ENFIELD, CT — One of the finest hockey players to ever hail from Enfield, Mike Little was a first-team All-State defenseman at Fermi High School and tri-captain of the 2004-05 Falcon squad which was the top seed in the Division I state tournament with a school-record 19-1 regular season record. After two seasons in an elite junior league and four years on the blue line at American International College, he turned professional in 2011, playing in the East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League through 2015, including a brief stint in nearby Springfield.
In 2015, he began playing professionally in Europe, and has skated in 371 games over the past eight seasons overseas. Having previously competed in Austria and Germany, he recently finished his fourth year with the Soenderjyske Elitesport A/S of the Metal Ligaen in Denmark, and served as team captain during the most recent campaign.
Now 35, Little became a first-time father to a daughter, Maisy, a few weeks ago. He and his wife Mysti have returned to their off-season home in Nashville, Tenn.
He recently took a few minutes to discuss his early days in Enfield, his college and professional hockey career and the joys of fatherhood with Enfield Patch.
EP: When did you first become interested in playing hockey?
ML: I would say I became interested in hockey before I can even consciously remember. My father and John Preville got me started skating when I was 2 over at Enfield Twin Rinks. I don’t think I ever looked back from there.
EP: What is your fondest memory of your early hockey days, youth through high school?
ML: It’s easy to say winning big games against Enfield High or championships whether I was playing with the Junior Pics or UMass Junior Minutemen or the CCC tournament, but I am most fond of the overall experience and journey of it all. Hanging out with teammates, Fermi pasta parties, the lead-up to big games, the excitement of rivalries and all that stuff.
EP: What was it like playing college hockey at AIC?
ML: AIC was a great learning experience for me and a very important stepping stone for playing at the next level professionally. It is a place that I grew a lot as a person and as a hockey player. I was able to play four years of Division I hockey against a lot of really good players. I became a much more well-rounded player, and so I am very grateful for the opportunity that Gary Wright gave me to play there.
EP: You turned pro in 2011 and bounced around, including California, Florida and North Carolina. How hard a life is it to be constantly away from home?
ML: I never looked at it as being hard being away from home. I always looked at it as an incredible gift and opportunity to live and play hockey in another part of the country or world. I always looked at it as something that could be gone the next minute and tried to live in the moment and cherish it. I made it a point to have more fun and see and do more things in the area where I was playing. I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I talk to my family regularly so I never felt that I was that far away.
EP: You had some brief stints in the AHL, including in your back yard in Springfield. Any regrets about not getting more of an opportunity at that level?
Click Here: Kingsley Coman jersey sale
ML: I don’t have any regrets about it. I think advancing in professional hockey is about a lot about timing and how you fit a team or organization’s needs. There are so many good players out there. Unfortunately it didn’t work out in my favor, but I personally had the mindset of, “If you are that good of a player, eventually it will show and work out.”
EP: What made you decide to go to Europe? How are the fans there?
ML: I went to Europe because I had reached my peak at the ECHL level (I had won ECHL Defenseman of the Year) and there was not a clear path to being a regular player in the AHL. The fans are incredible in Europe. I was lucky enough to play with Kassel (Germany) and Sonderjyske (Denmark) that have fantastic fans that are really passionate and dedicated to supporting their team. The fans are a little similar to soccer club fans in Europe, where there are drums playing and songs being sung throughout the game. Many of them stand for the duration of the game. It creates a really fun atmosphere to play in.
EP: Is the game played differently there than it is here?
ML: The European game is quite different from the North American game. The ice is much bigger and so skating ability plays a much bigger role. Smaller players can thrive in the European game because they have much more room to play with and it’s also a less physical game as well. It’s also a much less taxing season when you only play around 50 regular season games as opposed to the 72-plus in the U.S. There are almost no back-to-backs as opposed to three-in-threes in North America.
EP: How and where did you meet your wife, and when did you get married?
ML: I met Mysti in September 2014. I was a late invite to training camp with the Nashville Predators and met her while in the first few days in Nashville. We grew closer together each day and got married in May 2021, a year late due to the coronavirus. We spend the off-season in Nashville, and had our first child, a beautiful little girl named Maisy, this past March. We are both very excited about it and the future journey together. I can truly say it is a life-changing experience – obviously for the good – and that I can attest to the many other fathers that have told me leading up to it, you can’t truly grasp or understand becoming a father until you experience it.
EP: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
ML: I would not have been as successful or made it as far as I have if it wasn’t for a lot of grit and determination along the way. I can tell you I had been cut from a team before, been told multiple times I wasn’t big enough to play defense (I’m barely 5-foot-9), and had some pretty serious injuries. These failures and hurdles only motivated me more to prove such naysayers wrong and work even harder. I think it’s very important for young players and people in general to have that grit and to persevere when it doesn’t seem like there is a path forward. There is always another way. Secondly, I would like to thank my parents Mike and Rhonda and the coaches I have played for along the way and prepared me to get to where I am today: John Preville for getting me started; Graham Gal (UMass Junior Minutemen), Frank Genovese (Fermi High School), Rob Bonneau and Brian Collins (Springfield Junior Pics) and Gary Wright (AIC).
Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.