by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Even though he’s been enjoying hockey success from coast to coast, Portland rookie defenseman Brendan Mikkelson still sees himself as just the second-hottest prospect in his own family.
He humbly nods his head in the direction of his 23-year-old sister, Meghan. Also a defenseman, she won two NCAA championships at Wisconsin and is on pace to earn a spot on Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“Where she is in the women’s game is awfully impressive,” Brendan, 20, said. “It’s somewhere where it’d be a long shot for me to be someday.”
Little brother, a second-round pick by Anaheim in 2005, might be selling himself short. He’s traveled quite a distance to put himself right on the heels of his sister in the winning department.
Last season, he notched 29 points for a Vancouver Giants team that won the Memorial Cup. A continent away this year, he chipped in six goals and 10 assists for Portland in the regular season and then tossed in two more goals and six assists in the Pirates’ drive to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Winning seems to have a way of following brother and sister around. Or could it be just the opposite, that they have a knack of helping to drive their teams to the top?
“It’s just that step up from the regular season to the playoffs,” Mikkelson said of dealing with postseason pressure. “It’s hard to explain. Knowing that happens, you are ready for it when it comes this year. I think so far I’ve held up all right.”
While keeping up with his sister motivates Brendan now, it was his father, Bill, who first got him moving.
Bill, a defenseman, played 147 games in the NHL and 335 in the AHL, and Brendan said the one early tip that stuck was that if you can skate well, everything else will fall into place.
Brendan responded by taking power-skating lessons and attacking that skill like he would a loose puck along the boards.
“His biggest advice was always be a good skater,” Brendan said. “If you’re a good skater, you have a chance to play anywhere. It’s like golf. You always look at ways where you can improve yourself.”
The 6-foot-2 Mikkelson’s mobility caught the attention of Pirates coach Kevin Dineen this season.
“He’s got undeniable skating skills, and high-end offensive instincts,” Dineen said. “It’s the steadiness about him. We’ve got confidence in him in high-pressure situations. He’s certainly spiked for us in the last couple of weeks.”
Mikkelson’s competitiveness is a family affair, naturally. Growing up in St. Albert, Alta., he tried as often as possible to get his talented sister on his side in pickup hockey games.
When they wound up as foes, well, there’s a point to keeping score, right?
“We’d be out there for hours on end,” Brendan recalled. “I don’t think we were out there running each other, but when we were against each other, we didn’t take it easy on each other. Little stickhandling things. We wouldn’t let each other get past each other.”
Meghan must not have been overly impressed with Brendan’s burgeoning skills. When she first went to Wisconsin, she started as a forward before being moved to the blue line.
You would think Brendan would be a natural source of helpful hints right away. Uh-uh. Instead, she checked in with dad.
“He was the expert on that,” Brendan said. “Usually when I’m talking to her, it’s not about hockey.”
Brendan has needed a leaning post at times. Two seasons ago he tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, sat out six weeks, came back just long enough to rip the anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee and then missed the rest of Vancouver’s season.
“It was extremely disappointing at first,” Brendan said. “Then, you get over that. You get yourself ready to do all your rehab. It becomes your normal day of life. It was obviously tough watching the team play. It was tough to swallow in a lot of regards.”
If there was one upside, it’s that the downtime saved some tread on Mikkelson’s skates. He’s played a ton of big-time hockey the past two seasons – 90 games last year and 80 more this season. His consistency in the face of season-defining moments speaks to his talent and adaptability.
“That certainly helps, that you’ve been down this road before and played a number of playoff rounds,” Dineen said.
“You go your whole life in hockey moving up in levels,” Mikkelson said. “Away from the rink, living on your own, taking care of yourself is the biggest thing.”
That includes some relaxation marked on the calendar in permanent ink. Mikkelson’s off-season will begin with something he’s grown familiar with – another cross-country trip. This one will take him to another Portland – the one in Oregon – where Mikkelson has friends from his earlier WHL days with the Winter Hawks.
He’s got a little golf planned, and perhaps some water recreation – nothing too concrete, because there hasn’t much time lately to make those kinds of plans.
“I haven’t put much thought into it yet,” he said. “I’ll take a couple weeks off from (hockey). You have to get away from it a bit.”
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.