Tag: Chris Mueller

Beyond the Bradley Center: Admirals Look to Overcome Slow Start, Score More

2012-2013 Milwaukee Admirals: 9 G.P., 4-5-0-0–8 pts., 21 goals scored, 24 goals allowed, 12th place in the Western Conference. Leading scorer: Taylor Beck (1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points).

Best Recent Win: Oct. 31 5-4 over Charlotte. Worst Recent Loss: Oct 20 1-0 at San Antonio. Key Upcoming Matchup: Nov. 10 at Rockford.

On a historic political night in the state of Wisconsin, I thought I would take time to chime in on the Milwaukee Admirals season for the first time this season. Its great to be back. Hopefully we will be hearing the same rhetoric soon from the NHL.

Obviously, 4-5-0-0 was not the start Milwaukee was looking for coming off the fast finish of the 2011-2012 campaign. However, considering how few goals the Admirals scored so far (just 21, 7th worst in the AHL), things could be much worse. After Milwaukee suffered through a disastrous Texas road trip, the Admirals responded with two big wins in a three game stretch.

But I felt growing pains were to be expected in Milwaukee this season, especially early. Other than a few key veterans in familiar roles (Chris Mueller, Jonathon Blum, Jeremy Smith), the Admirals again sport a young roster full of fresh faces. Milwaukee is also being guided by its fourth head coach in a little over two years, and it can argued that its third philosophical change. Lastly, in a league rich with top NHL prospects due to the lockout, two of the Admirals’ key potential Predators, Ryan Ellis and Gabriel Bourque, have only made a limited impact due to injuries.

The biggest issue so far for Milwaukee has been a lack of consistent goal scoring. Too many nights sustained offensive pressure hasn’t been there leaving Jeremy Smith left to bail the team out (a job he’s quite capable of).  There have been a couple of major bright spots, notably the offensive efforts of rookies Patrick Cehlin and Mattias Ekholm, plus timely goals from Mark Van Guilder.

Honestly, I can’t help but be excited about the Admirals despite the slow start. Though lacking the major weapons of a team like Oklahoma City, the Admirals are deep with quality players. Defensively, Milwaukee has displayed a nice balance between offensive/transition blue liners and solid stay at home defenders.

This weekend Milwaukee plays Rockford for the first time this season. After last year’s terrible showing versus the IceHogs, Milwaukee will looking to take an early leg up on the season series.

So Roundtable . . . What did you think of Milwaukee’s start? Were you hoping for more? Are you seeing the positive signs I am seeing? Is Game 1 against Rockford a measuring stick game?

Predators Sign Mueller to Another Two-Way Deal

As other veteran members of the Milwaukee Admirals move on to other destinations, at least one key piece of this past year’s puzzle is back for another go-around with the Nashville Predators organization.

Official as of Thursday morning, talented forward Chris Mueller agreed to a one-year two-way contract valued at $550,000 at the NHL level, $105,000 at the AHL level with Nashville. The significant change to the terms comes in the AHL portion, where Mueller nearly doubles his take-home pay from last year’s $65,000 at Milwaukee. Also, at the end of the contract Mueller becomes an unrestricted free agent who will be free to sign with any other team if he chooses. Mueller was an RFA going into this season.

To say Mueller was important to the Admirals over the past two seasons is a major understatement. Mueller played 73 games in Milwaukee last year, finishing fifth in the AHL with 32 goals. Mueller also led the Admirals with 60 points and was the team’s only All-Star. It was the second straight year that the Buffalo, New York native ranked on the top of Milwaukee’s scoring charts as Mueller posted 24 goals and 50 points in 67 games for the Admirals in 2010-2011.

Heading into 2012-2013 Mueller has 19 games of NHL experience, but has yet to record his first goal. However, Mueller does have three assists in those games. Not to bad for a player who went undrafted after his college years at Michigan State.

So Roundtable . . . How would you like to welcome back Chris Mueller? Is this finally the year he sticks on with Nashville full-time? Are you hoping this isn’t Mueller’s last year with the Predators organization?

