BST: Speaking of ups and downs, I’m sure last year was a lot of that rolled into one.
MD: It was an amazing ride. It’s still kind of fresh in my mind so it’s a little tough to talk about, still. Everybody says you guys built the program and put the school on the map, but coming in second place is still kind of a bittersweet thing. But the ride was amazing. Being No. 1 in the country for however many weeks we were was really, really nice. And I’m happy for our school that people know where it is now and how to pronounce it.
BST: What was the timetable like from the time the season was over to the time you heard from the Islanders?
MD: It was like a minute after we lost. I got undressed and I checked my phone and I already had texts from teams. The Islanders were one of them and I ended up talking to them. It just came down to them providing me the best opportunity out of the other teams that I had talked to. I really felt a good connection when I came here. Everyone was very friendly and told me the ins and outs of things. They were very straight up with me and that’s how I like it, people telling me how it is rather than trying to beat around the bush. So I really liked that. I went out to Long Island and watched one of the games and signed right there. So that was pretty exciting.
BST: For fans that are just being introduced to you, describe your game a little bit and what they can expect from you this season.
MD: I’d say I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m not afraid to back down and I try to keep it simple and make a good first pass out of the zone. I like to think I’m one of the hardest-working players on the ice and I’ll do whatever it takes to help my team out.
BST: What are some of your goals for this season, both individually and for the team?
MD: I’m really just going to try to adjust to the pro level as best I can. I want to learn from the veterans and ask a lot of questions. Working on my footspeed is important, it’s something that people have harped on pretty much my whole career. But as a team, my goal there is to win a championship. I want to finish in first place and be there at the end of the season. I really just like to win.
BST: How has that adjustment been so far? You’ve gotten a little taste of it in camp before the season gets going I’m sure.
MD: I think it’s been going very well. Everybody’s been very helpful. They always say, “Get in my ear if you ever have any questions whatsoever.” And that’s been great. The veterans like to go out of their way to help the younger guys and nobody feels that they’re too good or anything like that. It’s really nice to see that everyone is so friendly. They know where they came from at one point, so the adjustment as been pretty smooth so far.