While Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Craig Smith spent their All Star break in Ottawa, another member of the Predators organization headed to an All Star event of his own.
After Ryan Ellis was called up to the Predators and stuck with the team, Chris Mueller finds himself as the Milwaukee Admirals’ lone honoree at the 2012 AHL All Star Classic at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Monday night.
Mueller, Milwaukee’s leading scorer, has had a long, strange trip to the top of the AHL heap. Undrafted as an amateur, Mueller played four seasons with the Michigan State Spartans before signing a professional contract with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters. In 2008-09, Mueller started the year with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones before returning to the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. Playing for the Admirals in 2009-10, the Predators were in need of a forward and signed Mueller to a contract. Mueller made his NHL debut with the Predators against the Dallas Stars on December 28, 2010, and in the year since has seen action in 19 NHL games. Through 38 games in Milwaukee this season, Mueller has 19 goals and 11 assists.
“It’s definitely been long and sometimes frustrating, but when you finally get to this level and start having the success I’ve had lately, it’s worth it a little bit more,” Mueller said. “You see obstacles that you’ve gone through and the sacrifices that your family has made and the hard work it took to get here.”
Mueller is the first All Star for new Admirals head coach Ian Herbers. However, while he credits the entire Milwaukee organization with helping him realize his potential, it’s a former Milwaukee head coach and current Predators assistant that he recognized by name.
“Lane Lambert pushed me really hard and gave me the confidence to succeed and over the last couple of years my game has really taken off,” Mueller said. “A lot of the credit goes to him.”
“(I also credit) my teammates, my family and all the sacrifice that they’ve given, my coaches, the Nashville staff, the Milwaukee staff – they got me into the right system and the right organization to help me succeed,” Mueller said. “They found me out of Lake Erie and it was a good fit, a comfortable fit.”
Mueller has already competed in the first day of the two-day All Star event. On Sunday, he participated in three events in the Skills Competition – the Puck Control Relay, the Accuracy Competition and the Breakaway Relay. Mueller was the anchor leg in the winning Puck Control Relay team, hit 4 of 6 targets in the Accuracy event, but was unable to score in the Breakaway event. The Western Conference won the overall event 18-10.
“I was a little nervous going out there for the Accuracy Shooting being out there shooting by myself, but I think that went okay,” Mueller said. “It’s like the NHL. Guys are having fun, trying things and meeting everybody.”
The Skills Competition capped off a long day and signified the midway point of a longer weekend for Mueller. The Admirals played on both Friday and Saturday night. For Mueller, though, there was no time to rest.
“I woke up at 4 o’clock in Milwaukee, drove to the airport. I was on a flight with a few fellow Admirals who were headed to the Bahamas, but I was headed to Atlantic City,” Mueller said. “I took a flight at 6, got into Philadelphia then took a shuttle for an hour, walked around the casino a little bit and here I am.”
Despite waking up before the sun, Mueller was not about to complain about having to make the trip.
“It’s definitely an honor just to be sitting in the room with some of these guys,” Mueller said. “It’s the top players in the league. It’s fun to see how they get ready to do the Skills Competition and the game. To be voted in the top echelon of the league is an honor and I’m very thankful for it.”
As for the game on Monday night, it will essentially be Mueller’s fourth game in four days. This time, however, he’ll be playing with players and for coaches that he barely knows. While some players take the event extremely seriously and use it as a virtual highlight reel, Mueller feels comfortable with his standing within the Nashville organization. During his last call-up, Predators head coach Barry Trotz compared Mueller to former Nashville player Marcel Goc.
“I’m just going to enjoy it,” Mueller said. “It’s fun. I meet new guys and see some of the best players in the league. I’m just going to have fun and enjoy it because you never know if you’re ever going to get here again.”
After the game, however, Mueller will have little time to rest, as he will spend Tuesday planning for another major event.
“Tuesday, I’ve got to meet the pastor and see if me and my fiancee are compatible for each other,” Mueller said. “I’ll go home to Detroit and see how that goes.”