Adam Pleskach, Alaska Aces, American International College, Bruce Ramsay, CHL, Columbus Cottonmouths, ECHL, Evansville Icemen, Ft. Wayne Komets, Kelly Cup, New York Rangers, South Carolina Stingrays, Spencer Carbery, SPHL, Steve Mele, Todd Robinson, Tom Mele, Tulsa Oilers, Utah Grizzlies
Thursday I had the opportunity to sit down with Tulsa Oilers’ Tom and Steve Mele and their teammate and friend Adam Pleskach who had all participated in the Oklahoma City Barons training camp a few weeks ago. The Mele brothers’ hockey history closely connects with Pleskach’s, so I wanted to talk to them about that, and how they ended up in Tulsa together this season.
Last night the Tulsa Oilers opened their season in Allen and won 9-6! Pleskach had a goal and 2 assists, Tom Mele had 1 assist, and Steve was a healthy scratch. In an introduction to a few new players this season Tulsa’s Coach Bruce Ramsay had this to say about Tom Mele: “Plain and simple, Tom knows what it takes to win at this level and he brings valuable experience and toughness to our team,” Ramsay said. “He’s accomplished more in three seasons than many players do in their entire careers and having him in Tulsa is big pickup for our organization.”
Interview October 23, 2014:
PT: Tom and Steve, you were born in Bronx, NY – how did you discover hockey, and how old were you when started?
Tom: My dad got us into it. He played growing up and in high school. He was a local instructor at a few rinks in the city and he got us going. We grew up playing roller hockey and we didn’t really get into serious ice hockey until I was about 16. I was late. I played in local house leagues and local high school until I was 16 and then I finally learned how the process worked for midget, juniors and college. Just kind of snowballed.
Steve: I started with travel hockey as soon as I was 13 (Tom’s obviously a few years older than me) and I learned from him what route to take and where to go and how to get noticed, stuff like that. But it all started with roller hockey and local house leagues.
PT: When you were young did you attend any Rangers games at MSG?
Tom: Yes, we grew up Ranger fans. We weren’t season tickets holders, but we attended some games.
Steve: They were about 10 minutes from us, so any teams we could get to, we went.
Tom: Our father was a big Rangers fan, but Rangers tickets aren’t that cheap. We were raised Ranger fans.
PT: Adam, you were born in Beauséjour, MB, Canada – You’re Canadian, so I assume hockey was just a given?
Adam: Beauséjour is about 3,000 people, it’s pretty small, compared to Tulsa anyway. I started probably at age 3 or 4. It’s sort of bred into you on the outdoor rinks. [laughing]
PT: All of you attended American International College (AIC) in Springfield, MA –This is where you met Adam? Tell me about your time there –
Tom: I was the first one to commit, obviously being older, after my 20-year-old at Junior. And after my sophomore year was over I was going into my Junior season and Steve was just finishing up. We had a few offers to play Division I but our coach had approached me and asked me if he would be interested in coming and I said absolutely – they went to a summer showcase that year because I didn’t get to see him much that year — and they liked him. I got a call from the coach saying that they liked Steve and they were going to offer him and we went there. I was a Junior and he was a freshman and I believe these guys [Steve and Adam] met just because they were randomly assigned to be roommates in the dorms.
Steve: I had another year of Junior left and I committed at 20. I could have gone back to play another year at Junior but since my brother was there I figured I’d play 2 years with him instead of maybe not getting an offer anymore at all was probably the best situation. And at Freshman orientation I met this guy, Adam, and the rest is history.
Adam: We were roommates in the dorm our Freshman year and then moved out into a house and the three of us were roommates for another year together.
PT: Adam, how did you end up there?
Adam: Half the team was Canadian, so it wasn’t uncommon for a Canadian to go to college up there. That was who I was recruited by and it was a good opportunity.
Steve: AIC’s assistants and scouts go out west to Canada and they recruit all over the place. Half the team was actually American and half was Canadian, exactly down the line.
PT: Tom, after AIC you signed with the Ft. Wayne Komets (which was then CHL) the first season and then you played for the Alaska Aces for 2 seasons, winning the Kelly Cup last season. Tell me about that, as well as Kelly Cup run with Alaska.
Tom: My first year with Ft. Wayne the team was going to the ECHL, they were joining the league and because of that the loophole for that team was that everyone on that team became unrestricted free agents so anyone could go anywhere they wanted. That’s why I was not restricted to stay in Ft. Wayne and I had an opportunity over the summer to go play in Alaska and had a good year there, my second year pro. We had a lot of success, we won the regular season that year but we came up short in the second round of the playoffs.
I got a good offer to go back last year and part of the reason I went back was that I saw the transition that they were building a championship winning team and I liked everything I heard over the summer. They sold me on returning and even though it wasn’t that close to home, it was an opportunity to go back and be part of another winning team. Everything fell into place and the coaches did a great job of putting a good product on the ice. We had a lot of success winning the regular season and then once that happened, we said we are not going to let what happened the year before happen again. We had a very deep team and ended up having a really good run and I was grateful to be a part of it.
PT: Steve – last season was your first full pro season and you spent time with the SPHL Columbus Cottonmouths, ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, Utah Grizzlies and you ended the season with the CHL’s Tulsa Oilers – that was a lot of miles! What was your impression of your first full professional season of hockey?
Steve: Yeah, a lot of miles. [laughing] It was tough mentally, I guess. I had signed with Greenville at the beginning of the year where I had finished there after college but they had double-affiliated so unfortunately they had to make a few moves before training camp because they just had too many guys going there. So I was one of the guys who unfortunately didn’t get to go to training camp, so for a couple of months I was just sitting home looking for a job. By December I had to make a decision if I wanted to keep playing that year – you know you look for ECHL teams, or the highest level you can possibly get, but jobs just weren’t around, so I started in Columbus. I was thankful to them – they brought me in, gave me an opportunity and I played a lot there.
