Mikey Stenberg commits to Penn State
When Mike Stenberg committed to play hockey for the Nittany Lions, it turned some heads as the Needham, Massachusetts native and Thayer Academy eighth grader seemed an obvious addition to a local school. The late 2004 is one of the most athletic players in all of NE Prep hockey. Our scouts have him as a 4.5 star with NHL upside. He was dominant at times against players three or four years older. The Boston area product was not a secret but his reasons for snubbing a few local schools are somewhat obvious and his hockey story is quite interesting.
Stenberg started out as a lacrosse phenom. His older brothers and sister both played. Will Stenberg played at the University of Albany during the height of their success. Tommy Stenberg went to Penn State but did not play because of an injury but his sister Maddie Stenberg played lacrosse for the Nittany Lions, graduating a few years ago. Mike’s story starts to take shape as he was quite familiar with the Penn State campus and the excitement for sporting events in Happy Valley:
“Football weekends are like nothing I have ever seen. It’s crazy. People love the team; students, alums, the people in the community and just fans who have adopted Penn St. as their college team. Everyone cares about sports. Football matters but hockey, basketball, women’s sports, they all get attention and support. I loved that.”
So, how did a kid with three older, star lacrosse siblings become a highly touted hockey recruit?
“My brothers played hockey through high school. I started playing and was just OK. I never felt totally comfortable. Then I played on the Jr. terriers and things changed for me when Ian Moran took over. He was the first coach who believed in me. The way he coached made me better but we also had lots of fun. I was a bit shy and not quite to the level of other kids but Coach Moran kept encouraging me. He had me do drills first and the more I practiced, the better I got. He really instilled in me a love for the game and the confidence that I could succeed at hockey. He kept telling me I could be great. After that I felt I was passing other kids and by my first year of Bantam, I knew I could play at the college level and decided that was what I wanted to do.”
We asked former NHLer Ian Moran to comment on Mike’s skills:
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that Mikey has serious potential. He is an athlete and a sponge, but the thing I love is his ultra-competitiveness. He wants to win. Win the games, the races, win everything. He’d be a sweaty mess playing “Pickle” in the parking lot. I loved it.I played youth hockey with Keith Tkachuk & he reminds me of Keith, but more athletic. Mikey’s ceiling is through the roof. Penn State is getting the type of kid that will be a captain as an underclassman.”
Mikey then went to Thayer where he made the hockey team as an eighth grader. The late 2004 took some time to get comfortable on the ice but his coach, former NHLer Tony Amonte helped him settle in:
“Coach Amonte really took the time to talk to me and the other younger players. He spent time making sure we were OK and helping us all understand that it will take time. Then I missed most of December with an injury and I watched games. I think that helped me. It helped me understand the pace of play and how important the small plays can become. When I came back, I played with Christian Hayes and Reilly Moran. Having two experienced players helped me find my role. I moved to better scoring spots and played physically to make space. They encouraged me to shoot more. I played much better hockey and felt comfortable. That was about the time Penn State came into the mix. I was always interested and they knew that. I was excited but also had some other great schools that wanted to talk.”
After the NCAA changed the rules for players committing early, Mike knew he wanted to make a decision. After speaking to some local schools and visiting Penn St. again, he knew it was where he wanted to go:
“I always wanted to go there to be honest. The other schools were terrific but playing in the Big 10 against schools like Michigan and Ohio St. is the atmosphere and competition I wanted. The coaches there are awesome and their facilities and the support they have is unreal. It was an obvious choice for me”
As it turned out Mike made his choice in the middle of lacrosse season. While many of his peers are playing hockey still, he was committed to the varsity lacrosse team at Thayer where he started until a recent injury. We asked what his lacrosse future holds:
“The Penn St. guys are all for it, the coaches said “play lacrosse, play golf, be a kid.” So, I plan to play some lacrosse tournaments with my summer team and I’ll also hopefully get a chance to go to Buffalo for the USA Hockey National Camp.”
Mike’s injury won’t be healed in time for the Mass Festival but he is certainly a deserving candidate as we have him ranked as one of the top 2004s in the country.
We asked Stenberg what he felt like he needed to work on and he replied “everything.”
We prodded a bit more and asked what he thought his strengths were. The second part of his answer is quite interesting:
“I guess my physicality is one of my strengths. I like to hit and like to go to the front of the net and in the corners. I also think my IQ is one of my strengths. Lacrosse has actually helped me make plays in hockey. It made me be a smarter hockey player. It has helped me see how seams develop up ice. It has also improved my hand/eye coordination.”
The Thayer eight grader’s goals right now:
“I want to grow as a player, get better every year. I hope I can get to Natty Camp and play against the best. I know I have so much work to do but I also know it won’t come all at once. I love Thayer hockey and lacrosse and I want to improve to help both programs win.”
Mike is a well-grounded player who has a bright future. His athletic talents are undeniable and his upside in hockey is really high. He remains humble and hard working. As the world of early commitments goes away (or underground,) Penn State and Mike Stenberg make sense on a lots of levels, no matter the age. Congratulations to Mike Stenberg and to Penn State Hockey.