The son of Hollywood and hockey sat inside the Capitals locker room, removing his pads beside the other development camp prospects. Some of them, Miles Koules included, were placed into a makeshift phalanx of chairs, erected this week to contain the surplus of bodies. Their nameplates – and since the jerseys had been taken to laundry, their main form of identification to the outside world – rested at their feet, smothered by gear.
During the first intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday night, Koules had poked a shootout goal through the legs of goaltender Vitek Vanecek, and now two more games remained for the southern California native to impress, to stand out among this crowded room.
This same desire had likely come to Koules when the Capitals called after the 2014 entry draft, inviting the WHL right winger to Ballston as a free agent. It was why he had left home at age 13, to focus on hockey away from the sun-splashed lethargy that trapped his childhood friends. It was what Koules had envisioned on regular visits to a different NHL locker room, when part of him gawked at the nearby stars and the rest felt eager to learn from the professionals his father employed.
“Definitely star-struck when you see Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis,” Koules said. “Those are the guys you grew up watching. But at the same time, I would watch their habits and the way they went around their day, just being true pros.”
In 2007, Miles’s father, Oren Koules, became a part owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. A former ACHL hockey player himself, the elder Koules had been wildly successful in the entertainment industry, including producing the “Saw” franchise and executive producing the CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men.” His son, the burgeoning hockey player, became an indirect beneficiary of the sale. Miles could walk around the Lightning locker room, keeping quiet but soaking in the NHL. He could skate with the healthy scratches and learn their daily routine.
“That’s when I really took a step and said I want to be a hockey player when I grow up,” he said. “It was a turning point in my life.”
This coincided with another turning point, which happened around the same time his father helped buy the Lightning. The rinks where Koules practiced took two hours to reach in the quagmire of Los Angeles traffic, which proved challenging enough. But Koules also found his dreams clashing with the lifestyle of his friends.
“My friends are great guys, but they do different things,” Koules said. “They’re musicians, they … you know what I mean? They’re not very dedicated. They’re not waking up every morning to go to the gym to train, that sort of thing. It’s better to be around guys who are focused and driven the same way I am.”
So Koules enrolled at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a boarding school located an hour south of Minneapolis with an enrollment of nearly 500 and a list of NHL alumni almost that long. Zach Parise graduated in 2002. Jonathan Toews graduated in 2005. Sidney Crosby spent one year there. Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 draft pick in 2013, spent two.
“It was tough, just because where I grew up, it’s leaving my family and friends,” he said. “I knew if I wanted to try to achieve my goals someday, I would have to make some sacrifices.”
To this day, Koules’s parents say he never called for the first month, and there might be some truth to that.
“As soon as I got there,” he said, “it was one of the most fun times.”
Now 20 years old, Koules had changed directions and sped forward. He played for two seasons with the United States National Development Team. Then he joined the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, located in Alberta. In 139 regular season games, he has recorded 91 points. In 26 playoff games, he has 14. He hopes a solid showing this week can bring an invitation to rookie camp in September.
“I’d love to try to make Hershey here,” he said. “If I can’t do that I’ll go back to Medicine Hat and play as a 20-year-old.”
A different type of playing, mind you, than what a younger Koules enjoyed in the locker room at Lighting games, or with his father for another production. Koules never visited the set for “Saw” – nor any of its six sequels, for that matter – but sometimes tagged along to “Two and a Half Men” tapings in Los Angeles, back in the city he had to leave, so he could have a shot at going somewhere.