Admirals Sweep the Shootout, Outlast Oklahoma City 4-3

With a chance to retake first place in the West Division, Milwaukee’s normally dormant shootout skills caught fire Tuesday night, going a perfect four-for-four against Oklahoma City to deliver a 4-3 home win.

Admirals shooters Mark Santorelli, Mark Van Guilder, Gabriel Bourque and Ryan Thang all converted, while goaltender Jeremy Smith stopped two of three Oklahoma City attempts to preserve the victory.

With the two points, Milwaukee moves back into first place at 89 points.  The Admirals now sit one point clear of Houston, which lost 3-0 to Texas tonight.

Riding a fast start, Milwaukee opened the scoring 14:34 into the hockey game.  Off a transition pass from Teemu Laakso, Ryan Thang’s bad angle shot from the bottom of the right face off dot caught goaltender Jeff Deslauriers sliding and squeezed through the five-hole.

“It was quick little regroup play,” said Thang at the first intermission. “I beat their defense back up the ice, but I got a little lucky with the shot.”

In the final minute of the first period, Oklahoma City countered after Thang took a slashing penalty.  On their fourth rebound opportunity, Anthony Aiello scored into a wide-open Milwaukee net.

The Admirals regained a one-goal advantage seven minutes into the second period on a brilliant play from Roman Josi and Chris Mueller.   Off a breakout Josi found Mueller at center ice with a step on Aiello.  With a tape-to-tape 100-foot stretch pass, Josi sprung Mueller on a breakaway.  Mueller finished off the play with a brilliant deke.

Seven minutes later the Barons again tied the game, this time with a deflection goal by Andrew Lord.  Lord, who dressed for a pair of games with Milwaukee earlier this season, had his first AHL goal of 2010-2011 find twine off of goaltender Jeremy Smith’s mask.

Milwaukee countered yet again at the 17:38 mark of the second period, this time on the power play.  After Josi busted his stick, Andreas Thuresson found Kelsey Wilson alone in front of Deslauriers.  Wilson tucked a backhand shot through his legs, through Deslauriers’ wickets and across the goal line for a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.

Pressing in the third period, Oklahoma City peppered Smith, finally scoring on a five-on-three power play in the last four minutes.  Mark Arcobello scored the tying goal on one-timer off of a cross-crease pass from Brad Moran.

Overtime saw bizarre string of four minor penalties in quick succession, resulting in an extended period of four-on-three and five-on-three power play time for Milwaukee, but the Admirals only managed a couple of marginal chances to leave the game tied at three after 65 minutes.

Despite allowing three goals on 38 shots, Smith was superb.  But the Admirals netminder saved his best save for the overtime, stretching across for a highlight reel right leg stop on a three-on-one in the first minute of overtime.

Smith now has 12 wins this season and sports a record of 12-6-2.

“The win felt really good for our team,” Smith said.  “We really stuck with it and played well tonight, but were not thinking of anything else other than finishing in first place.”

With Nashville’s 3-1 win over Edmonton tonight, the Predators organization went 2-0 against the Oilers organization on Tuesday.  Thanks to the one point gained, the Barons move up to 82 on the year to take over solo possession of fourth place in the West Division.

Milwaukee continues the home stand Friday night with their final regular season meeting with Chicago.

Tonight’s Admirals lineup (starters in ALL-CAPS):

Goaltender:  JEREMY SMITH

Defense:  AARON JOHNSON-BRETT PALIN

Roman Josi-Teemu Laakso

Grant Lewis-Scott Ford

Forwards:  KELSEY WILSON-MARK VAN GUILDER-ANDREAS THURESSON

Dylan Hunter-Mike Bartlett-Ryan Flynn

Gabriel Bourque-Chris Mueller-Ryan Thang

Brock McBride-Connor Shields-Mark Santorelli

Injury updates:  Forward Steve Begin is getting close to returning according to coach Lane Lambert.  Both Mark Dekanich and Linus Klasen remain a long distance away from returning.

