John-Michael Liles: Star Avalanche Defenseman from Zionsville

You don’t normally see too many professional ice hockey players come from Central Indiana. The Hoosier state is mostly known for the basketball virtuosos it produces, not masters of the ice. However, there’s at least one Zionsville resident who feels at home on the ice: John-Michael Liles. Liles is a defensive player for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, but he got there on the heels of a successful amateur career in Indiana and a college career in Michigan. John-Michael Liles has played all over the United States and the world, from Colorado to Italy, along the way racking up a slew of awards and accomplishments. A minority owner of the Indiana Ice, Indianapolis‘ own minor league hockey team, John-Micheal Liles hasn’t strayed far from his Indiana sports roots even though he plays halfway across the country.

Video highlights of the career of Zionsville, Indiana native and NHL player John-Michael Liles


John-Michael Liles was born in Indy on November 25, 1980, and he was raised in the nearby suburb of Zionsville, Indiana. His mother was a rower at Purdue University, which might have influenced Liles’ early athletic aspirations. Liles got his start playing minor league hockey in Carmel, Indiana (probably at the Carmel Ice Skadium), and he would eventually attend the Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. While at the academy, Liles played both golf and hockey, but hockey would prove to be his calling. His freshman year, Liles was the school’s B Team MVP, and the next year he was promoted to the varsity squad, which is where he caught the attention of the U.S. National Team Development Program, which grooms promising young hockey players for careers in the U.S. National Team.

Video of an interview with Zionsville, Indiana native and nHL player John-Michael Liles


The U.S. National Team Development Program is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the home of the University of Michigan, so it was no surprise when John-Michael Liles chose to stay in that state, playing hockey for Michigan State University. His freshman year was an impressive one; he scored 28 points in 40 games (the most for any defenseman at the time) and was a finalist for the CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman Award. Liles was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche for the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but he still had a few more seasons to spend with Michigan State University. Throughout the rest of his collegiate career, Liles become known as an excellent scoring defender, earning spots on the All-CCHA First Team, the All-CCHA Second Team, and the Second All-American Team. He also won back to back CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman Awards and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, an annual award for the top player in NCAA ice hockey.

Video of Zionsville, Indiana native John-Michael Liles dominating a shootout


Since John-Michael Liles had been entry level drafted by the Avalanche in 2000, he was obligated to play for the team after his graduation from Michigan State University. Liles got his start on the amateur squad, closing out the last ten games of the 2002 – 2003 season for the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, the Hershey Bears. It wouldn’t be long before Liles would go pro, however; he began his NHL career at the start of the 2003 – 2004 season. That year, he scored the most goals of any rookie defenseman in the league (10 goals and 34 points)  and the most ever by a rookie Avalanche defenseman. He would play in all eleven of the Avalanche’s playoff games and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.

The next year John-Michael Liles would go abroad. The NHL suffered a lockout at the start of the 2003 – 2004 season, so Liles briefly joined the German professional hockey league, where he played for the Iserlohn Roosters. He also played two games in the 2004 World Cup that year, which would eventually earn him a starting position with the U.S. National Team in the 2005 World Championships. When the NHL resumed regular play in the 2005 – 2006 season, Liles returned to the Avalanche, where he again led the team in defensive points. But John-Michael Liles returned to the international stage when he was chosen to play in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. The U.S. team was eliminated fairly quickly that year, and Liles earned two assists.

Video tribute to Colorado Avalanche player and Zionsville, Indiana native John-Michael Liles


The next few years would see John-Michael Liles continuing his streak of defensive goal scoring mastery, becoming the first NHL defenseman in twenty years to score more than ten goals in his first three years in the 2006 – 2007 season. The Avalanche would decline in skill over the next three years, but Liles never really lost his touch; he led the team in defensive scoring for the 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons. 2009 saw Liles again play for the U.S. National Team, this time in the 2009 World Championships; he scored the most points on the team and the second most points in the entire tournament, though the team finished fourth, narrowly losing the bronze to Sweden. Liles was marred by injuries in the 2009 – 2010 season, causing him to sit out on several games, but he still led the team in defensive scoring for the fourth consecutive year. So far in the 2010 – 2011 season, Liles has already made history: he recorded an assist in nine consecutive games, an NHL record.

Video of Zionsville, Indiana native and NHL player John-Michael Liles scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators


Famous Zionsville resident John-Michael Liles has been all over the hockey world, from the small time rink at Carmel to the massive World Championship arenas in Switzerland. One of the highest scoring defenseman in Colorado Avalanche history, John-Michael Liles is still going strong in the NHL, scoring points and protecting the goal. In 2007, Liles purchased a minority interest holding in the Indiana Ice, hence returning to his Indianapolis sports roots and ensuring Liles will probably be an Indiana resident for a while after his professional hockey career. Though most Indiana sports figures have made their impact on the gridiron or the court, Zionsville native John-Michael Liles has shown his prowess in an arena few Hoosiers dare set foot in: the ice rink.