The Power Play of Perseverance

UW-Green Bay alumnus Michael Becker speaks with co-workers at the Central Wisconsin Woodworking Corporation in Wausau, Wisconsin. Photos by Dan Moore, University Photographer

“How would you like a job where when you made a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?” -Jacques Plante, (NHL Hall-of-Fame goalie)

“I was an OK goalie, good, but not someone scouts were going to chase.” -Michael Becker (Organizational Leadership, ’23)

Once, Mike aspired to be like Jacques, aiming for the NHL spotlight and to become an immovable force on the ice among unstoppable competitors. Now, the question arises: How does the mindset of a hall-of-fame goalie apply to a freshly-minted Phoenix graduate embarking on a career in human resources?

Becker’s degree in Organizational Leadership is essential to his role as a Human Resource Generalist and Safety Director.

These days, from his office as a human resources generalist and safety director at Central Wisconsin Woodworking Corporation in Wausau, Becker appraises his skills on the ice with a clarity that only time can bring. “I was a decent goalie, good, but not someone they were going to scout.” Who were ‘they?’ Coaches of elite teams at different levels, searching for their next standout player. They did call—but they were not going to call twice.

From a young age, Becker harbored a burning passion for hockey, but it took years for him to reconcile with the reality that he wouldn’t reach stardom. Although his achievements diverged from his initial dreams, they were no less satisfying, etched with the resilience of facing many hard shots—on the rink and in life.

It also took Becker 13 years to complete his bachelor’s degree. He earned a degree in Organizational Leadership from UW-Green Bay, a feat achieved predominantly through online courses. Remarkably, Becker’s physical connection to the campus began before his birth, during his mother’s attendance in the spring of ’89. He shares, “I think the only time I was on the GB campus was when I was in utero.”

During his high school years, Becker considered himself “a ‘bigish’ fish in the second biggest pond.” It was a time filled with moves and transitions, from Altoona and Eau Claire to the zenith of high school hockey, playing for Team Wisconsin. Then a family move ushered them into Minnesota’s competitive high school hockey landscape, where Becker remembers the captain of his next hockey team found out that he was moving to the state. “He said, ‘Dude, we have a chance to make it to the state championship this year. We just need a goalie.'”

Becker also remembers that final high school season to be extraordinary. “We had an amazing run that year, won conference for the first time in 18 years, but lost in the section final.”

Then reality set in. From there on, the journey into post-high school, professional hockey was not a straightforward path, but a slow downward spiral from his high school achievements. His passion for hockey whisked him away to the junior leagues of Texas and Minnesota. Scouts were noticing not only his talents but also his work habits. “I was scouted pretty heavily, and scouts have a ton of background information on players. So if you are not ready, or have a reputation for partying, they move on to the next guy.”

So Becker moved on. At the age of 21, he pivoted from professional hockey and set his sights on a walk-on college hockey career at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin. His first year at Concordia was a significant departure from his high school experiences, finding himself not in the starting goalie position to which he aspired. “That was unfamiliar and incredibly depressing compared to what I had hoped for.” He was planning to transfer to Augsburg University, but those plans were upended when the coach informed him that his spot was taken by a Division 1 player looking for more ice time.

Then alcohol, not hockey, took over Becker’s life. “When I was at Concordia, I was actually drinking nightly. But I took it to an entirely new level when the transfer fell through.” Becker hit rock bottom. “I just went on a binge. I never really stopped after that.” Now he was battling something more dangerous than a 100-mile-per-hour slapshot. “My drinking got worse, I moved back home and tried school a few times unsuccessfully,” Becker recalls. “I ultimately committed myself into a rehabilitation facility about seven years ago and had a few relapses before finally achieving lasting sobriety. Once I was sober, I wanted to continue my education and bettering myself.”

Becker in his office at Central Wisconsin Woodworking Corporation.

There was nowhere to go but up. He met his future wife Valerie and became a stepfather to her son Max. With time and the foundation of an instant family, his life found order. He married, took up coaching youth hockey, and found he had a talent for helping others succeed. Still, he attributes his success at his present career to “dumb luck and a solid work ethic.”

But there was still the unrealized dream of a college degree 13 years deferred. That journey led him to Northcentral Technical College before transferring to UW-Green Bay. He had made inquiries at other schools, but the personal attention he received from UW-Green Bay convinced him to enroll. “They were the most responsive by far, and I was a Rubik’s cube of transfer credits,” he said.

At UW-Green Bay, Becker found a supportive community that recognized his past efforts and current ambitions. “It felt like I actually had something going on that mattered to the advisors and basically everyone I interacted with, which was amazing,” Becker expresses, appreciating the personalized attention that allowed him to thrive.

“Lauri Welhouse, my academic advisor, was an absolute champion for me whenever anything went wrong. One college transcript listed an F—trust me, my brain exploded—and the professor was no longer working with the institution.” Welhouse managed to have the grade book opened back up, and the actual grade was a 98%, so it was transcribed incorrectly.

Becker’s academic strategy was methodical, taking one course at a time to manage his responsibilities effectively. This approach, alongside the flexibility of UW-Green Bay’s program, helped him maintain his academic and personal life balance. He also dedicated himself to outreach in sobriety and mental health, working with organizations focused on these areas, such as #samehere and Lift the Mask.

As for hockey? He coaches it now. It’s time for the next Jacque Plante to dream big.

Q: What unexpected lessons has life taught you?

A: Through my goalie coaching, not playing, I actually met a gentleman that worked at the company I’m at now. He told me ‘We’ll take anybody who’s got a brain’. And I was like, ‘Yeah, for sure!’ So, I started in the finishing department, and I did a bunch of the Six Sigma 5S things to their finishing department, showed them I knew what I was doing.

Q: What’s your spark?

A: One of my big sparks is “Lift The Mask” operated by The Goalie Guild. It’s a mental health support program dedicated to assisting hockey goalies in overcoming life’s challenges. That type of involvement, and the opportunity to help others through the challenges I’ve faced, sparks my passion and keeps me moving forward. Additionally, being involved with organizations like #SameHere has been transformative, not just for my sobriety but also for my mental health.

Q: How has education ignited your personal growth?

A: Green Bay has a lot of resources that are available and people that are available. Not just like going to a library to find a book, but people that are able to sit you down, have a conversation with you, orient you properly to what you’re trying to accomplish, and let you know the steps that you might need to take to get there. But a big thing is you look at it and think about the time commitment and say, ‘It’s going to be four years. Well, the next four years are going to happen whether you like it or not.’

Q: Any advice for someone considering returning to college after a lengthy lay-off?

A: My advice is to look ahead. The time will pass anyway, and Green Bay offers the support and guidance that can make all the difference. They helped me understand the path I needed to take, and this principle applies to anyone at a crossroads: the next four years are going to happen regardless, so why not spend them achieving your goals?

At UW-Green Bay, every person has the power to Rise. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you want to be. We invite you to read more Rise Stories about people from all walks of life who are blazing a brighter future for our region.

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