Former Whalers goalie Mike Liut is returning to Hartford for induction in the Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame. We caught up with Liut while he was traveling Friday and he answered some questions via email.
Our Q&A with the former goaltender:
Q: How and when did you hear about your induction into the Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame, and were you surprised?
A: I received an email from Mark Willand [of Whalers Sports & Entertainment inviting me to participate in the first induction class in 20 years. I was surprised as the [Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame] concept had been inactive for so long and as time passes athletes tend to move on. Example, when people think they recognize me and ask if I played in the NHL; I say yes, but that was in another life time.
Q: What does it mean to be honored in Hartford and how do you view your time here? Fond memories?
A: Any time someone takes the time to recognize your past accomplishments it should be accepted as a profound honor. In reviewing this class it is clear that the Connecticut Hall of Fame is recognizing the broad spectrum of accomplishment both on and off the ice and the impact that each inductee has had on CT hockey. The trade to Hartford was difficult – St. Louis was doing well, Mary Ann and I met in St. Louis (her family is from Carlyle, IL (60 miles east of St. Louis) so we were well rooted. Hartford, however, was an experience that brought much to our family – it forced us to accept change, which is part of the game; but not always so simple for the family. Mary Ann never wavered (Jenna was 2 and Justin was a new born and I was in Buffalo when the trade happened and heading to Hartford that afternoon). Mary Ann never wavered – just accepted the challenge of relocating to Hartford and making a new life and from that our children learned the same lesson – that change can be a very good experience. It is easy for the athlete – the game is the game, different color jersey; but everything else is more or less the same once you step into the locker room. So Hartford was a great place – we had a lot of young players who were about to go onto long and productive careers and with whom many of them we remain close friends and stay in touch with much of the rest as there are so many who remained connected to the game.
Q: What are your thoughts on Hartford as a hockey market? Do you think, based on your experience here, that this is an NHL market?
A: Hartford has a very loyal NHL/hockey fan base; we had great support in Hartford. The consideration is whether any small population market can survive economically in today’s NHL. To say that the professional sports team business has significantly changed over the past 30 years ago would be an understatement. The cost of attending games is such that you need a deep fan base to support the 41+ home games, television revenue needed to support the franchise and revenue sharing from large market franchises; as MLB has come to understand.
Q: Do you still, after all these years, have friends in the Hartford area?
A: We have maintained our friendship with several people in the Hartford area, although time, distance, growing families all pull us in different directions.
Q: Tell me about your life now. How long have you been with Octagon? How many NHL clients do you have and do you still live in Michigan? (Also, do you have any interest in working on the management side? People around here still remember that you were in the running for the Whalers’ GM job in the early ’90)
A: When I retired, we moved to Bloomfield Hills, MI to attend Detroit College of Law (now merged/moved to the MSU campus in E. Lansing) and I was working part time with the NHLPA as a player liaison. After the bar exam I stayed with NHLPA as an associate counsel for two years and joined Octagon in 1998. I am currently, the Managing Director of Octagon’s Hockey Division and with other senior management duties beyond the hockey division. We represent, as a company, approximately 100 NHL clients. Our business is worldwide with partners in Europe and Russia so the business has been interesting and challenging. It is one of the easiest businesses to get into and also one of the hardest to stay in. Octagon is a worldwide leader in athlete representation, sports marketing and corporate sponsorship activation so the support and resources have been available to make this a very rewarding experience. With regard to the Hartford GM job – I did not sense that I was a serious candidate for that position, at that time; prior to law school. With regard to the future – as I mentioned earlier, our family is accustom to change/new experiences/challenges. At present, my current duties make it almost impossible to consider and Mary Ann’s business is in Franklin, MI – retail boutique. This has been a very rewarding experience for her; she has a great partner and a lot of friends in Michigan so it wouldn’t be easy, but ….one never knows what lies around the corner.
Q: How often do you return to Hartford and when was the last time you were in the building?
A: I usually attend an AHL in Hartford each year, however, this year I have not been to Hartford until today.
Q: Finally, best and worst memories of wearing a Whalers uniform?
A: Best memory --- the teammates, friends outside the game. Worst memory --- being traded at the end of my career.