Bill Mikkelson, who played with three NHL teams in the 1970s, and his wife, Betsy, loaded Brendan and his older sister Meaghan in the car often for early-morning practices and games, or just to skate on one of the 10 outdoor rinks in town.
Brendan said it felt like 200 degrees below zero some of those days, and he and his sister wouldn’t be where they are now without the help of their parents. Bill worked with Brendan on his game, but the wisdom he imparted upon them was just as important.
“My dad used to say to me, ‘Never have regrets,’” Brendan said.
Meaghan, 27, plays for the Canadian National Team and won the Gold Medal at the 2010 Olympics. Brendan, 24, is approaching the 100th game of his NHL career and trying everything he can to become a permanent fixture on the blue line.
Mikkelson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman, was acquired from Calgary on January 6 in exchange for center Blair Jones and has found a spot in the lineup the last 13 games with a plus-2 rating.
“I’ve tried to be a little different about approaching things this season and take different routes,” Mikkelson said. “I’ve got an opportunity now to stick in the lineup here. It’s up to me to do the job and prove myself.”
Mikkelson has good size and mobility, two things that Lightning coach Guy Boucher says every team is looking for in a defenseman.
The former second-round pick by the Anaheim Ducks, 31st overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, has played 183 games in the minors and 99 in the NHL. He had spent the entire season with Abbottsford of the American Hockey League before getting a call on the way to the rink a month ago.
#29 prepares for a face-off (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
“I had heard that a defenseman had gone down with an injury in Calgary, so I thought I might get a crack there,” Mikkelson said. “But this call sounded different. It was a shock at first.”
Mikkelson said he is not bitter at all. But he didn’t expect to get a big shot with Calgary, who had claimed him on waivers in October of 2010.
Even though he did not play in the NHL this season before arriving in Tampa, Mikkelson said he took advantage of the 33 games he played in Abbottsford.
“You don’t want to play in the minors,” Mikkelson said. “But it was a great experience for me, playing 25-30 minutes every night with time on the penalty kill, power play and being on the ice the last minute of games. Whether it’s the NHL or the AHL, it helps because the pressure doesn’t change.”
Mikkelson said he has taken it day by day since coming to Tampa, trying to focus on what he needs to do within the team concept and playing a steady game.
For defensemen trying to move up the depth chart to a consistent role, it’s about gaining that trust from the coaches by being reliable. Mikkelson has averaged 13:37 in ice time per game, almost 20 shifts a night, playing a lot with Bruno Gervais
and cracking the first unit on the power play.
“He’s very quick to get out of traffic with guys on his back, a lot like Victor [Hedman],” Boucher said. “That helps the breakout and transition because he is able to take the ice that’s available in front of him. In the offensive end, he’s one of our most poised guys. He has a lot of assets and I like them all.”
Mikkelson was born in Regina, Saskatchewan and moved to St. Albert, a northwest suburb of Edmonton, when he was six. That was many years after his father’s NHL career ended.
Bill Mikkelson’s uncle Jim McFadden won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1950 and his brother Glen was picked by the Minnesota North Stars in the draft, but never played in the NHL. Bill played 147 NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals from 1971-77.
Meaghan played with Brendan and the boys in town until bantam hockey. Mikkelson played for the St. Albert Raiders in bantams before being selected by the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League.
“I have a lot of fond memories,” Mikkelson said. “There were a lot of little things then that help you get where you are.”
After a little more than two seasons with Portland, Mikkelson was traded to the Vancouver Giants. In his second season with Vancouver in 2006-07, the Giants won the Memorial Cup at home. Mikkelson played with Milan Lucic, Cody Franson, Evander Kane and James Wright
among others on that team.
“It was pretty amazing,” Mikkelson said. “We were the show in town.”
Mikkelson signed with Anaheim in 2006 and played 2007-08 in the AHL with Portland before making his NHL debut in January, 2009. He played 67 games with the Ducks before they lost him on waivers.
Calgary gave him 19 games last season.
Mikkelson has been caught in a spot many defensemen in their early 20s are in, trying to shed away the “potential” tag and say goodbye to bus rides in the minors. The road to being a fourth, fifth defenseman or higher sometimes seems long from 7-9 on the depth chart. Confidence is difficult to keep up.
Patience is the best medicine and Mikkelson said he has learned to keep his chin up.
Mikkelson has also said he has worked a lot with video to try to enhance his mental game and knows he can always get stronger. The Lightning could benefit from a defenseman ready to emerge.
His father’s words still work. No regrets.
“You just have to keep working,” Mikkelson said. “Keep the faith.”