The story isn’t uncommon. A kid grows up in Alaska and moves away, experiencing people from all over the country and cultures from around the world. That same person is then happy to move home and get back to the things treasured in Alaska in the first place.
What is uncommon is that Kenai River Brown Bears forward Tyler Miknich of Anchorage was only 19 when he made his way home.
Miknich, now 20, was born in Nevada but his parents, Eric and Jodie Miknich of Anchorage, moved to Alaska within a year of Tyler’s birth.
Eric played hockey for the club team at the University of Arizona and Eric’s brother, Bret Miknich, saw a few years in a University of Alaska Fairbanks sweater.
So it was no surprise that Tyler developed a passion for hockey even while dabbling in soccer, lacrosse, baseball, golf, football and the various trappings of outdoor adventure in Alaska.
After playing two seasons at Service High School, Miknich had a decision to make.
“I realized if I wanted to do something in hockey, I’d have to go somewhere with an opportunity to play against better players,” he said.
His parents were on board as long as his education did not suffer. With the help of a friend, Tyler quickly homed in on Selects Academy at South Kent School in Connecticut.
The Cardinals play not only prep schools from the Northeast, but the top AAA teams from across the country as well. Miknich also said the academics were challenging, comparing it to college.
“It was like college, but a smaller college,” Miknich said. “The class sizes were small so you had to know what was going on.”
Miknich shared those classes with student-athletes who would go on to play Division I in sports like basketball and soccer. The student manager of his hockey team is from Kuwait and is now a good friend, and Miknich knew many others from Africa and Europe due to an ambassador program.
“I never thought I would know somebody from Kuwait, much less be friends with them,” Miknich said.
After graduating, Miknich was drafted by the Amarillo (Texas) Bulls of the North American Hockey League and played a year there, registering three goals and three assists in 51 games.
As Miknich was having hip surgery in May 2017 that would keep him out of NAHL action until December, the wheels were already turning for his return to Alaska.
Josh Petrich got the head coaching job with the Brown Bears and is a big fan of Miknich.
“The big word I would use with him is relentless,” Petrich said. “He’s relentless in his pursuit of the puck, relentless in his effort, relentless in his consistency.”
Miknich would not appear in a game for Amarillo until December, but Petrich was already trying to bring Miknich, the billet son of Sam and Mandy Clyde, home before that. Jan. 5, Miknich played his first game for the Bears.
With his brother, Ryan, also at Selects Academy and his sister, Kaitlin, away at college, Tyler said his parents are happy to battle empty-nest syndrome by watching their son play hockey.
“Everything runs full circle,” Miknich said. “Leaving as a junior and coming back now makes me feel good.
“It’s special being a part of something in Alaska, especially something that almost went away last year. It’s special wearing a jersey that represents this community.”
Thus far, Miknich has one goal and two assists in 16 games for the Bears. But those stats don’t sum up the game of the 5-foot-9, 148-pounder. At home, Kenai River is able to match Miknich’s line up against the opposing team’s top line, and thus far that has yielded a 5-3 record since Miknich joined the team.
“It can be frustrating, because he doesn’t get the recognition and the rewards as the guys scoring all the points,” Petrich said. “But what he brings to the table, not a lot of kids do.”
Petrich said many junior players don’t understand that role, but Miknich does.
“Everybody likes to score, but you also have to do the little things, the intangibles, that don’t show up on the scoresheet, like blocking shots and getting pucks out,” Miknich said.
Petrich said Miknich’s mature attitude has helped change the culture of the team. With one year left, Miknich wants even more next season, especially with a full offseason to focus on hockey and not on rehab.
“I definitely want to take on more of a leadership role, and also keep doing the small things that let us win,” Miknich said.