Broomall, PA – Just sixteen, Mike Zografidis has a future in ice hockey. When his father asked him about opting between playing college hockey or consider entering the minor league, he says, “I just want to play hockey dad, you manage me.”
The partnership and trust between them is inseparable and stems from a long history and love of the game they both share. Zografidis is a junior at Marple Newtown High School and a member of the Tigers ice hockey team. His dad, Steve, immigrated as a child from Kozani, Greece and grew up in the historic Greek neighborhood around St. Demetrios in Upper Darby.
It was the mid seventies. The Philadelphia Flyers were a new team and they had just won two NHL Stanley Cup championships. Hockey was gaining in popularity all around the region. “Playing street hockey then was more of a neighborhood game,” says Steve. “We Greeks played it on the street.” An orange ball smacked up and down the middle of the street with a plastic Mylec hockey stick and goalie pads made out of furniture cushions were the tools Steve remembers.
When the car came down the street, you yelled, car! Then you picked up the net and moved it to the sidewalk before restarting the game. That historic street scene of it’s time was parodied in the 1992 hit movie Wayne’s World. It was a time still vivid in Steve’s mind. Philadelphia Flyers’ training coach, Fred Shero, lived around the corner from Steve and often gave away wooden sticks to the kids. This nurtured his love for the game and the Flyers.
Eventually, dad’s obsession grew and he took part in the first area community Greek hockey team. Called the Hellenes, they played in a nearby league throughout the eighties called, “The Deck”. It was a neighborhood team comprised mostly of immigrants and first generation Greeks who loved the sport. That’s where Steve’s son got the bug – from his father. A generation later, the young ice hockey athlete plays the game year round and trains at a level, dad could only dream about. Daily practice and weekly games keep Mike up to speed.
Every week, Steve attends Mike’s games. Standing behind the glass, he looks on and watches as Mike continues to grow his talent and love. “This kids got what I always wanted, size, skills, and not to mention the opportunity,” says Steve. “I’ve taken him to a few training camps in the New England area, where I’ve seen him blend right in during practice. Those kids are a few years older and he’s still developing, but he’s definitely going somewhere as a hockey player. We’ve had interest and offers from schools and the minors already.”
Watching Mike skate up and down the ice during a recent game, the first thing you notice is his dominating size. Coach Jeff Wild of the Marple Newtown High School Tigers team describes him like this. “Mike is a great kid. He is really emerging as a leader as our season goes on. Mike recently switched to offense and has made a great impact. He plays tough and fast, he is a good skater and likes to move the puck. From a leadership standpoint, he leads from the front working hard and digging in to make plays happen. Off the ice, he is happy and very positive. His attitude helps to keep all of our players happy and having fun. Mike can certainly play for a club college ice hockey team. What makes him really valuable is his ability to play offense and defense.”
Greeks in Ice Hockey
Ice Hockey started in Greece in 1984 by players that returned to Greece from abroad. It’s had a lackluster history in comparison to soccer and basketball. In a country where the sun burns bright throughout the year and the economy has had devastating effects, little opportunity for the game has taken hold. In fact, we can name the Greeks that played at the professional level on just two hands.
We don’t generally hear about many Greeks in the professional sport of ice hockey. The most famous as well as successful Greek hockey player is Chris Chelios. He achieved fame as one of the NHL’s best defenceman ever to play and has recorded the longest stretch of play in the NHL, 26 seasons. He is a three time Norris Trophy winner, been named the NHL’s best defenceman and a three time Stanley Cup Champion. Chelios was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 2013.
The list of Greeks who played professional ice hockey is short, but the promise of a Greek-American hockey player from the Philadelphia area climbing the ladder of success is even shorter. Mike Zografakis has the talent and passion. He also has an added edge in his corner, his dad Steve. Together, their journey will likely bring pride to our Greek-American community. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this young man and his promising career.