Some questions for discussion:

1) With 10 games to play in the regular season, has Milwaukee finally found some playoff security with win 38 of the year?

2) Would Oklahoma City be a favorable match up for Milwaukee in the first round of the AHL playoffs?

3) Tonight was an on/off night for the Milwaukee power play.  Are some of the missing go-to scorers, Jonathon Blum, Blake Geoffrion and Linus Klasen, holding the special teams back?


ECHL to the NHL, Could Pickard be Next?

The American Hockey League, which is celebrating its 75th season, is justifiably proud of it role it plays in grooming players for the NHL.  But the league isn’t the only place where top-level caliber talent goes to develop the skills necessary to play on hockey’s biggest stage.

As of last count the ECHL has churned out 459 alumni who have played in the NHL.  Some of the names who have that have made that jump are pretty impressive, including Tim Thomas, Jaroslav Halak, Jonathan Quick, Tomas Vokoun, Ruslan Fedotenko, Joe Corvo, Rich Pevelry, and two Admirals from 2010-2011, Chris Mueller and Mark Dekanich.

Of the five most recent former-ECHLers who got their NHL shot, three spent time with the Cincinnati Cyclones.  Recently I asked Cyclones coach Jarrod Skalde who are the next players from Cincinnati who could make the move up to the NHL:

Skalde: Right off the top, I would have to say our goaltending.  If you look at Chet Pickard, you see a talented, talented kid.  He’s had some struggles up in Milwaukee, and that’s part of the reason why he is here now.  But he works extremely hard.  He understands where he’s at and what he has to do to get out of here and back up to Milwaukee and hopefully in the future with the Nashville Predators.  Chet’s a pleasure to have down here in Cincinnati.

Another guy is Marc Cheverie with the Florida Panthers organization that is in the same boat.  He is a top prospect that is in the ECHL right now trying to figure out his game.  They are two guys that complement each other very well and share the same vision and same focus of wanting to get up to the National Hockey League.

There you have it, Pickard and Cheverie.  With the Florida Panthers looking to unload Vokoun at some point, Cheverie looks like he might have the easier road of moving up.

(For more on Cincinnati’s role in the Nashville Predators/Milwaukee Admirals organization, check out my feature story here)

So Roundtable, Is there a player on Cincinnati who could eventually play in the NHL?  Is there an alumnus of the ECHL on Milwaukee who could make the jump?

Big League Observations from the Press Box

A short vacation/work trip to southern California to take in the Rose Bowl afforded me the chance to spectate the Milwaukee Admirals’ parent club, the Nashville Predators, as they competed in Anaheim one night prior to my return voyage back to frosty Wisconsin.

Here are four of my observations from the Predators 4-1 victory over the Ducks.

1) Chris Mueller fits right in with Nashville.

Though Chris Mueller finished the night with just 8:28 of playing time (the second fewest minutes of any Predators forward) he played a strong two-way game, registering two shots on goal and contributing to several sustained Nashville shifts in the offensive zone.  Though Mueller is slightly undersized by NHL standards, the work ethic he showed all year in Milwaukee was evident at the Honda Center.  In three games of NHL action through Thursday, Mueller has yet to score, but I have a feeling that will change in the near future.

2) Wade Belak over Linus Klasen?  Seriously, Why?

I have seen enough of Wade Belak’s career to really wonder why he has an NHL job in the first place.  Against Anaheim, Belak played a whole 1:55, picking up an entertaining scrap with veteran NHL goon George Parros.  Belak was in the lineup against the Ducks simply to match up against Anaheim’s size, but everyone else seemed to be doing just fine, including the 5’10” Mueller.  Instead of Belak, I wanted to watch Linus Klasen skate alongside Mueller to give Nashville another potential scoring option.

With a back-to-back game in Los Angeles on Thursday, I certainly would have plugged Klasen into the lineup against the more up-tempo Kings.  Belak was a complete non-factor, getting less than four minutes of ice time in this game.  I have to think that Klasen would have made a more positive impression than Belak, especially as a player hungry to get into the line up.  Still, Nashville dominated for a 5-2 come from behind win.

