The Coachable Mike Mottau: A Boston College Hockey Hall of Famer

Mike accepts the Hobey Baker Award

Mike accepts the Hobey Baker Award

Anyone who questions the value of coaching to a hockey player’s career ought to talk to Mike Mottau.

The Avon, Massachusetts native is the all-time assist leader at Boston College, totaling 130 for his career. His 157 points in four seasons, most ever for an Eagle defenseman, place him 21st on BC’s all-time scoring parade. He holds the Hockey East career record for assists with 97. That makes him an “offensive defenseman,” by any measure.

Or does it? Mike was also voted the league’s best defensive defenseman in his senior season. He won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top college player. He took home the both the Walter Brown Award as New England’s best college player and first-team All-America honors for the second time.

If ever there was an all-around player who excelled at both aspects of the game, aspects which are frequently mutually exclusive, it was Mike Mottau. He followed up his college career with 14 professional seasons than included seven in the National Hockey League.

When asked how it all happened, Mike is quick to credit his coaches and mentors, from youth up through the NHL. And even before he received formal coaching, there was brother Rob, five years Mike’s senior, who’d played at Division One Illinois-Chicago.

A familiar scene from Mike's BC career

A familiar scene from Mike’s BC career

“Rob let me play pond hockey and street hockey with him and his friends when I was five or so. I had to elevate my game, even at an early age,” said Mike.

When Mike was about seven, youth coach Vin Magno introduced the concepts that started him along the road to lifelong development of his Hockey IQ, as he puts it. He learned, among many other things, how to recognize a forechecking pattern, and why moving the puck to a breaking teammate was better than trying to carry it up ice himself.

“Those ideas and concepts were foreign to me at that age, but when I got to Thayer Academy I was able to make the varsity as a freshman because my thought process about the game was so accelerated,” stated Mottau.

Thayer coaches Jack Foley and Kevin Sullivan used advanced, European-style drills, stressing puck movement and protection. They had defensemen play as forwards in practice, and vice versa, to expose their players to every nuance of the game.

”Looking back on it, it was the influence that those guys had on my hockey IQ that allowed me to eventually play in the NHL,” says Mike.

When college approached, Mike seemed destined to play at Boston University. The Terriers were riding high, and Jack Parker was interested. But before committing, Mottau decided to look around. His former Thayer teammates Dave Wainwright and Dave Hymovitz showed him the campus.

Mixing it up in the NHL

Mixing it up in the NHL

Mike had played against Marty Reasoner, who was already in board, in national junior competition. He also knew Jeff Farkas, who had committed to BC earlier. “I could see the upside at BC. And my parents let me do my own due diligence and make the decision without any outside pressure. Best decision I ever made,” he says.

Mottau became a regular right away, as part of Jerry York’s youth movement. It wasn’t easy at first. The speed of the game, and an inability to recognize what was going on around him brought growing pains.

“I was fortunate that the coaching staff would keep putting me out there after I had made mistakes. I can remember especially a couple of big turnovers in bad spots. They could have easily benched me, but they didn’t. They had the confidence I’d pull through it.”

Mike scored 38 points as a freshman when the team went 15-19-4. Sophomore season was the breakout one. He led the nation’s defensemen in scoring with 49 points. The 25-9-5 team made it all the way to the national title game and lost a heartbreaker, 3-2 in overtime to Michigan.

With all of his point production over the years, Mottau is prouder of what he did on the defensive side. On being named Hockey East’s top defender, he states,

“D is very personal. You don’t want to get beat. Defense wins more games than putting up the points. It was nice to get some points on the power play, but I carved out a niche by still playing well defensively.”

BC Coach Jerry York and Mike at the dedication of a sign honoring Mike in his home town of Avon, Massachusetts.

BC Coach Jerry York and Mike at the dedication of a sign honoring Mike in his home town of Avon, Massachusetts.

Continued perceptive coaching and heady defensive play led to Mike’s lengthy professional career. Drafted by the Rangers, he played mostly in the minors for seven years. It was some contrarian advice from minor league coach John Paddock put Mike on the path to the National Hockey League.

“Most people told me I had to get bigger and stronger, because that was the way the NHL was headed. John told me that instead I should be leaner and quicker, so that I could get to the spot sooner and use my head. I’d never been told that before, but that’s what I’m good at. The next year, I started doing better as a pro.”

A training camp injury to another defender brought Mike up to the New Jersey Devils for four exhibition games before the 2007 season. He made the most of that opportunity won a full time spot. Coach Jacques Lemaire recognized and appreciated his heady play, and rewarded Mike with more than 20 minutes a game of ice time.

“Lemaire was one of the best coaches I ever had. He ‘got it’ in a different way from many pro coaches. He valued good decision-making,” said Mottau.

Mike retired from the game at age 36, after 14 professional seasons and 321 games with six different teams. He had a wife and four young kids by that time. It was time to hang them up after the Florida Panthers offered him a two-way contract.

Mike and his wife Courtney, who met in freshman year at Thayer, have four children: son Ryan, age 10, and daughters Rowan, 8, Madelyn, 7, and Brooke, 5. Mike scouts part-time for the Chicago Black Hawks and works in wealth management with Morgan Stanley.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: