Inuvialuk athlete Michael Iatridis’ determination and skills led him to American University Hockey

Inuvialuk athlete Michael Iatridis is currently in his third year of studies at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was awarded with several scholarships to attend and play college hockey. Photo Perry Iatridis.

by Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

(AJNews) – Michael Iatridis is an Inuvialuk, born and raised in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. His Inuk name is Appakaq. Michael is currently in his third year of studies at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was awarded with several scholarships to attend and play college hockey. He is studying Kinesiology, focusing on sport management and business. While there, he also plays Division 1 Hockey for the Calvin Knights in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).

The Calvin Knights ranked 15th nationally in the 2023-2024 hockey season, out of 72 teams in the league. This year they had 21 wins, 9 losses, and one overtime loss during the season and just earned themselves a spot at the ACHA D1 National Championships taking place in March at St. Louis, Missouri.

According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 70% of athletes quit sports before starting high school. The numbers continue to decline after high school where about one in three go on to play varsity sports in college and less than 2% go on to play at NCAA Division 1 colleges in the United States of America (USA).

Michael Iatridis 2013-2014 hockey season. Photo by Perry Iatridis.

As an Indigenous person from Northern Canada, Michael has come a long way to make it to USA College Hockey. Growing up, he was very athletic and loved to play a variety of sports, but he didn’t start playing ice hockey until he was older. Michael was a soccer player. He started playing indoor soccer at three years old. He also played recreational baseball during the summer months. Michael would also join whatever after-school activities were available, like badminton and tennis.

When Michael was in grade five, he signed up for what he thought was floor hockey. He was so excited about playing the sport with his friends at school. When the time came to begin the activity, he realized that it was not floor hockey, it was ice hockey. Michael was devastated because he did not know how to skate and was not able to participate in the activity that year.

Michael was so sad when he went home that his mom agreed to sign him up for Can Skate lessons at the Yellowknife Skating Club. The Can Skate group is typically filled with beginner skaters and very young children just starting out. Michael’s mom thought that he might attend one or two sessions and feel uncomfortable with all the small children there and change his mind. However, the minute Michael got on the ice, he was determined to learn how to skate, and nothing could wipe the smile off of his face.

Michael’s mom recalls him being this big kid at ten years old. At the beginning of the lessons, the group would stand around the middle circle of the ice and do the chicken dance as part of the warmup. Michael looked huge out on the ice beside all the other skaters, but that did not deter him from learning to skate. Michael said, “I really wanted to be a part of the hockey world and have the feeling of connectedness with being on a team”.

Michael practised skating all year and then he was able to sign up for ice hockey the following year. His mom did not know how to dress him in his hockey equipment. Michael’s cousin, Cullen McLeod, offered to go with Michael to his first hockey try-out and help him put on his gear.

At the time, Michael’s mom and dad did not know much about the hockey league. They signed him up for the developmental team try-outs, thinking it was beginner hockey. It turned out that the developmental team was the advanced level. Once again, Michael ended up in this awkward situation, on the ice with all these advanced skaters zooming around him. As a new skater, he could not keep up with the pace of the other players. However, he did not give up.

Michael moved down to the house league and spent two years playing in the PeeWee hockey league, even making Captain the second year. Both years, in 2011-12 and 2012-13, he won the 30th Anniversary Esso Medals & Certificates of Achievement Awards in the PeeWee league. In his third year of hockey, Michael advanced to the development team and played for the Bantam league.

Michael with his teammates after scoring a goal. Photo by Perry Iatridis.

In 2014, Michael moved to Alberta with his family and had an opportunity to participate in hockey academy as part of junior high school. During that year, he was able to increase his skill levels significantly. He also played for the St. Albert Raiders and won the Bantam AA Comets Top Defensive Player of the Year Award. Throughout high school, Michael continued to play for the St. Albert Raiders Midget 15 AAA Flyers, AA Crusaders and AA Blues.

After high school, Michael was invited to play for the Red Lake Miners, in Red Lake, Ontario as part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL). After a year and a half, he was traded to the Cochrane Crunch, in Cochrane, Ontario where he completed his third and last year of the CJHL. His last year was played during Covid-19, and it was difficult because all the hockey rules changed, and times were uncertain.

Throughout the years of playing hockey, Michael had always had a goal in mind of playing American University hockey one day. But, after his last year of the CJHL, Michael was uncertain if he would continue with hockey and started making plans to attend post-secondary studies. Fortunately, Head Coach Mike Petrusma of the Calvin Knights Division 1 team reached out to Michael during the summer of 2021 and asked him to try out for the team and attend Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Michael said, “It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I am forever grateful that I accepted the challenge and I have been enjoying every moment of it. I get the chance to play hockey, go to University and earn a degree, and most importantly continue to grow as an individual.”

Michael’s perseverance and determination led him to the success that he has today. His advice to other young aspiring hockey players is to “Stay confident in yourself and trust that all your hard work will pay off. Keep striving and chipping away each day to achieve your goals.”


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