It was strangely quiet on a recent Monday afternoon in downtown Allentown, Pennsylvania, home of the PPL Center. While there were people on the street milling about, this neighborhood felt strangely quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of activity the sports arena has brought to a once deserted area. Perhaps it was because the Phantoms were having a day off. Inside the arena, Phantoms forward Mike Vecchione appeared quietly through the main lobby wearing a Red Sox baseball cap. His quiet, unassuming demeanor was quite contrary to his reputation of being a powerhouse on the ice.
When Vecchione was four, he put on ice skates for the first time. A year later, he started playing organized hockey. “I believe that starting at a young age is an advantage,” he says. “Still, you can start playing later and with hard work, you can succeed.” He grew up in a sports-driven family where his older brother played hockey and his sister played soccer. Their mother would jump from game to practice to game to practice. He recalled this childhood bustle with fondness.
After graduating from high school in suburban Boston, he made the choice to play junior hockey for the USHL's Tri-City Storm in Nebraska. He quickly found it was not going to be as easy as he thought, and he was ready. “In my second year, I tore it up!” he recalled with a smile.
Next on his list was a college degree and more hockey at Union College in Schenectady, New York. During this four year period, he won the National Championship as a freshman. “Things began to fall into place for me” says Vecchione. At Union, Vecchione set school records for most points (175) and most assists (102) and as a senior, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which honors the best player in college hockey.
Vecchione was undrafted, but his play at Union made him a hot commodity. He signed with the Flyers, the same team that had signed former Union teammate Shayne Gostisbehere in 2014.
All of this would lead to his NHL debut in April. “Many people said I couldn’t make it, and I proved them wrong while having my whole family there in the stands at the same time,” he said. He played in two games in the end of the season for the Flyers. The coaches told him just to go out there and have fun instead of teaching him plays.
Despite his college stats and play in the two games last season, Vecchione did not make the Flyers out of training camp. Instead, he was assigned to the Phantoms of the American hockey League. Through 17 games, he has six goals and 12 assists.
He spoke of each step along the way of his journey with such pride. He was proud of his family, his college, and where he is now. As for the next step: “My goal is to get back to the Flyers.”
Photograph by Gregory Vasil/Getty Images