3) Jerred Smithson and Nick Spaling made big impressions.

Jerred Smithson might not be the most exciting player on the Predators, but the former Admiral plays with a ton of heart.  Smithson worked his tail off the whole game, and got rewarded with fluky goal that only he knew was in.  Playing on the same line as Smithson, Nick Spaling played what I thought was his best game so far with Nashville.  He logged over 17 minutes of ice time, assisted on Smithson’s goal and was all over the place on the Predators relentless forecheck.

4) Sheldon Brookbank is stuck as the odd man out in Anaheim.

The remembrance of Brian Burke’s general manager days in Anaheim remains obvious in the team’s defensive corps.  Despite losing Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer over the past two years, there are few precious open slots on the Ducks blueline.  With all eight rostered defensemen currently healthy, former Admiral Sheldon Brookbank is finding a hard time getting into the line up, much like fellow veteran Paul Mara.  From watching him during the pregame skate, Brookbank looked like he was itching to get back to competing rather than spectating.

Chris Mueller Officially Signs with the Predators, Likely to See NHL Debut Tuesday

Looks like Chris Mueller got a slightly post-dated Christmas present from the Nashville Predators.  Mueller signed a two-way contract, making him an NHL option for the Predators, who are ravaged by injuries at the current moment.

This appears to be a sign-and-play immediately deal for Mueller, as the forward is expected to make his NHL debut on Tuesday night as the Predators face the Dallas Stars.

Mueller has been nothing short of awesome for Milwaukee in 2010-2011, scoring 12 goals and 20 points.  This is a well-deserved promotion for the West Seneca, New York native who was NHL free agent playing on a contract with the Admirals.

Despite the injuries to the Predators you have to wonder what exactly triggered this decision?  With Mueller really stepping up his game at the AHL level, interest had to be growing among other NHL clubs.

Did Nashville sign Mueller to prevent him from signing with another NHL club, wanting to keep him within the organization?  Or did the Predators sign him, so they could trade him away in the near future?  Or did Nashville finally realize what they had in Mueller as a player, and now the organization is ready to mold him into exactly what Barry Trotz wants?

So Roundtable, what do you think?

What Steve Begin Brings to Milwaukee

Anytime a player with an NHL pedigree such as Steve Begin’s gets assigned to an AHL club, the league’s fans get excited.  These players offer the hardcore hockey fan a name they can recognize and not a prospect they have to do their homework on.

But for the Admirals supporters who don’t know much about Steve Begin, let me shine a little light on the subject.  At 32-years old Begin is no rookie.  His best offensive days (10 goals in 2003-2004 and 11 in 2005-2006) are behind him, yet Begin proved effective in his checking role with the Boston last year.  This was especially true during the playoffs when Begin took advantage of expanded ice time as the Bruins lost key players to injuries.  During the off-season Begin likely would have resigned in Boston if the Bruins weren’t so strapped by salary cap issues.

Despite his limited offensive game, Begin remains an effective two-way forward and a menace to play against.  The Quebec-native is a constant competitor on the ice, who skates with a work ethic that makes him easy to coach.

Therefore Begin seems a natural fit in blue-collar organization like Nashville, a team that prides itself in playing a gritty style.  Begin’s time in Milwaukee will involve conditioning to get his NHL legs back under him after he missed all of training camp as an unsigned free agent.

However, if an opportunity on the Predators third or fourth line appears, expect Begin to be one of the first players General Manager David Poile inquires about.

(Author’s Note:  Steve Begin played his first game with the Milwaukee Admirals Sunday at Chicago, picking up an assist, while centering the team’s starting line with Chris Mueller and Gabriel Bourque.  He also took a controversial penalty late in third period that effectively ended Milwaukee’s comeback hopes.  To hear coach Lane Lambert thoughts on the call, check out Andy Grebe’s game recap Blog, Wolves Fend Off Ads 4-3:  http://admiralsroundtable.com/2010/10/24/wolves-fend-of-ads-4-3/)