Robbie Payne is the highlight of this interview. Robbie currently is in his sophomore season with the Northern Michigan University Wildcats men’s hockey team. He is currently living in my hometown of Marquette, MI and playing on the college team I grew up idolizing.
I had the opportunity to coach Robbie while he played Midget AAA hockey. Robbie is the type of player that makes the team better with not only his skills on the ice, but the personality and life he brings off the ice. He is a very humble player and very good at various aspects of his game. He can be a leading scorer, a pest and an enforcer. He has a great attitude and was a pleasure to coach.
Mike Lowery: How and why did you start playing hockey?
Robbie Payne: There was a North American Hockey League (NAHL) Junior team that had moved into my hometown of Gaylord and we went to watch them a few times. My older brother started to play and I just wanted to be like him. My parents took me to beginning skating and I hated every minute of it. They put me on a team and I loved playing and never looked back.
ML: What are the biggest challenges you currently face with your career in hockey?
RP: The hardest thing for me right now is to continue to improve every day. At this level everybody is good and to become even better is very tough. Working every day in practice and staying after and doing the little things is what is going to push me on to the next level. It takes a massive amount of dedication and work to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other great hockey players and become that little bit better than the rest.
ML: What are some of your biggest accomplishments to date?
RP: I think my biggest accomplishment to date is becoming a division 1 college hockey player. Growing up it was always a dream to play for and against the best college teams in the nation. To get to this level took dedication and hard work and it has paid off. I had always looked up to these players and now to be a part of them is a dream come true.
ML: What are your future goals in the game of hockey?
RP: I want to become a professional hockey player. Being an NHL player would be the ultimate goal. It’s a goal I’ve strived for my whole life and it is within reaching distance. Within a few years, or less depending on the growth of my abilities, I could be playing with the best players on the planet. It’s pretty cool to think about after all these years of training to reach that goal.
ML: What do you like to do in your spare time?
RP: I love to watch and follow soccer. It’s one of my favorite things to do in my free time. I love to read and learn about new things. In the off season I like to go to the beach, hike, go camping, ride bikes and just be outdoors. Lately I’ve been into sailing and bought a little sunfish sailboat earlier in the year.
ML: Who and what have been your biggest influences to get you to this point in your career?
RP: I think my parents are the biggest influence on my hockey career. Without their support and motivation there is no way I would be where I am now. They have been unbelievable dedicated to making my dreams of being a hockey player a reality. When I was younger they would drive me 2 hours each way to practice twice a week. They have spent countless hours watching me play and giving me the support to become who I am today.
ML: How do you balance your school obligations with your hockey obligations?
RP: It’s pretty much like having a full time job and going to school. You’re at the rink around 4-5 hours a day every day and on top of it you’re gone for whole weekends on road trips. I have found just to do my work right away and try not to set it aside for too long otherwise you get behind. I’ve had a pretty favorable schedule so far though so we will see once I get into some upper level classes.
ML: If you could change anything about your career up until this point, what would you change?
RP: There is nothing I would change about my career so far. My entire career I’ve had coaches willing to help me become a better player, willing to do anything to move me to the next level. I am very satisfied with the path I have taken thus far.
ML: Can you provide me with some advice to share for prospective Junior and NCAA players?
RP: I think the best advice I ever got growing up was to work hard every day and get better every time you step on the ice. Have every practice mean something and have a goal every day to improve on one thing. I am always trying to get better and by working hard I have been able to achieve my goal of being a college hockey player.
ML: What does your in season training and off-season training consist of?
RP: Off season training is where you make all the strides as a hockey player. It’s the most important time of year to move your game to the next level. In the off-season most of my training is lower body and core with general overall strength added in. My lower body workouts are to get stronger and quicker and consists of lots of fast movements with low reps. Box-squats have been a major workout during my off-season along with speed pulls. I like doing 20 yard sled pull races with some of the other guys, it’s about who can get going quickest and be the strongest off the line.
Workouts during the season are like offseason workouts just less intense. I do a lot of the same movements and lifts but as the season goes on its just about maintaining your strength and staying healthy. Injuries during the season are bound to happen and I try my best to do preventative workouts (shoulder and hip movements) in season to stay healthy.
ML: What are some of the best things you have been taught or learned about the game?
RP: Knowing where to be on the ice is huge as you move up in hockey. Learning the systems and where to be and how to react to situations are very important and I think that is the most important thing I have learned about hockey.
ML: What are some of the best things you have been taught or learned that you can use outside of the game?
RP: Things that I’ve been taught in hockey that I can use outside of hockey is how to work hard. I have friends all over the place that don’t know the meaning of working hard. I think that almost anything can be solved just by working hard and giving it your all. It has helped a lot in my time in college with classes. I am not always the smartest in the class, but I will work hard and do my best to get the marks I want in school.
ML: What was life like playing in the USHL?
RP: Playing in the USHL was great. I had time at two different organizations, Tri-City Storm and the Chicago Steel, so I was able to see a lot in my year playing in the league. You are treated very well and given every opportunity to succeed and move on to a higher level. I loved playing in Chicago and had a good billet family and my teammates were great. The league is very skilled and you have lots of great players around you. Off the ice was different in Chicago because all the players lived so far away from one another that there wasn’t much hanging out with each other outside of the rink. Some players had an hour drive to the rink every day. Luckily, without traffic, I lived about 10 minutes from the rink so I had the shortest daily drive. I also had great billets that were very great to me and I am grateful I got to be a part of their family for the year.
ML: What is life like playing in the NCAA?
RP: Playing college hockey is a blast. My first college game was the most fun I have ever had playing hockey. You are playing at a high level and competing every day for a job on the roster. The players here work extremely hard on and off the ice and to keep up you have to do the same and more. Classes are good, I’m enjoying learning and continuing towards my goal of being a finance major.
ML: What was life like playing in the NAHL?
RP: The NAHL was a great league to get my game headed in the right direction towards playing college hockey. The players in the league are generally older and stronger than the players I played against in the USHL, so it prepared my physically to be ready for NCAA hockey. I was able to develop a ton over my two years in Kalamazoo and was able to play with some great players. The family I lived with in Kalamazoo was amazing to me. I was unbelievably lucky to have been placed with that family and I still feel a part of their family.
ML: What is your major in college?
RP: My major in college is Finance/Risk Management.
ML: What are your future goals outside of hockey?
RP: My goals are to take hockey as far as I can. Outside of hockey I want to get my college degree and use it to raise a family. I just want to be successful in my career field and do something that I enjoy doing. I would love to travel the world and experience different cultures.
ML: Favorite Five: Pregame Meal?/Player of All-Time?/Pro Hockey Team?/Hockey Memory?/Place to play?
RP: Meat Ravioli with red sauce, Luc Robitaille, Detroit Red Wings, My first college game, Rivalry game at Michigan Tech.
Thank you for the interview Robbie and good luck with this season and the rest of your career. I look forward to keeping in touch with you and watching you continue to fulfill your goals and dreams! Robbie also participated in a Reddit subcategory where users asked him hockey related questions. He took time out of his busy schedule to respond to the fans further displaying his character. That forum can be found by clicking here.