At age 26, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Brendan Mikkelson doesn’t seem old enough to be considered a veteran player.
But after appearing with 10 pro teams in three leagues over his seven-year career, Mikkelson has actually been with more clubs than teammate Tom Kostopoulos has in his 15-year career.
The numerous stops have not only made Mikkelson a veteran leader among his teammates, it’s also taught him a valuable lesson: don’t be so quick to unpack that suitcase.
“I’ve bounced around a bit, so I’m used to traveling light and never unpacking too much,” Mikkelson said.
For now, however, it’s unlikely that Mikkelson will be going anywhere soon, unless it’s a call-up to Pittsburgh. The blueliner was named one of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s assistant captains before the start of the season and he is viewed as an anchor for a defense corps comprised of players not far removed from their 20th birthday.
Along with the numerous stops during his career, Mikkelson has also experienced just about all of the ups and downs that a hockey player deals with. He’s been traded, sent down, played in Europe and logged 131 games in the NHL (with three different teams).
Last season, however, was particularly tumultuous. Mikkelson signed a one-way NHL deal with Tampa Bay in the summer of 2012, but his hopes for a full season with the big club were put on hold when the lockout hit. He spent the first month of the lockout in Florida training, but something didn’t feel right.
“I needed to play,” Mikkelson said.
That’s when he headed overseas to play a team in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league. He appeared in 17 games for the Swedish club, posting three goals and seven points while re-adjusting to the culture. Mikkelson did play in Slovakia for Team Canada years as a teenager years earlier, so he wasn’t totally unfamiliar with how things work in a foreign country.
For a player unfamiliar with playing hockey overseas, such a transition can make for a stressful adjustment. Mikkelson, however, relied on his experience to keep his routine intact.
“In Sweden, part of their culture is to have a really big lunch. There were places that had really big lunch buffets and I found one that served pasta and chicken,” he said. “The pregame meal doesn’t have to change wherever you are.”
Once the lockout ended, Mikkelson returned home and rejoined his Tampa Bay teammates, anxious to get the NHL season underway.
Unfortunately for Mikkelson, that season was short-lived after he appeared in only four games in the first two months before being sent down to the Syracuse Crunch in March, where he would finish the year.
“Things didn’t pan out like I wanted when the lockout ended,” Mikkelson said of his season that took him to Sweden, the NHL and the AHL.
“For your average player that would be a weird season. It is different.”
And it did give the much-traveled Mikkelson more experience for his hockey resume. That’s one thing that the Penguins found appealing when they signed him over the summer.
“This is such a transient league — call-ups, send downs, trades,” Penguins coach John Hynes said. “Guys go through many ups and downs and veterans like Brendan are real important because they’ve been through it and they’ve done things the right way. His experiences will definitely help our younger players and that’s why he’s an assistant captain.”
Mikkelson said he was “flattered” that the Penguins gave him an A in his first season with the team, and he hopes his experience will bring an element that has alluded him during his career: stability.
“It would be awesome just to find a place,” Mikkelson said. “So far things have been great since I’ve been here and this organization has done a lot for me. Now I have to return the favor, hold up my end of the bargain and be a good player they can trust in all situations.
“I’ll do everything I can to stay here and hopefully move up if the chance arises.”