HOUGHTON - Most hockey recruits tend to have one defining attribute: a pure goal scorer or shut-down defensemen, a physical grinder or finesse puck handler. Perhaps the most defining attribute of incoming Michigan Tech freshman forward Mike Neville is that he doesn't have a defining attribute. And that's a good thing.
"He's the all-around player in this year's class," summed up Tech coach Mel Pearson. "He's not going to blow you away with his offensive numbers - though he chips in. He's more of a playmaker, not a goal scorer per se, but he can play in all situations.
" He's just a true leader and a winner. He knows how to get it done."
The 20-year-old from Woodbridge, Ont., "got it done" in his fourth and final year with the St. Michael's Buzzers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. The 6-foot, 190-pounder served as captain of the team, leading them to a Buckland Cup OJHL title.
"Winning a championship was something pretty special," said Neville, who tallied 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 44 regular season games and 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) in 23 playoff games.
But it was something he almost didn't experience after briefly leaving Ontario for the United States Hockey League.
After his third year with the Buzzers - the last year as captain - Neville connected with the Lincoln Stars during USHL summer camps, and he met Tech assistant coach Bill Muckalt at a June 2012 camp. The Tech connection ended up working well, but the USHL one didn't.
Neville, the second of three sons to Pat and Vivian Neville, was born in White Rock, B.C., and moved to Ontario when he was about 5, but he visited Houghton in July 2012 and fell in love with the area and Tech hockey.
"I like the small-town feel for sure, and it's an up-and-coming program," he said. "Michigan Tech hockey is on the rise, and one of the best things for me was the coaching staff."
Neville was "talking seriously" with some other Western Collegiate Hockey Association schools, a couple others from Hockey East and another from ECAC Hockey, but Tech just clicked.
"I didn't know anything about the U.P., Hancock or Houghton, but I just had a good feeling about it," Neville said. " I was in the airport with Bill Muckalt when he was seeing me off, and I told him on the spot I was going to call in a couple days to commit."
A few days later, he was penciled in for the 2013-14 Huskies roster.
But, a few months later after playing in the USHL Fall Classic, he was forced to return to the Buzzers, a tough situation at the time, but one that obviously paid off in the end.
"He decided he was going to leave St. Mike's and play in the USHL, but he bounced around, had to come back to St. Mike's with his tail between his legs a little bit," Pearson said. "I think he used that as a springboard to have a real good year, and he did. He obviously earned the respect of his team and his coaches, and they made him captain."
After tallying just 22, 23 and 33 points in his first three seasons, respectively (40, 37 and 44 games, including playoffs), Neville put together his 66-point effort over 67 regular season and playoff games.
Unfortunately for the Buzzers, after winning the Buckland Cup in dramatic Game 7 fashion, they lost in overtime of the Dudley Hewitt Cup championship that would have put them through to the Royal Bank Cup tournament to determine the Canadian Junior A champion.
Neville didn't quite get to the national stage with the Buzzers, but he earned a national honor of his own - twice. In each of his last two seasons with St. Mike's, he was also named captain of Team Canada East, which competed in the World Junior A Challenge.
Team Canada East never got to hoist a banner, but about a month and a half after the 2012 event, Neville got to watch a different banner raised - Michigan Tech's 2012 Great Lakes Invitational championship banner. Watching Tech's brand of hockey in person - "hard-nosed, physical, all about sacrifice, all about team," according to Neville - only further solidified his decision, and his style will fit in perfectly.
"I'm a two-way forward, definitely more of a defense-first kind of guy," said Neville, who will be majoring in business management. "I skate tremendously well, in my opinion, and I'll do anything to help the team succeed."
He can play center or wing, power play or penalty kill, and on any line, giving Tech a level of versatility that will fit right in with an already deep group of forwards.
"He's going to be able to do a lot of different things, and he's a little bit older, so he should be confident," Pearson said. " He's just a good all-around hockey player you can trust as a coach."