by Jason Karnosky || AHL On The Beat Archive
June 27, 2011, marked a new era for the Milwaukee Admirals.
It was on that Monday that Kirk Muller, formerly an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League, was named the Admirals’ new head coach.
Needless to say, Muller comes to the Brew City with huge skates to fill, replacing the promoted Lane Lambert. For the past nine seasons the Admirals have qualified for the playoffs, and two recent coaches have moved on to become National Hockey League bench bosses (Claude Noel and Todd Richards). Lambert, the team’s most recent coach, averaged 45 wins a season in his four years as head man in Milwaukee before moving up to take an assistant coaching position with the Nashville Predators.
In Muller, Predators general manager David Poile believes he has found just the man to replace Lambert as the guardian of the organization’s top prospects.
“Kirk Muller was everything we were looking for in our development coach,” Poile said. “With his playing pedigree as a Stanley Cup winner, his experience as a captain and his solid communication skills, we feel our young players and prospects are in great hands.”
Muller, for his part, is looking forward to the challenge ahead of guiding the Admirals.
“This is a great organization that has had a lot of success moving players and coaches up to the NHL,” said Muller, who became the Admirals fifth coach since Milwaukee joined the American Hockey League for the 2001-02 season. “My goal is to get better, improve every day as a coach and help this team (win).”
Muller’s hockey pedigree should help soothe the transition. As a player the Kingston, Ont., native brings a wealth of top level experience to Milwaukee. Muller is a veteran of 1,349 NHL games and amassed 357 goals and 959 points over a 19-year career spanning 1984 to 2003.
Those numbers represent one of highest point totals ever for a player-turned-coach.
Muller’s best NHL seasons came in 1987-88 with New Jersey and 1992-93 with Montreal, when he racked up 37 goals and 94 points during each campaign. The spring of 1993 also marked the first and only time Muller won a Stanley Cup as he helped lead the Canadiens to the storied franchise’s most recent championship, while contributing 10 goals and 17 points during the run.
“(Muller) has a ton of knowledge from a tremendous NHL career,” Admirals defenseman Scott Ford said. “Hopefully ‘Captain Kirk’ can pass along some of that knowledge along to us players and really help us this season.”
After hanging up his skates in 2003, Muller would return to the National Hockey League as an assistant coach with Montreal for the 2006-07 season. In his five years with the Canadiens working under Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey and Jacques Martin, Muller helped Montreal earn playoff berths in four of them. More impressive was Muller’s work with the Canadiens’ penalty killing units, which finished in the league’s top half in each of his five seasons.
Though he has been a candidate for several NHL coaching vacancies, Muller decided to take a chance this past offseason by moving from Montreal to Nashville, one of the league’s most recent expansion franchises.
“I’ve spent the last five years earning my stripes as coach with Montreal,” Muller said. “Just like a player I was looking for an opportunity and when this job opened up I am glad I was able to take advantage of it.”
Prior to first game as Milwaukee’s coach, Muller has found the transition to the American Hockey League an interesting one to be a part of.
“It’s definitely different and kind of nice here (in Milwaukee) because you can’t do anything without being noticed in Montreal,” Muller said. “So far we’re enjoying the city and having fun with the change.”
Muller’s main concern now is making an adjustment to coaching in the AHL on a full-time basis. Though the 45-year-old had never played or coached a single game in the minor leagues prior to moving to Milwaukee, Muller knows that the commitment level needed to win hockey games is the same at every level.
“I have played in different markets in the United States, places like New Jersey where I started and Florida to the other extreme of Montreal,” Muller said. “To be successful as a professional you have to be consistent and perform every night no matter what type of crowd you are playing in front of.”
Coming off of a West Division championship last season, the road to the AHL playoffs for Milwaukee will only get tougher in 2011-12 for Muller and the Admirals. League realignment saw Milwaukee move into the new Midwest Division along with former rivals Peoria, Chicago, Rockford and new addition Charlotte.
In spite of this, Admirals forward Mark Van Guilder is confident in his new coach’s abilities.
“With the young group we have down here and a first year head coach, I think it’s going to be fun season,” Van Guilder said. “Lane did an unbelievable job with this team and he deserves to move up, but I think we are in pretty good hands with Kirk taking his place.”