I was there about 2 weeks before I got called up to South Carolina and was there on a loan because they had a lot of guys called up to the American Hockey League in Providence. Coach told me straight out that you’re going to fill in for me, to get your name back out there because I know what happened to you at the beginning of the year, so I was grateful for Spencer Carbery, the coach of the Stingrays for giving me that opportunity. I played a handful of games there and then I went to Utah for about six weeks and same thing with the affiliations, callups, just the way the business works being a rookie and not going to training camp it’s hard to get your foot in the door and earn a spot.
It was a big mental test last year and you don’t want to go through it as a player but I’m grateful that it happened and I ended up in Tulsa and I’m back here again and I’m very happy to be here.
PT: Adam, after AIC you ended that season with Evansville and last season you spent the full season with the Tulsa Oilers – you had 33 goals and 26 assists (59 pts) in 61 games – that’s a good season! Tell me a bit about last season.
Adam: It was sort of random that I came here. It’s sort of because of Evansville that I ended up here. Todd Robinson who was one of our Captains and leading scorer here last year was my linemate in Evansville the year before. And I was actually out of a job. I was at Steve’s house, and we were both out of a job because we were both in Greenville and got cut in Greenville – that’s where our story connects again.
I was in Greenville and got released and went to New York and living with Steve for a couple of weeks and got a call from Todd Robinson who was here last year and they were looking to make some changes here so 4 or 5 games into the season I came here. And I just got lucky in that Bruce Ramsay gave me a shot and it ended up working out and I rode that all the way through the season and got to play with a lot of good players and grew to love Tulsa so I wanted to come back.
PT: All of you attended OKC Barons training camp this season and in the Barons’ preseason game in TX you played on a line together – T. Mele (LW) – S. Mele ( C) – Pleskach (RW) – great line! You started the scoring for OKC! Tom, you had the goal, with the assist to Steve, and the Barons won in OT.
Steve: We were all on the line and the goal was on a faceoff off a defenseman’s shot.
Patricia: Are you planning to repeat this line in Tulsa this season?
Steve: Not to start. Bruce Ramsay is still figuring out the combinations and just because it’s the start of the season you don’t really know who can play well together. As of now, we’re not on the same line. But anything can happen during the season.
Patricia: It is always interesting to watch siblings play on a line together – OKC has the Jones twins Kellen and Connor and they are like you –a winger and a center – do you think you two have an advantage when you play together on a line?
Steve: We had some success playing together in college. I think being together so much and knowing how the other plays benefits us because usually with a line you are with strangers and have to figure it out, but with us, growing up playing together I guess, knowing the other one’s habits, it makes it a little easier and it’s fun at the same time.
Tom: I think it is definitely an advantage. He knows the way I play, I know the way he plays. Hockey is a game of reaction and making decisions very quickly and I think basically based on how the game or how the shift is going at that time, or where the play is at that time, him knowing what type of player I am, he’ll know what I am going to do in that situation. So I think definitely think it is beneficial.
PT: We’ve definitely seen this in the Jones twins play.
Steve: We played against them in college and it was very hard to defend them.
PT: Did you try to sign on the same team this season? Was this planned or something that just came about? And Adam, since you were here last season – did you play a role in this?
Tom: I was protected in Alaska and they were aware in my exit meeting when I left there in June that I was looking for a move. I wanted to be traded to the East to be closer to home, and have more of an opportunity for American League exposure and a lot of stuff that was going on off the ice, my girlfriend got a new job, so I wanted to be more geographically available to that. That wasn’t an option over the summer and these guys were signed here and they asked me if I would be willing to come here and they kind of recruited me to get here.
Adam: Yes, we were in touch over the summer.
Tom: I was just traded here last week, so everything happened very quickly and we weren’t sure about it. I was in Oklahoma City and my rights were still with Alaska
Adam: But he was living in our apartment [in Tulsa].
Steve: He pretty much couldn’t practice with us until his rights were traded.
Tom: Even the day before training camp started officially here Bruce told me I wasn’t allowed on the ice. And then I got a phone call that night that he was in touch with the coach in Alaska and they were able to get a trade done by the next morning.
PT: Describe yourself as a player –
Tom – the left winger: I like to play the game fast. I look at myself as a skilled player, a skilled winger who sees the ice pretty well and I like to skate. I’m not afraid to mix it up. I think I play with a little bit of grit to my game and even though I’m a little bit smaller than most guys I’m not afraid to throw my body around.
Steve – the center: I’m a center and take pride in my face-offs and being able to get puck possession. Good vision and I like making plays and passing the puck. If I have to kill penalties or grind, or be defensive against a top line, I’m willing to do it. I want to bring a little more physical game to the ice but overall I think I’m a faceoff guy, penalty killer and playmaker.
Adam – the right winger: Last year I played left wing – and I’m kind of the opposite of Tom – I like to slow the game down a bit and open up lanes for other guys on my lines who are faster usually. I try to own the boards in my own zone, and own in front of the net and in the other zone, in the offensive zone. I mostly try to base my game owning the opposite goalie’s crease and opening up lanes for my linemates.
Additional Articles: Mele Brothers Ready to Help Oilers Succeed in ECHL (by John Rittenoure, Tulsa World, Oct. 26, 2014)
The Tulsa Oilers play again on Sunday versus the Wichita Thunder at 4pm. Head over and watch as these two new ECHL teams face off against each other.