By David Salter || AHL On The Beat Archive
Everyone loves an underdog story and St. John’s hockey fans are seeing one unfold, starring Kael Mouillierat of the AHL’s IceCaps.
Overlooked by major junior scouts, the Edmonton native played college hockey at unheralded Minnesota State University-Mankato where he failed to catch the eye of NHL bird dogs, despite compiling some decent scoring figures. Undaunted, the 25-year-old soldiered on and now finds himself only a step away from the NHL, after signing with the IceCaps in December.
Mouillierat acknowledges the odds were stacked against him as a teenager.
“I was a smaller guy growing up and I never got drafted into the WHL [Western Hockey League],” said the centerman, who now stands six feet and weighs 185 pounds.
“So, by the time I was 16, I was playing Junior A and I figured college was the right route for me. I think it worked out for the best. I’ve got a [business management] degree to fall back on one day and I had a couple of extra years to develop as a smaller guy and get stronger.”
After his senior year at Minnesota State in 2009-10, Mouillierat was signed as a free agent by the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, where he finished the season, collecting two points in nine games.
The next season Mouillierat averaged better than a point per game with 25 goals and 63 points in 62 contests. That production earned him a six-game stint with the Texas Stars of the AHL.
However, in 2011-12, Mouillierat was demoted back to Idaho where 27 points in 27 games earned him an extended AHL stay – 44 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Despite posting 23 points in Bridgeport, Mouillierat found himself a victim of a NHL lockout-induced numbers game and was back with Idaho to start this season.
“For sure, I was disappointed,” said Mouillierat, on being cut loose by Bridgeport.
“I was a little surprised I didn’t get another opportunity there because I felt I like I did play well. I was one of the casualties of the lockout. It was tough. I knew I wasn’t the only one but it was unfortunate. You can take it two ways […] you can get down on yourself, feel sorry for yourself or you can work hard and get yourself back to where I felt I belonged.”
Mouillierat did just that, posting 14 goals in 19 games with Idaho early this season to catch the attention of St. John’s brass who signed him to a PTO (professional tryout) on Dec. 6. A month and a half later the soft-spoken Canadian was offered to a full-time AHL contract for the remainder of the season.
Mouillierat credits a positive attitude for much of his success.
“Confidence is definitely huge. You just have to believe in yourself,” said Mouillierat, who has 17 points in 28 games with St. John’s.
“I always did believe I would get back to this level at some point and hopefully move on to the next level one day. Nothing good happens with a negative attitude. If you have a positive attitude good things are going to happen. You know, at the end of the day no matter where I’m playing, I’m still playing hockey for a living and it could be a lot worse.”
Mouillierat says he feels at home in St. John’s and was thrilled to secure his AHL deal last month.
“It was exciting,” said Mouillierat of his new contract.
“I was very happy to be playing in such a great spot. I’ve loved it out here ever since I’ve been here and I knew I wanted to stick around. I love the city, the fans are amazing. But at the same time you don’t want to be satisfied. My work’s not done. I still want to finish out strong here and get another deal for next year.”
Although Mouillierat is known for his offense, he has become a dependable player at both ends of the ice for the IceCaps.
“I’ve always taken pride in being an all-around player,” said Mouillierat.
“Definitely, the higher levels you move up it’s tougher to get points, it’s tougher to get goals, so you’ve got to contribute in other ways as well. Not everyone can score 40 or 50 goals a year so you got to evolve your game.
“I just try to be responsible. I want to be a guy that [coach] Keith [McCambridge] can count on at any time in the game […] whether that’s blocking shots or taking hits to make plays or just doing whatever it takes to be responsible defensively, that’s what I try to do.”
And Mouillierat knows he’ll have to play a two-way game if he hopes to make the next jump – to the National Hockey League.
“It’s every player’s dream,” said Mouillierat, of the NHL.
“I’m not what you’d call a young kid anymore so it might be a little tougher. I might not have as many opportunities as some other guys in the league right now. You always have to believe that you have a shot. If you get that chance you have to make the most of it because you might only get one.
“That’s something I’ve been striving towards and it’s something that motivates me every day and hopefully one day it will happen for me.”