Sitting in a dark room at the library with his back to a window filled with grey skies, one Colorado State athlete sat down to answer some questions about his life and passion — hockey.
Mike Dlugos is a senior natural resources management major and the goalie for the CSU club hockey team. He speaks with humility, intelligence and a mid-western accent as he talks about his life as a hockey player, college student and outdoorsman.
Originally from St. Louis, Mo., Dlugos takes pride in his Midwestern roots. Because his home city is a great sports town, Dlugos said, filled with good people and beautiful scenery, he has become a lifelong (NFL) Rams and (MLB) Cardinals fan.
“We all stick together, we’re a good a town, a good Midwestern city, mainly a sports city though,” Dlugos said.
While Dlugos loves other sports, he said he was always destined for hockey.
Coming from a large family, with two sisters and four brothers, Dlugos loved his early beginnings growing up in a hockey family. Not your normal hockey family, a real hockey family — where dad coaches and all the kids play. This includes his sisters, who won two championships in the ACHA league while attending Lindenwood University in Missouri.
“I think it was kind of a shot in the arm for Mike, to watch his sisters play in college and he wasn’t,” said Dlugos’s father, Don Dlugos.
Getting out on the ice for the first time at the mature age of four, Dlugos began his hockey career quickly. Using a chair to keep his balance in a technique he recommends to all people learning to skate, he soon found his ice legs and was skating freely in a week.
Next it was time to learn to play hockey. He started out his hockey life as a forward, but at the age of eight, Dlugos found his skills and active mind were best utilized defending the goal. Finding the goal was a bit serendipitous, however.
“If he [Dlugos’ father] couldn’t find a goalie his team would fold,” Dlugos said. “That’s how I decided to be a goalie, because my dad needed a goalie.”
But the reason he decided to stick with it is contrary to normal human response — he likes the pressure. He enjoys the game coming down to him. Making a save could mean a hero’s welcome, and missing a save could mean tomatoes flying past his nose.
“He strives when people have confidence in him,” said Don Dlugos. “He likes to play the tougher teams. In a game he plays like a brick wall.”
Rams head coach Eric Sunness agreed, saying that Dlugos is always taking responsibility for goals and pushing himself to be an elite goalie.
“Mike is an incredibly focused individual,” said Sunness. “He is typically the first guy to arrive at the rink and the last guy to leave. What’s inside Dlugos is a molten desire to win.”
A four-year starter in high school for the Saint Mary’s Dragons, Dlugos has become accustomed to pressure. Averaging around 40 shots a game certainly earned him quality experience, and in spite of the poor record of his team, he was invited to the Chicago Showcase Tournament as Missouri’s most valuable goalie.
After playing for the St. Louis Sting in the North American Hockey League and earning a two-year degree from St. Louis Community College, Dlugos came to CSU, where he starts for the first time this season. His move to CSU was, in part, for the atmosphere outside the hockey rink.
“I’m a big fan of the outdoors, I love mountains,” Dlugos said. “I love going on overnight backpacking trips and camping out.”
Although he has not spent much time on the ski slopes, Dlugos spends more than enough time outdoors. Mountain biking and hiking are usual favorite activities, but not during the hockey season, because he would rather get hurt playing hockey than breaking a bone falling from a bike.
With most of his focus going toward school and hockey, there leaves little time for Dlugos’ greatest passion — backpacking. After spending the summer working for the U.S. Forest Service building trails, the chances of doing anything else after school is over are as low as the temperature of the ice he plays on. Post graduation, Dlugos plans on beginning a career with the Forest or Park Services.
Overall, Dlugos said he is a laid back person whose idea of a perfect day consists of sleeping, relaxation and eating lunch with the perfect view — somewhat fitting for a man who spends a good deal of his time running, skating and working hard to improve himself on the ice.
Although the long-time goalie sees outdoor living as his future, Dlugos will never forget his roots in hockey.
“It’s always going to be part of my future, whether it’s having my kids play, or coaching or just playing drop in. I’m always going to play,” he said.
Whether it’s playing hockey or going on an overnight adventure into the woods, this St. Louis native will always enjoy the polar opposites of living: intensity or relaxation — nothing in between. And where Dlugos is most comfortable is in between the pipes.
Sports writer Keith Robertson can be reached at email@example.com.