West Genesee hockey alum Robbie Michel flourishes in Ottawa, signed by Maine

Robbie Micehl

By Donnie Webb

The study abroad trip for the Onondaga Community College student from Camillus is a short skate away in the Great White North.

The graduate of West Genesee High School is in his second year of residence in Ottawa. He’s even taken up a local nickname – Bobby Mike.

And while he takes general academic college course work online to keep his mind sharp, the real education for Robbie Michel takes place on the ice in the hockey rinks of Canada.

It’s paid off in unimagined ways.

Michel recently signed a national letter-of-intent to play ice hockey for the University of Maine, where he’ll have four years of eligibility to play for the Black Bears.

This comes two years after Michel played his final game at West Genesee. He has spent the last two years playing for the Ottawa Junior Senators. They are a junior A team playing in the Central Canada Hockey League. He’s teammates with another former West Genesee star, Shawn Lynch, who signed a national letter-of-intent to play for Utica College.

How Michel came to Ottawa and earned a scholarship to one of college hockey’s best known programs is the road less traveled.

“It’s kind of unheard of,” said West Genesee ice hockey coach Frank Colabufo.

Michel, a two-time All-CNY defenseman at West Genesee, initially planned to attend the Northwood School in Lake Placid. It’s a well-heeled prep school for aspiring hockey players still seeking a path to play college or professional hockey. When financial assistance fell through, Michel looked around at his options.

Lynch, who had graduated from Northwood the previous year, had a June tryout in Ottawa with the Junior Senators. Michel found out and asked the Senators if he could come along. There were limited spots available. Michel figured, what’s he got to lose?

The team offered both players a roster spot.

“I went in hoping to find a place to play,” Michel said. “The Ottawa coaching staff really took a chance on me. They really didn’t know much about it. They said they liked my tryout and gave me a shot. I was playing forward the first month of the season just because they weren’t sure how I was on the back end.”

Three months into his first season, Michel earned his spot to play defense. He also made the all-star team, which put him on the college radar recruiting screen again.

Through 38 games this season, his second in Ottawa, Michel is third on the team in scoring with 37 points. He has 12 goals and 25 assists for a team that leads its conference with a 28-6-4-1 record.

“Robert has been a great player for us,” said Martin Dagenais, the head coach and general manager of the Ottawa Junior Senators. “He has been consistent at both ends of the ice. He is also a quality individual that leads by example on and off the ice. He fully deserves all the attention he has received recently. The University of Maine will be getting a very good player.”

“The kid does everything right. He’s not flashy, but he’s effective in all three zones,” said Maine head coach Red Gendron. “He will be a great addition to our hockey team.”

Maine brought Michel in for an official visit a month ago. He was there to watch the Black Bears play defending national champion, Union. He loved the intimate rink and the small town feel of Orono. He jumped at the offer.

For Colabufo, what makes Michel’s journey exceptional is that he chose to complete his high school career and still earned a college scholarship. Too many players, he feels, leave their high school programs to play with their club travel teams. Colabufo said there are a couple of West Genesee players this year who chose club over their high school team.

Former Fayetteville-Manlius star Anthony Angello, who signed to play at Cornell, took a different path. Angello withdrew from F-M after his junior year to attend school in Nebraska where he played for a junior hockey team. Angello was subsequently drafted in the fifth round by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this year.

Playing in Ottawa for Michel comes with other costs. The Senators charge their players $3,850 Canadian a year to play (about $3,300 in U.S. dollars). There are also living expenses. When there weren’t enough billet or host families for the team this year, Michel had to find an apartment, which he shares with Lynch and another teammate in Gatineau, Quebec.

Michel stays busy by taking online courses through OCC and exploring his growing culinary skills, but Michel’s job is playing hockey, and it’s led to an unexpected, wonderful opportunity that his mom, Ann, said “stunned” the family.

And Michel did it by getting to play four years at West Genesee with his high school friends, before all of those high school friends that regularly jammed into Shove Park.

“I definitely feel like for me, this was the best path,” said Michel, who turned 20 earlier this month. “I feel more kids should be playing high school hockey instead of leaving. For me, it was a no-brainer to stay and play with my friends. It was a great experience. Hopefully, kids can see it’s something that is feasible and something to be encouraged.”