Jed Pietila and Joe Shawan talked off and on over the phone for two weeks.
Finally, one day at the end of a conversation, Shawan, the head hockey coach at Michigan Tech University, told Pietila “hey, next time you call me I want your decision.”
Pietila didn’t want to seem overly excited so he waited as long as he could to return Shawan’s call.
“It was two minutes later,” Pietila said with a laugh, “then I ran upstairs and yelled ‘I’m going to Michigan Tech!’”
The decision was a no-brainer for the three-year Austin Bruins defenseman, despite the fact that he grew up in Howell, Michigan, approximately halfway between Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) and Lansing (Michigan State University).
“Michigan Tech is my dream school,” he said. “All of of my cousins went there. We’ve always watched Michigan Tech hockey. We have family up in the (Upper Peninsula) and have a cottage there that we go to every summer.
“I’ve skated at Tech’s arena a couple of times in the summer and worked out up there. I have oodles and oodles of cousins who’ve gone there and some who’ve played there.”
When he arrives on campus this fall, he’ll be the next in a long line of Pietilas to play for the Huskies, including (among others) Blake, a forward from 2011-15 who was drafted by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils; and Logan, a forward who’ll be a sophomore in the fall after putting up 20 points a year ago.
A REVIVED CAREER
Very few players will appreciate a chance to play for their dream school more than Jed Pietila. Three years ago, he thought his hockey career might be over.
Pietila played AAA hockey in Michigan for four years, but when it came time for his U18 season, the costs became too great.
“I come from a family of nine,” he said one afternoon in late June while taking a break from his summer job, from which he’ll use the money he earns to help him through his first year of college. “It’s tough to fork out that much money.”
Instead of sulking, Pietila excelled in his lone season of high school hockey, scoring 20 goals and 55 points and serving as an alternate captain for Hartland High as a senior.
That led to him getting drafted by the Bruins’ NAHL Central Division rival Aberdeen (S.D.) Wings. He made the team out of fall camp in 2017, but after he played in five games USHL teams began to make cuts, and the Wings added a defenseman.
“I was the guy who got shipped out,” Pietila said.
He immediately received a call from another Central Division team, the Minot (N.D.) Minotauros, who brought him in for about two weeks.
“Then right before they left for a trip to Alaska, they gave me a spiel, said they had to be loyal to their vets,” Pietila said. He found himself the odd man out once again, and this time without a call from another team.
BECOMING A BRUIN
Pietila returned home to Michigan, wondering what was next for his hockey career. He skated with his old high school team occasionally and played in a couple of AAA showcases in Detroit with the TPH Thunder U18 program.
“I stressed for awhile after being cut by Aberdeen, thinking ‘should I just pack it in and go to school?’” he said. “Then when I got cut from Minot, it was like ‘well, what’s going to happen now?’”
While skating in one of those showcases close to Christmastime, Pietila suffered a minor knee injury. As luck would have it, Austin Bruins head coach Steve Howard texted him just days later saying “we’ve liked you all along and we’re not sure what other teams are doing by not taking you in.”
“It was exciting to get that text, but I was a little nervous,” Pietila said. “I said ‘I can’t walk right now, but if you give me a couple of weeks, I’ll get back into shape.’”
The Bruins had a handful of players suffer injuries around that time and needed some depth. Howard had seen Pietila’s versatility at a showcase the previous summer, when the teenager took shifts at both forward and defense.
“He came in and was a great utility for us his first year, played some forward and some ‘D,’” Howard said. “I did the same thing as a player when I was his age. He made the full switch to defense his second year and ended up being a captain last year.
“He had a good year; we made a lot of calls for him. … He’s a good kid on and off the ice. Michigan Tech is his dream school, to see that happen for him, there’s nothing better than that feeling.”
ACHIEVING A DREAM
Pietila said he didn’t see himself as a potential Division I player until he settled in with the Bruins. He finished his career in Austin with 18 goals and 66 points in 126 games.
“I second-guessed myself a lot,” he said. “Everyone I’ve played with will tell you I’m way too hard on myself. Now, playing in front of friends and family (at Michigan Tech) … the rink up there is one of the best atmospheres in college hockey.”
Howard said Pietila has earned everything he’s gotten, including the chance to play at Tech.
“When a guy is playing two or three years in juniors and itching for a Division I deal, you want to keep their focus on winning games and playing good hockey,” Howard said. “Don’t look in the stands to see who’s there with a clipboard, just play your game and good things will happen.
“As coaches, our phones ring a lot and we make a lot of calls. We just want that player to concentrate on playing his role. We preach to all the kids, with team success comes individual success.”