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Freshman alternate captain helps lead team to nationals

Forward Myles Neuneker reflects on hockey, family and friends

Myles Neuneker is a sports addict.

Growing up in La Grange, Ill., the freshman forward on the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s ice hockey team spent his time alternating between playing soccer, baseball and hockey.

Baseball and soccer were passions passed down from his father, who played both sports while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but hockey was a pastime Neuneker picked up from a friend in the second grade.

“My best friend was into hockey,” Neuneker said. “He had been playing a couple years and his mom had a talk with my mother and wanted me to get into the sport. And so, it’s quite funny, the year I tried (playing hockey), he quit halfway through the year and I continued playing.” As a first-generation hockey player, Neuneker knew his skill set was stronger in both soccer and baseball, but neither of those sports captured his heart like hockey did.

“I fell in love with the sport and never looked back,” Neuneker said. Between middle and high school, Neuneker knew he would have to become exclusive with one of his three chosen sports. The choice was obvious. “I’ve always been competitive. I was always playing hockey, baseball and soccer at the same time,” Neuneker said. “Eventually I had to pick one, which was hockey.”

The 22-year-old Neuneker says his love of the sport is what steered him to hockey. Through his insatiable passion, he developed a keen skill for the sport. Neuneker didn’t plan on pursuing hockey beyond high school. His expectations were low; believing the only time he’d get on the ice would be for recreation. However, his high school coach had other plans.

His coach encouraged him to play in a showcase game where he would scrimmage with other players. Neuneker took a chance and was drafted to play in Oro-Medonte, Ontario, for the junior league. He spent a year playing in Oro-Medonte and then three years playing in Bradford. He considers his time in Canada to be the best in his life. “Here I am — a 22-year-old freshmen. I don’t regret going to play because you can always go to school,” Neuneker said. During Neuneker’s last year in Ontario, the FGCU head coach Bob Brinkworth contacted Neuneker and asked if he had any interest in playing for the Eagles. While in still in Canada, Neuneker met Brinkworth along with Dylan Duprey.

Neuneker had no idea that in a short amount of time he would not only be playing with Duprey for the Eagles, but would also be living with him.

After meeting the pair, Neuneker made up his mind.

“It kind of fell into place, and I figured why not play hockey in Florida?” Neuneker said. “I could only imagine what it would be like walking into the rink with a short-sleeve T-shirt on. “

Neuneker began his freshman year at FGCU playing for the D2 hockey team in 2013. He says he had many options, but didn’t want to be restricted to playing every day while he attended school. FGCU gave him the balance he was looking for. “It’s a little more laid back. It’s the perfect fit,” Neuneker said.

He says he plays about three to five times a week and spends a majority of his time with his first friend on the Eagles’ ice hockey team, Duprey.

“He’s the brother I never had,” Neuneker said. “He and I are very close.”

While the team has distinct groups and cliques, Neuneker says collectively they are a family. He says he is never bored with a team full of brothers. The closeness of the Eagles is one of Neuneker’s favorite parts of playing hockey at FGCU.

“Whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, we have a lot of fun together,” Neuneker said. Neuneker is a leader. He is an alternate captain who says his responsibilities include being a good example for the team on and off the ice.

“It’s been an honor receiving that title my first year being down here,” Neuneker said. “It was unexpected, but in the past I’ve always taken up that leadership role. I think that’s just become part of who I am. “ Along with wearing the “A” on his jersey, Neuneker chose to wear the number 9. It wasn’t his first choice — he wanted 22 as a tribute to his birthday, June 22. When that was unavailable, he the tried for 91, his birth year, but that wasn’t an option, either. He decided to pay homage to one of his favorite players, NHL legend Gordie Howe, by donning his signature No. 9.

However, when asked about his inspiration, it’s not Howe that Neuneker mentions. It’s his father, Devin, who he calls “Chubbs.”

“He’s been with me forever, and we’ve always grown closer and closer. He’s always there as a father figure and a friend, and he knows when to flirt with the boundaries of both,” Neuneker said. “He’s always given me someone to look up to and someone to follow as any father should, but he’s especially gone out of his way to let my sister and I have the best opportunities.”

Neuneker and his 20-year-old sister, Rachel, are very close. She attends FGCU also and rides for the equestrian team. She also lives with Neuneker and Duprey. While his father remains in Illinois, Neuneker will continue earning a degree in exercise science and tearing up the ice at FGCU. He has found his place dominating the icy parts of the Sunshine State. “I don’t see myself going anywhere else,” he said. “Even over the summer I think I might stay here instead of going home.”

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