Nick Michel knew the odds were against him after tearing his ACL two years ago.
Numerous people told the hockey player from Waconia, Minnesota, that he should hang up the skates and stop playing.
Michel didn’t listen, and after two years, three knee surgeries and a signing with the Janesville Jets this summer, Michel was medically cleared to play again in the North American Hockey League.
The Janesville Jets forward, now 20 years old, scored his first goal since 2017 on Nov. 22. He has five points in 11 games after missing the start of this season as part of his rehab.
The Jets are getting set to host a three-game series against Fairbanks beginning Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at the Janesville Ice Arena.
In his rookie season in 2017-18, Michel scored six goals and added 18 assists in 55 games with the Minnesota Wilderness before being injured.
Michel tore his ACL in the initial injury, but complications have required multiple surgeries, which meant starting back at the beginning more than once.
“It was more of a mental thing starting from stage one three different times,” Michel said. “All the rehab and strength and conditioning … to have to start the process three different times was draining.”
And though he sometimes questioned if he would ever play competitive hockey again, he put in the necessary work to get back.
“I’ve been doubted by so many people, and so many people asked why I wanted to play anymore, and that fueled the fire,” Michel said.
“If I gave up there would be nothing to look back on, and I didn’t want to look back on it and remember me giving up.”
Jets head coach Corey Leivermann had been tracking Michel’s recovery from a distance. Michel’s dad was Leivermann’s first hockey coach. This summer when Michel became a free agent, Leivermann knew he wanted Michel on his team.
“I knew what the kid (Michel) was all about, I’ve seen him play. I thought he would fit our culture and what we’re trying to do perfectly,” Leivermann said.
Michel was intrigued by the Jets, too. After being courted by numerous teams, it took just one conversation with the Jets coaching staff for Michel to realize he wanted to play in Janesville this season.
“Right when I got off the phone with Corey and Lennie (Childs), the other teams were out of the picture,” Michel said. “I knew I wanted to come here.”
The goal Michel scored last month was very similar to the play during which he was initially injured two years ago. When he tore his ACL, Michel took the puck to his strong side before running into two players at the net.
“It was the exact same play,” Leivermann said. “He beat two guys to the net and popped it over the goalies shoulder.”
And while Leivermann admitted to getting a little nervous as the play developed, he said nobody is more proud of Michel. Leivermann even caught himself tearing up on the bench during the celebration.
“Anytime you see a kid battle through adversity like that and get rewarded, the whole bench goes nuts,” he said.
While it might make him nervous, Leivermann is excited to watch Michel continue to score similar goals as a healthy hockey player and Janesville Jet.
“It was like deja vu watching that play. I was nervous watching, but that’s the kind of player he is,” Leivermann said. “He’s a kid that’s only going to get better, which is the scary thing.”
Michel made it clear he has his sights set on the rest of the season and helping the team win but said it felt good to put the doubts of playing again to rest.
“I was always dreaming about it (playing again) while working out and during rehab, and that’s what pushed me to get back on the ice and get back to the guys. Scoring meant everything to me. It was kind of the cherry on top.”