Aug 23, 2013, 3:05 PM EDT
There are many student-athletes that graduate from the University of Notre Dame and enter careers outside of sports after they hang up their uniform for the final time. However, you may not know that some find their way back to Notre Dame to help mold the next-generation of student-athlete in a variety of non-coaching positions. Over the next five days we will present five Notre Dame graduates who have returned to their alma mater to work in a collection of different departments.
August 19 • Kevin Deeth ’10 (Hockey)
August 20 • George West ’09 (Football)
August 21 • Sara Liebscher ’91, MBA ’93 (Basketball)
August 22 • Steve Sollmann ’04 (Baseball)
August 23 • Mike McNeill ’88 (Hockey)
When you meet Mike McNeill (’88) you would never be aware of what he had accomplished in hockey or in his professional endeavors after retiring, but here are some numbers to dictate the magnitude of his abilities on the Ice. McNeill played 12 seasons and was a part of 797 professional hockey games in his career, 63 of which came in the NHL.
Today McNeill is the programming and instruction program manager at the Compton Family Ice Arena on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. In this position, McNeill runs the scheduling and community involvement programs at the Compton. His responsibilities stretch much further than his job description allows as he and his assistant, former Notre Dame hockey player Kevin Deeth, work with area kids on the finer points of the game of hockey.
“Our Rink Run program is something that Kevin (Deeth) and I really get excited about,” McNeill said. “That is when we get to go out and teach and instruct kids on the ice. We teach all types of kids – those who are just learning how to skate to high school kids to adults. Coaching is one of our favorite parts of the job.”
Not every place on Notre Dame’s campus is welcoming to the community, either because of high foot traffic from the Notre Dame community or because it is a place of business. The Compton has worked at reversing that trend through the help of McNeill and Associate Athletic Director Tom Nevala.
“We try to promote that we want the community here. The Compton staff has a bunch of things to offer the community and we want to make sure that they know that this particular building on campus is open for them to come to. We do that in a variety of ways; public skates, curling league or drop-in hockey. We want them to have a great experience and come back again and again.”
Never played all of his home hockey games at the JACC, McNeill appreciates what the Compton facility brings to the hockey team and fans alike.
“Compton Family Ice Arena is everything we could hope for in terms of what we can do with the facility,” claimed McNeill. “Playing at Compton has to be unbelievable, I wish I had the opportunity. But in my eyes, watching a game here is amazing as well. Whether you watch the game from just behind the boards or up in the mezzanine level, there isn’t a bad spot in the barn. Personally, during a game I try to move around and watch from a variety of different places. It gives a new perspective of the game for each different angle you see the game at.”
Growing up a fan of Notre Dame because his father was a coach for former head coach Lefty Smith didn’t deter McNeill from thinking he would never work at the University. When asked if he ever thought about working at Notre Dame someday while he was in school here, McNeill stated quickly and confidently, “Never, no. After graduating from Notre Dame I was gone from South Bend 17 years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to come back, I just never thought I would. On the coaching side, it ran in my blood. My Dad coached with Lefty (Smith) here at Notre Dame. I always liked to be on the ice, but coming to South Bend was never really in the cards until the opportunity to do so arose.”
As his playing career in hockey began to simmer down, McNeill began thinking about what stood in front of him professionally.
“Towards the end of my career I was looking ahead to what I may be interested in doing when I retire,” McNeill said. “Hockey was a big part of my life for a long time, dating back to when my dad would take me to the rink when I was younger. That was a natural area for me to look into. It has ended up really well.”
Once he retired from hockey, McNeill was offered a job with USA Hockey, the governing body of the sport in the United States. He was hired for an athlete director position and quickly became involved with a variety of councils that the organization sponsors. One in particular, the youth council, piqued his interest. In the youth council he would be able to debate about the use of rules an techniques that different age groups would use. Whether the “squirt” division allowed checking or if the “mini mite” division would play on a half sheet of ice or a full one, for example. This helped McNeill understand reasoning for why certain rules are in place.
Albeit he never thought he would come back to work at Notre Dame when he was a student here, McNeill knows the reasons why he came to Notre Dame in the first place and it isn’t because of what you think.
“You don’t come to Notre Dame to be a professional hockey player,” reasoned McNeill. “You come to Notre Dame to get a good education and plan for the rest of your life.”
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