By James Hayes | Field Pass
1 On 1 with James Hayes | JM Piotrowski, Birmingham Bulls Forward.
This week I got to sit down and chat with Birmingham Bulls forward JM Piotrowski. We talked about his hockey upbringing, professional career, and what he does off the ice.
My first question was, tell me a little about who you are and where you came from?
JMP: “So, I was born in Richmond, VA and then around the time I was two we moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana where I started picking up hockey. No one in my family was playing hockey...my mom and sister were both gymnasts, and my dad was a Division 1 College wrestler and football player. When we were living in Fort Wayne I started going to the Fort Wayne Komets games, and that’s kind of where I fell in love with hockey. I loved to sit on the glass and watch all the players. I started playing roller hockey out in my driveway, and then shortly after that my dad enrolled me in ice hockey. After Fort Wayne I moved to Chicago which is where my hockey career really became a staple in my life. I played for a few AAA teams and then I moved Dallas around the time I was 15. I had always really been a Stars fan because a lot of my family is from Dallas.
So, being a Stars fan I need to know, who was your favorite player growing up? Without hesitation he said, “Mike Modano, since when I would visit family in Dallas I’d go to Stars games. I had a Modano light switch cover growing up that I still have to this day. I literally brought it to my college apartment.”
Speaking of college, you went to Yale. I don’t get to talk to a lot of hockey players from the Ivy league tell me about that journey.
JMP: “So, growing up my parents did a really good job of preaching the importance of school and getting good grades. I knew the better my grades were the better chance I had to play college hockey, which is what I always wanted to do. I mentioned earlier that my mom, my dad, and my sister were all college athletes, so I always knew I wanted to go the college route as well. I was in my second year in the USHL in Sioux Falls and I really hadn’t had any significant offers from schools at this point. I had a few that were kind of in the works. Then Yale called around February, and the recruiting process moved very quickly. Since I was late into the admissions process, I ended up with about a week to do my entire college application in order to not miss the deadline.”
Let’s jump back just a bit, you mentioned playing in the USHL with Sioux Falls. You won the Clark Cup on that team tell me about that season.
JMP: “That was one of the best years of hockey I’ve ever had because it was such a roller coaster of a season. I didn’t start the year in Sioux Falls I started in Fargo. I ended up getting released in Fargo, so I went and played in the NAHL for Bismarck. It was a big turning point in my career. I then ended up getting called up to Sioux Falls, a month after that I committed to Yale and a month after that we won the Clark Cup.”
Tell me about your time playing hockey in Australia after Yale.
JMP: “I was in my senior season at Yale and I knew I wanted to continuing playing hockey professionally. I was exploring options across North America and Europe and I came across a league in Australia that a friend of mine at Yale had told me about. I reached out to him and asked him what his experience was like and he said nothing but good things, so he put me in contact with one of the coaches over there. I think the best thing about that league is they play their games from April to August. I got there a little bit late after graduation in May, but I got a whole summer of playing hockey and living in Australia, the whole experience was surreal.
Tell me about the fanbase there, was it anything like you experience here?
JMP: “It’s not quite as popular as it is here in North America. I played in Melbourne, which is one of the biggest cities in Australia, so there is a lot going on there. There were plenty of loyal fans though, we had a good following and good sponsors, the building was pretty much full every time we played. Melbourne is also where I first met Kasey Kulczycki. We played on the same team, and then last year he helped me find my way to the Bulls. And obviously now we are back together once again.”
Moving onto your SPHL time, it was Birmingham last year, Huntsville this year and then right back to Birmingham. Tell me about the time you had in Huntsville and facing some of your former teammates.
JMP: “It was certainly a weird feeling; it was one I never really had because of playing 4 years with the same college team and then last season being my first pro year all with Birmingham. It was definitely an unfamiliar feeling. Once I got settled in at Huntsville it was just another year of hockey. I was thankful for the opportunity they gave me. Especially in a year like this because of all the teams that weren’t able to play this season. I was actually signed with Peoria to play before they opted out, so that put me into a pond of a bunch of players that no longer had a place to play. So, with all that said I was lucky enough to get to play with Huntsville and I have nothing but great things to say about them.”
Let’s jump into life outside the game now. What do you do during the offseason and what do you do for fun?
JMP: “I live in Dallas in the offseason. Last offseason was obviously and extended one, so I did some training with a friend in Denver who had a full setup at his house during the quarantine. I spent some time there training at altitude. As far as for fun, I started my own clothing brand this past summer. It’s my hobby/business venture, it’s still very premature I would say at this point. I really enjoy doing that and being creative with it. Hopefully I can continue doing that once the season is over and see where its at in another few months.”
Being in Huntsville were you able to get any advice from John Schiavo who has something similar going with GoodWood Hockey?
JMP: “Yes we actually talked quite a bit about business and social media, all the things you can really get into while using your platform in professional hockey. Obviously, he has built a pretty big following with his content and his clothing brand, he has been very helpful with some of the back-end things as far as the clothing business.”
So, there you have it, an in depth look into one of the many faces of the SPHL. Be sure to check out his clothing brand (www.houseofjmp.com) and don’t forget to tune in this weekend to some exciting SPHL action that will include Piotrowski and the Bulls taking on the Pensacola Ice Flyers and the Macon Mayhem.