by Jason Karnosky || AHL On The Beat Archive
At its heart the American Hockey League’s main goal is to foster the development of its prospects.
But cultivating players’ on-ice skills is only part of the story for franchises such as Milwaukee.
Players who wear an Admirals jersey each and every night are encouraged to take a substantial role in their community and to help out others less fortunate.
“It is a hallmark of the Milwaukee Admirals organization to promote community service, not only in our front office but by our players and coaches as well,” Admirals president Jon Greenberg said. “We believe that it is a key part of player’s development for the guys to learn how to do these kinds of things.”
Many AHL players stand out through their various off-ice initiatives, but Mark Van Guilder is one Admiral who is always looking for more responsibilities in his adopted community.
“Mark has been a wonderful steward for the Admirals organization during his time here,” Greenberg said. “He represents what is best about professional athletes and should be looked on as a role model by his teammates.”
Van Guilder has been setting a great example for local kids to follow ever since he first joined Milwaukee on a part time basis three seasons ago. As his role as grown with the team, so has his role in the community.
“I find (charity work) to be both enjoyable and rewarding,” Van Guilder said. “If you can set a good example for one or two kids then it is really worth it.”
One of the programs Van Guilder is most associated with is Reading: The Ultimate Power-Play, where Admirals go to a local area public school to read to kids, answer their questions and encourage further educational opportunities.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of free time on non-game days being home after practice by 1 or 2 o’clock,” Van Guilder said. “We can really get out in the community and help out and I think it’s our responsibility as players (to do so).”
Van Guilder takes his community responsibilities seriously, to the point of going above and beyond by specifically tutoring individual students.
“Whenever there is a community relations event to do, Mark is the first to sign up,” Greenberg said. “It is very obvious to me that he learned from an early age from his parents the importance of giving back.”
During the holiday season Van Guilder really shows how much he cares. He has made numerous visits to meet and converse with sick kids at local children’s hospitals, delivered Thanksgiving meals to needy families and even put his skates back on in the evenings to help coach youth hockey practices in the area.
“Any time we as players are asked to get out into the community, we really try to showcase our team,” said Van Guilder’s teammate Scott Ford. “We are privileged to be in the position we are as professional athletes in such a great sports city like Milwaukee, so our guys really take the time to outreach and get involved.”
As Van Guilder continues his development off the ice, his game continues to progress on it. After completing a stellar four-year career at Notre Dame, Van Guilder played in just five games in Milwaukee during his professional rookie season (2008-09).
But the Roseville, Minn., native upped his Milwaukee total to 28 games the following season (2009-10) and then stayed on for all seven of the Admirals’ playoff games against Chicago.
After the Wolves eliminated Milwaukee, Van Guilder returned to ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones for the remainder of the ECHL playoffs. Van Guilder contributed 15 points in 14 playoff games for the Cyclones, and helped Cincinnati capture the franchise’s second Kelly Cup in three seasons.
Van Guilder caught on full-time with Milwaukee in 2010-11, contributing a 10-goal and 17-point regular season campaign. He picked up six more points in playoffs, including the Admirals’ biggest goal of the postseason — the game-winner in a series-clinching 3-2 double-overtime Game 6 victory against Texas in the first round.
This year Van Guilder has stepped into an even larger role with the Admirals, being counted on not only to score big goals but also to shutdown the opponents’ top lines and when Milwaukee is trying to hold a lead late in a game, it is unusual not to see number 29 on the ice.
“I want to be on the ice in all situations, but I especially take pride in being out there for defensive zone faceoffs when a game’s outcome is on the line,” Van Guilder said. “I take it is as a compliment when our line gets put on the ice late in a game because I love (competing) in those situations.”
But he also knows that it is vital for him to contribute on the offensive end of the ice as well.
“It’s really important that every guy on our team chips in offensively,” said Van Guilder, who scored both of the Admirals’ goals last Friday night against Toronto, his second consecutive multi-goal game. “If you are going to go deep in the playoffs or have any kind of success during the year, you need contributions from everyone.”
But no matter how the season plays out, expect Van Guilder to be out front setting a great example for his teammates to follow.
“(Mark) is quiet and down to earth guy who lets his actions speak for him,” Ford said. “He is someone we depend upon in the faceoff circle, is unbelievable competing on our penalty kill and is great in our locker room.”
Despite his all-around contributions, the humble Van Guilder tends to shy away from the role model tag often associated with him. Instead, the gritty forward is just trying to make the most out of his time in Wisconsin.
“Milwaukee is a great place to play hockey,” Van Guilder said. “I wouldn’t rather play anywhere else.”