For any collegiate athlete in America, their senior year of competition is a bittersweet one. They’ve been building up to this moment for in many cases their entire lives, but at the same time they know it’s the end of the road: as the TV ads the NCAA regularly runs during their tournaments say, “most of us go pro in something other than sports”. It’s one last time for student-athletes to pull on a jersey, step out onto the field or court or ice with their comrades-in-arms, and play the game they love at a competitive level.
Senior year came this year for St. Louis Jr. Blues alumnus Kyle Meeh, who began 2019-20 having been elected captain of the hockey team at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. While he knew that this might just be his last year of competitive hockey, he entered the season “determined to not grip my stick too tight, you know. I’ve been playing this game for a long time and I just wanted to keep it simple.”
“Being captain was a big motivator for me,” Meeh adds. “I had guys in that room who obviously looked up to me. I was trying to look back at my freshman year, think about the seniors who had an impact on me, so I wanted to make an impact on the incoming freshmen and I think I did.”
Captaincy was not a new role for the 6’2”, 180-lb left-hander from Sappington, Missouri, as he had first worn a letter playing prep hockey for Lindbergh High. “I remember my senior year, [fellow Jr. Blues alum] Tyler Opilka was our captain and he got called up to Springfield. Greg Anderson called me up and told me I was going to be captain,” and from there Meeh would also be part of leadership groups both in St. Louis as well as with the Springfield Jr. Blues of the NAHL.
Meeh notes that often times different circumstances called for different types of leadership during his time in hockey. “At the junior level things can be a bit of a revolving door, not so much at the NA3HL level but moreso the NA. As a leader in that role you gotta kinda control the locker room, and I’ve always been the type of leader who leads by example, through action.”
For a player who admits that he lets his game do the talking, it should be no surprise that Meeh posted some of his statically best seasons as a captain or alternate. In 2013-14 with St. Louis, he scored seven goals and 22 assists in 32 NA3HL games, before getting called up mid-season to Springfield. In his final year in the Illinois capital, he played in all 60 games and once again had strong numbers, with seven goals and 17 assists. This season as captain of the Cardinals, he had his best season since his time with St. Louis: 22 points in 22 games, including a career-best 13 goals, which earned him his second All-MIAC Team membership.
“There’s a lot of words that can describe Kyle as a player, but the one that always sticks in my mind is just that he’s ‘bankable’,” said Jr. Blues head coach Chris Flaugher. “Every time he steps out on the ice you know he’ll be giving every bit of effort, always trying to do something whether it’s in the offensive zone, physical play, you name it. Seeing Kyle succeed and grow at higher levels has always given me a lot of pride, to be able to say I coached this player and helped him become the player and man he is today.”
Meeh credits former Jr. Blues assistant coach Greg Anderson, who as previously mentioned coached him in high school at Lindbergh, with helping him both as a player and a person. “I owe the world to him,” Meeh says. “He’s one of my best friends, we talk just about every day. Back when I was at Lindbergh, I was kinda going through a tough time with hockey. I kept getting cut from travel teams, but he motivated me and made me fall back in love with hockey.”
As the college season was coming to a close, Meeh was preparing to embark on a new journey: minor professional hockey. While he said he was talking to several teams, most notably the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League, after their last regular-season series against St. John’s he got the proverbial offer he could not refuse.
“I got a text message saying, ‘Hi Kyle Meeh, this is [assistant coach] Kohl Schultz of the Kansas City Mavericks, and we’re looking to bring you in’. I was like, oh my God, this is unbelievable,” Meeh said of the offer to play for the ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames. “I gave them a call back and they said they were in Utah for a series, and they actually wanted to fly me down to Salt Lake City and play that Sunday just after my college season wrapped up.” Meeh explained that he could not make that trip due to having about 40 friends and family in Winona for Senior Night—including both Flaugher and Anderson—but he worked out a deal that saw him head down to Kansas City later that week and sign an amateur try-out contract.
His professional debut came just a week after his final collegiate game, when he suited up for the Mavs in an 8-2 loss to Kalamazoo on February 29th. Unbeknownst to him, though, it would end up being the only ECHL game he would play: first the Flames organization sent three defensemen from their AHL affiliate in Stockton, Calif. down to Kansas City, which meant that lineup spots became scarcer, and then the COVID-19 pandemic called a halt to the ECHL season in late March. Despite his time with the Mavs being cut short, Meeh is confident he has what it takes to succeed in professional hockey. “In my exit interview at the end of my ATO, [Schultz] had some really good things to say about me. He thinks I can play at that level, and he said that he’d keep in touch with other ECHL teams about me.”
Meeh said that he had been in contact with a number of ECHL clubs, including Kalamazoo and the Blues’ ECHL affiliate in Tulsa, but for the 2020-21 season he has decided to forge a different path and signed with Stenungsund HF in the fourth division of Swedish professional hockey. He will be re-united with former St. Mary’s teammate Jack Stang on the Stingers, and is excited to experience European hockey.
Through it all, Meeh has been loyal to both the Jr. Blues and junior hockey in general, regularly appearing at informal alumni skates during the summer and holidays and most recently taking part in the Jr. Blues’ annual golf tournament. “I think that’s a great thing about the Jr. Blues, that [Chris] Flaugher keeps the alumni so tight. Around Christmastime there’s always alumni skates, and it’s good to see guys you haven’t seen in four or five years,” he notes. “It was an honor to pull on that jersey: every weekend, every practice, every 9 pm Tuesday skate, it means everything. I’ve got a smile on my face right now just talking about it and remembering it.”
As for what the game has meant to him and means going forward, Meeh said that “my mom Kathy’s always told me that hockey’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can always go to school but hockey’s not forever. Juniors is a time when you get to mature and make life-long friendships. I still talk to guys from my first Springfield team, even though I was only called up mid-season and was only on that team for about two or three months.”
He offers this advice for younger players: “Juniors is a time when you develop, when you grow as a person and as a hockey player, where you start to become a man. Once you get to college and you’re a little older, it makes that transition a little easier. Some people think it’s hard, but honestly I think being a 21-year-old freshman really helped me out because I had lived on my own for two or three years before that. It teaches you responsibility, you know, being a 18-year-old and balancing high school and Jr. Blues practices and weekends. It demands a lot out of you, and really makes you grow as an individual.”