Liambas Imparting Wisdom on Next Generation

Jun 10, 2022

By: Mitchell Courtney

Former Iowa Wild forward Mike Liambas has experienced a bevy of highs and lows throughout his hockey journey. He played with the Wild from 2018-20 before stepping away from the game due to medical issues. Today, he is using his life experiences to help the next crop of future professional hockey players navigate the complicated landscape he traversed previously; this time as a coach.

“I have been coaching and working in player development in Winnipeg,” Liambas said. “The program is called RINK Hockey Academy and all of our kids go to school here locally. The program goes through the rink but they all have to go to school together too.”

Although Liambas coaches RINK Hockey Academy’s U18 Prep squad, he is heavily involved with clinics and the development of all of the student athletes involved.

“We have a men’s U15 team, a men’s U16 team, and a men’s U18 team. We also have a women’s U18 team,” Liambas said. ““We have a rink out in Kelowna, British Columbia and we have seven teams there as well.”

He was complimentary of the facilities and opportunities that RINK Hockey Academy provides for the student athletes, noting similarities between their current setup and the ones he experienced as a professional hockey player. For that reason, some current professional hockey players, including the Wild’s Connor Dewar, work out and skate with the program in the summer.

“It is a huge corporation and there is an emphasis on player development,” Liambas said. “It is an unbelievable setup here and we have everything we need.”

Like many professional hockey players, life away from the game of hockey as a player has been challenging for Liambas. Adjusting to a new lifestyle and a new set of goals, especially because his exit from the game was not by choice, is something that has proven quite difficult for him.

“It has definitely been a tough couple years transitioning outside of the game, especially with the way I had to leave with my medical and health stuff,” Liambas said. “I was trying to sort out what we were doing with our lives while I was dealing with some health stuff.”

Liambas believes that he is still capable of playing at a high level, which has only made his transition harder.

“I never had a plan for this and I never imagined I would be done playing hockey when I was 32 years old,” Liambas said. “I still feel like if it weren’t for my health stuff, I would still be playing.”

In his final year as a professional hockey player, Liambas used the RINK facilities to train. As a result, he formed a relationship that would aid in his transition to the coaching ranks.

“I was training and working out at the rink while I was still a player for my last year, before all the medical stuff arose. I was in there every morning for a couple months,” Liambas said. “My trainer, Matt Asmundson, knew what was happening with my health stuff and knew I had to retire.”

Without much of a plan for his post-playing career, he was not initially sure which direction life would take him in. Unbeknownst to Liambas, Asmundson had placed his name in the mix for a coaching job that became available.

“This coaching position just fell in my lap,” Liambas said. “I got a call one day from Ryan Cyr, the president of the rink here, and he wanted me to come in and chat. He told me he got my name through Matt [Asmundson] and other players like Dylan McIlrath who work out and train in Winnipeg in the summer.”

Conversations Cyr had with others regarding Liambas prompted him to extend an offer to Liambas.

“I played against [Dylan McIlrath] for years and he told me Ryan [Cyr] reached out to him and a couple other players that I have crossed paths with,” Liambas said. “They did their homework, brought me in and offered me a position to start coaching with their U18 hockey team.”

Originally, Liambas was hesitant about accepting the offer because he was still somewhat uncertain about what he wanted to do. A conversation with an old friend in the industry opened his eyes to the opportunity.

“I was talking to Scott Nichol, the Assistant General Manager in Nashville, and he told me ‘you have already been coaching for the past five years’,” Liambas said. “I guess I did it subconsciously, but I was always focused on my teammates careers, even more than my own sometimes.”

The conversation with Nichol impelled Liambas to think about his love for the game and ways he could still be involved in the game of hockey. In the end, his passion for the game won out.

“I have loved hockey since I was a kid and if I am not able to play it anymore, then at the very least I can still be around it and teach the younger generations everything that I have learned,” Liambas said. “As a player, I was never handed anything.”

Liambas’ non-linear path has significantly affected his coaching philosophy. His primary goals are to steer young athletes in the right direction and to prevent them from experiencing the same hardships he did in his own career.

“I am thankful for everything I went through because I can now teach kids how to deal with things or prevent certain things from happening,” Liambas said. “That is the kind of stuff that jazzes me up a bit. That is the stuff that makes all of the terrible times in my life worth it, because at least I can pull something from that and affect people’s lives in a positive way.”

Now 33, Liambas mentioned that the stability of his current role is undoubtedly a positive. Professional athletes around the world often experience a grueling travel schedule, and he is appreciative of the time he has been able to spend with his wife, Tamara, and their two sons.

“We have an eight-month-old, Cooper, and an almost four-year-old, Bodhi,” Liambas said. “I like that we have a little bit of stability in our lives right now. We own a home here in Winnipeg and I am not traveling that much.”

Aside from a more stable family life, Liambas enjoys witnessing the development of his players on and off the ice. He is fond of the visible changes that his players make on a regular basis, making the impact of his influence more tangible.

“You see a really big change in players when you are working with younger kids,” Liambas said. “You can see improvements weekly and monthly. When you are working with professional athletes who are at a higher level, you see more minute changes over a longer period of time because they already have the little stuff down pat.”

Although he has thoroughly enjoyed his coaching and player development experiences to this point, Liambas is unsure what will come next. However, he is confident that he could find success in coaching should he decide to do so.

“Eventually I might pursue coaching further. If I want to do it, I know that I can,” Liambas said. “It would be cool to start off back in Iowa where I played or in Milwaukee where I spent five seasons. Any place that I played previously would be super cool.”

Liambas noted that his future is uncertain, but he is certain that he will be successful if he is passionate about what he chooses to do in the future.

“I do not really know what the future holds and I am just kind of going with the flow,” Liambas said. “I think if you follow your passions, things always work out.”

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