Kirk Muller spent 19 years in the NHL. Drafted in 1984, he enjoyed an illustrious career. He represented Canada in international play and was an NHL team captain and a Stanley Cup champion. He spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, the two teams closest to his native Kingston.
And on June 17, John McFarlane, Chair of Queen’s Athletics, announced that he is the new head coach of men’s hockey.
“I’m really looking forward to getting started, and getting to know the guys,” said Muller at an introductory press conference.
Muller’s fame is expected to help boost the Gaels’ recruiting efforts. McFarlane suggested the prospect of playing under such a prominent figure in the hockey world should have top high school players from across Canada taking a long, hard look at Queen’s.
“His presence will be invaluable,” McFarlane said. “Not only is he a Stanley Cup champion, he’s a good role model. His name and his connections should really help us.”
Recruiting is a hot topic in the world of Queen’s Athletics.
Muller’s arrival represents the third coaching change already this summer. His predecessor, Chris MacDonald, acknowledged that recruiting can be difficult due to the University’s high entrance standards.
“It is a challenge, because of the academic requirements,” he said.
MacDonald also said Queen’s must address the issue of team funding. Queen’s remains one of only two universities in all of Canada—Ryerson is the other—which does not have a full-time men’s hockey coach.
“It’s more than a full-time job,” MacDonald explained. “[In Kirk Muller] they got someone to put in the time they need. I sincerely wish Kirk and the returning players all the best.”
A June 17 TSN report that Muller’s position is full-time is incorrect, McFarlane said. Muller was hired to the same honorary position vacated by MacDonald, he said.
In this same interview with TSN, Muller did state that Queen’s had decided to put more effort into the hockey program. McFarlane said this effort would consist largely of stronger attempts to market the team to its alumni.
“We’re hoping to energize some of the alumni and improve donations,” McFarlane explained. “We finance all our varsity teams to the same base level, and to go higher, a team needs alumni funding.” McFarlane said he thinks Muller’s high profile will encourage such donations. Although Queen’s stands to gain from Muller’s profile and experience, the incoming coach said he will benefit as well.
“The fit here was awesome for me,” he told the Queen’s press conference. “We all know Queen’s is second to none in Canada.”
Undaunted by potential recruiting constraints, Muller said he is excited about the players he will be leading. He told the press conference his brief experience skating with the team at the beginning of the NHL lockout left him with a positive impression.
“I saw a real passion in them,” he said. “I thought they were a group of guys I really wanted to be around.” Muller said he is impressed with the work ethic created by combining academic and athletic life.
“I’m looking forward to working with a focused group of students who have already shown great commitment to the sport with its gruelling university hockey schedule, and yet continue to keep their academic standards high,” he told TSN. “The same work ethic found at the professional level exists here at Queen’s.” Muller told the press conference the real key to success comes after the recruiting process.
“We’ll work hard every night, and we’ll compete every night,” he said.
Last season, despite a strong start, Queen’s won only eight of their 24 games and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
At the end of last season, MacDonald discussed the areas in which the team needs the most improvement.
He said the first is the team’s scoring. The Gaels were a good defensive team with good goaltending last year, but were plagued by an inability to score enough goals. Muller’s scoring record suggests that he may help the team consistently score enough to win. The team scored more than two goals in just ten games last year.
The other problem identified by MacDonald was consistency. The Gaels had trouble putting together three periods of their best hockey, and they were noticeably streaky from game to game. Muller must ensure that the team is better conditioned both mentally and physically.
How much the Gaels improve under Muller’s tutelage remains to be seen. What is evident is that there is great excitement, especially in Captain Kirk himself.
“Getting back into the dressing room is what we all love to do,” he told TSN’s Dan Pollard. “There’s nothing like it.”
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