Saturday April 9th, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In a hockey family, the story of a child's first goal can be as momentous an event as his first step, his first word. In the case of Andy Miele, the Miami (Ohio) forward who won the 2011 Hobey Baker Award Friday night, the story of his first goal is grand, if mortifying, something straight out of an episode of Full House. As a tyke, maybe five- or six-years old, little Andy found the back of a net in his very first game. A net, yes, because it happened to be his own.

As inauspicious a start as that may have been, it's safe to assume that Miele has figured it all. In his senior season, he led the NCAA in scoring with 71 points, becoming the RedHawks most prolific scorer in 32 years and the program's first winner of college hockey's top individual prize.

At 5'8" and 175 pounds, Miele may be undersized, but he makes up for it with effort and skill, impressive enough to earn NHL interest. Though he went undrafted, Miele signed an entry-level contract with the Phoenix Coyotes last month, after Miami was knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round.

The loss to New Hampshire ended a glittering college career that included school-record 17-game point streak this season, and saw him climb to sixth in Miami's all-time point list. But it will be marked, in his mind, with the highs and lows that turned a hockey team into a brotherhood. During his time as a RedHawk, the team reached two Frozen Fours, including a title game appearance in 2009. Last February, though, they suffered through the loss of their student-manager Brendan Burke, who died in a tragic car accident.

"This team has been through a lot," Miele said. "Through all the adversity, it's made me and every other guy on that team so much stronger."

The bond he shared with his team helped convince him to return for his senior season, and the steps he took in his game catapulted him to the top, earning him the Hobey Baker over Cam Atkinson, who played for Boston College before signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and North Dakota's Matt Frattin, the nation's leading goal-scorer who signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday and will head out for the team's season ender against Montreal.

"It's still hard to believe that I'm the best because these two [other finalists] are unbelievable players, so it's hard to say that," the 22-year-old native of Gross Point Woods, Mich., said. "But I just try to be the best that I can be. Whether it's the best or not, that's fine with me."

His best has certainly been good enough thus far. Though he may struggle to find a way to adapt to the larger size and faster pace of the NHL, Miele has proven to have the skill to be there. That was apparent to Miami coach Enrico Blasi from the very beginning.

"The first shift he skated for us, he scored a goal," Blasi said. "I don't know too many college hockey players who can say they scored on their first shift of college hockey."

For the record, he got it in the right net.

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