The quest is a simple one for Dakota Mermis. He intends to play in the NHL as quickly as possible.
And the Alton resident intends to skate on that glittering ice for as long as he can. It's no Impossible Dream. He has made an improbable trek, going from the East Alton Ice Arena to the Gila River Arena in Glendale Ariz.
Mermis, 21, and a 6-0, 190-pound defenseman, signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Coyotes earlier this month. He attended the team’s skills camp and will get an opportunity in September to make the squad during the Coyotes’ training camp in Glendale.
“I’ll go to camp and put my best foot forward and try to make the Coyotes’ roster,” said Mermis, the first Altonian to play pro hockey. “I have a three-year deal and that’s great.”
So there’s a timetable for advancing through the Coyotes’ system and Mermis figures to pay his dues. He may wind up with their farm team in Springfield, Mass., one slap shot away from the NHL.
“I think Arizona is doing a lot of good things,” he said of the Coyotes. “My goal is to be part of that and help them win some games.”
He did that for two years playing with the Alton Redbirds of the MVCHA and finishing the 2012 season with them. By the time Mermis was a junior in high school, he trained with the U.S. Hockey National Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. His senior season landed him in Green Bay, Wis., with the Green Bay Grinders of the U.S. Hockey League.
Mermis graduated from Alton High and is proud of it.
Yet there was no turning back from his love for hockey at that point. He would go wherever it took him. Mermis played at the University of Denver for a semester before latching on with the Ontario Hockey League. Along the way, his dad, Bill, served as a key influence for his success. Bill, a former tennis and soccer player at AHS, coaches the St. Louis AAA Blues Midget Minor team. Older brother, Jarrod, also played hockey at Denver.
“I kind of grew up with my dad coaching, but I never played for him,” Mermis said, “When I was 12 and 13 years old, I played for a team from Affton, Mo.”
He made a name for himself in the OHL by excelling for the London Knights and Oshawa Generals. Mermis competed in three consecutive Memorial Cups finals — the junior hockey championships — and played in part in Oshawa’s title in June. Mermis scored six goals and amassed 24 assists for the Generals.
The Coyotes liked what they saw and Mermis figured they would be a good fit. He previously spent time with them in a 2014 camp.
“It’s a place where I’m comfortable,” he said. “I have an opportunity with them. I’m 21 and the average age for a rookie in the NHL is 24 or 25. More likely than not, I’ll be (at Springfield), but you never know what will happen.”
He added, “I think my best skills are my vision on the ice and I can play a good two-way game as a defenseman. I’ll try to outsmart and outwork opponents.
“You have to keep improving in all areas. I’m a smaller defenseman, so one thing I will have to do is increase my strength to play in the NHL.”
Following the Coyotes’ skills camp, Mermis returned to Alton. However, he’s never very far from the ice.
Mermis is spending this summer sharpening his skills at the Power Play Personnel Training facility in Manchester, Mo. Former Blues’ player Rik Wilson has run the business for 22 years.
Thus, the training continues. It’s a never-ending process, Mermis said.
“It’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” he said of his climb to reach the NHL. “But it can open up a ton of resources. What I want to do is to make my way and support myself.”
He seems destined to do that. Mermis' goal is to achieve it sooner than later.