July 26, 2015

Jim Mikol

Born in Kitchener, Ontario on June 11th, 1938, Jim Mikol learned to skate at age four on frozen ponds in his hometown. He played junior hockey with the Waterloo Siskins and then the Peterborough Petes for the 1957-58 season.

''Montreal owned the team (Peterborough) at the time,'' Mikol said. "They insisted all of their players attend either trade school or regular school. They wouldn't allow their players to become bums.''

Much of his youth he had played on defense, but moved to forward when he turned pro in 1959-60. With Montreal walking away from any playing rights, Mikol skated with the Johnstown Jets, scoring 11 goals and adding 14 assists while adding 101 penalty minutes.

Mikol moved up to the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League, where he became one of the team’s stop scorers. Blessed with a hard shot, he scored 32 goals with 48 assists in 1961-62. Such a performance earned him a tryout with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs were impressed with his training camp, and toyed with the idea of using Mikol as a replacement for veteran Bert Olmstead, who had departed for the New York Rangers in the summer.

“He showed us enough to rate a good look. You have to remember he just switched from defence to forward a couple of years ago,” said Leafs coach Punch Imlach.

The Leafs' experiment was short-lived. Playing on a line with Billy Harris and Eddie Litzenberger, Mikol was used sparingly in just four games. It was agreed Mikol needed time to refine his game at his new position of forward.

''Toronto had just won back-to-back Stanley Cups and had a pretty good team,'' he said of his lack of playing time.

Mikol was loaned out to the Cleveland Barons farm team in the American Hockey League where he played very well, helping Cleveland to win the Calder Cup championship in 1964. But after two seasons, the Leafs never did call him back.

The New York Rangers secured his playing rights in a long-defunct inter-league draft. The Rangers gave Mikol a much longer look. He would get into 30 games, but only score one goal and four points.

The results were underwhelming to say the least. But the Rangers were able to parlay Mikol's playing rights, along with Sandy McGregor, Marcel Paille and Aldo Guidolin, to the AHL Providence Reds in exchange for goalie Ed Giacomin. Eddie would become one of the most popular and successful athletes in Manhattan's history.

The move was good for Mikol too. One report years later suggest the Reds wanted Mikol because his good looks could be a box-office draw! Perhaps his play was more of a draw. He captained the Reds for three seasons, though injuries plagued him for stretches.

Mikol would return to Cleveland for two final AHL seasons, retiring in 1970.

Mikol would become an owner of two different low-minor league teams - the Erie Golden Blades for the 1982-83 season and the Lakeland Ice Warriors of the Southern Hockey League in 1992-93.

He also moonlighted as a golf pro in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and North Carolina. He eventually settled in Florida, coaching the Dayton Beach Sun Devils.

"Never in his wildest dreams" did he figure golf would become such an important aspect of his life. "I was born with hockey in my blood,'' Mikol said. ''I figured I'd always be connected with hockey."

Mikol was definitely a natural athlete. Before turning pro in hockey he actually played a couple of months of professional baseball.

''I was a pitcher and signed with the Cleveland Indians,'' Mikol said. ''I played two months at their minor-league team in Waterloo, Iowa, but decided it wasn't for me.''

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