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Mike Chen, A Maryland Hockey Success
Maryland still might not be the first place scouts look to for up and coming hockey players, but as DMV hockey fans, we’re taking notice as our neighbors rise up the ranks. While the latest success story is Haley Skarupa, the Rockville native who just won a gold medal in the Olympics for the U.S. national team, another Rockville player recently made his way into the Caps family of teams.
Mike Chen, a 25 year-old also from Rockville, is one of the few players from Maryland who plays professional hockey.
The Good Counsel class of 2010 graduate grew up playing and practicing mainly at the Rockville Ice Rink, along with the Piney Orchard rink. Chen was hooked on hockey as a kid.
“When I first started playing, probably my first year, we got to skate at [then called] MCI Center. We got to play a game there and then watch the Caps game after. That’s really what hooked me into [hockey],” Chen said told Caps Outsider.
Good Counsel, a private school in Olney, is one of the few Maryland high schools to have a varsity hockey team. But Chen didn’t play there. Instead, he played for Team Maryland, a travel team.
Chen’s first entry in Hockeydb is in the 2011-12 season when he played for the Jersey Hitmen of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, then the New Mexico Mustangs. In 2013-14, Chen played a season at Concordia University Wisconsin. Then he transferred to Salem State College, where the defenseman put up 29 points in 70 games, including 13 points in 28 games his senior year.
Chen has played for two teams this year: The Knoxville Ice Bears of the SPHL and the South Carolina Stingrays, the Caps own ECHL affiliate. In Knoxville, Chen scored 24 points in 40 games, enough for him to earn a contract from the Rays.
Chen is not the first DMV native to play for the Capitals organization. As many of us know, Jeff Halpern, a one-time Capitals captain was born in raised in nearby Potomac, Maryland. Halpern had a big influence on Chen.
“He grew up probably 20, 30 minutes from me. I didn’t know when I was watching him [play], that he was from the area. As I got older, someone told me that he was a Maryland boy, I never even heard of anyone from Maryland making it to the NHL. Finding out that he was probably one of the first people [to make it to the NHL from Maryland] was pretty cool.”
The arrival of Alex Ovechkin also influenced Chen.
“I just remember the year before he came, everyone at my school didn’t really know anything about hockey, but the year after, everyone became Caps fans,” he said.
Speaking of Ovechkin, Chen scored a power play goal from the left circle while playing for the Stingrays last week.
“It was nice to slip it by [Swamp Rabbits goalie Brandon Halverson] especially on that spot. A little Ovechkin-like.”
While he is not on a Capitals contract, it still meant a lot to him to be playing in the Capitals organization.
“I grew up watching the team, I idolize a lot of those players. To be in the same organization — it’s tough to put into words. To be a part of the same family as Ovechkin and John Carlson and Nick Backstrom, it’s pretty cool.” Chen added that there is still more work to be done so he can “climb the ladder” in hockey.
Chen played 11 games for the Stingrays, tallying four points, enough for South Carolina to want to hold onto his ECHL rights, but not enough for him to stay with the team. He’ll likely be with Knoxville for the remainder of the year.
“The coaching staff was impressed with the way he played and he was well-liked by everyone here,” said a Stingrays spokesman.
Chen’s message to the young players in the DC area is to have fun and cherish the time you spend with your teammates. While there are going to be ups and downs, “remember it’s the greatest sport on the Earth and you have a chance to play it. Have a smile on your face when you are doing it and take the opportunities that you have and make the best of them.”