Muller Brings Size, Strength and Leadership to NAIT
Andrew MENDLER – Nouvelle Staff
The Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs will have some big shoes to fill next season as team captain Locke Muller is moving on to play for the NAIT Ooks in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC).
Muller captained the Pontiacs for the past two seasons after starting his junior career in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Looking back on his career Muller feels that switching leagues was a great decision for him.
“I look back at my whole junior career and I have no regrets. The Western League just wasn’t right for me. The AJHL was just were I needed to go to develop as a player and a person,” said Muller. “I wasn’t enjoying hockey where I was at (in the WHL). Coming to Bonnyville got that passion back and that love for the game back. I have met some of my best friends over the past two years. It is good hockey and I don’t regret (moving to Junior A) at all.”
From 2010 to 2012 Muller played in 94 WHL games for the Red Deer Rebels and Saskatoon Blades racking up five goals, 10 assists and 146 penalty minutes.
Bonnyville head coach and GM Rick Swan feels that the experience playing in the WHL was what gave Muller the tools to be a great captain and role model with the Pontiacs.
“He came in as a heart and soul guy. We knew he had some tremendous experience playing in the WHL that allowed him to become the leader that we thought he could be,” said Swan. “Those experiences were being around guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as a young rookie just to see how hard (Nugent-Hopkins) worked and how hard he pushed himself to make sure that he adhered to the little parts of his game, because that was going to allow him to be a first round draft pick and an elite player in the NHL. Being around a guy like that every day and being around demanding programs like the Red Deer Rebels and Saskatoon Blades gave Muller the ability to be a leader.”
Muller enjoyed his time as a member of the Pontiacs and took that leadership role to heart, trying to live up to the ‘C’ on his chest every single day at the rink. “It is obviously an honor. Just putting on the jersey and wearing that (Pontiacs) crest is an honor, but being able to have the ‘C’ and have that responsibility of leading the team on and off the ice, it was a big responsibility, but an absolute honor and a privilege,” said Muller.
During his time playing in Bonnyville, Muller recorded 14 goals, 33 assists and 268 penalty minutes in 101 career AJHL games, wearing the Pontiacs black, white and gold.
At 6’4”, 203 pounds Muller was known as quite the physical presence in both leagues he played in. He threw his body around and dropped the gloves if needed, something that was proved by his 16 WHL fights and numerous AJHL scraps.
“Everybody has a different role. Being a bigger guy, even when I was in the Western league (fighting and hitting) was what I had to do,” said Muller. “Wearing the ‘C’ that is one of the things you have to do, you have to take care of the guys out on the ice, police the situation, if something needs to be done you need to do it. The physical side of the game goes hand in hand with the way I play. I finish my checks; I take the puck to the net. It is just a tool in the tool kit.”
According to Swan, Muller was one of the best defensive players he has coached. This point was driven home at the Pontiacs year-end awards banquet when Muller won the top defensive forward award.
“(Muller) is one of the best guys I have coached in a defensive role, mainly because he has a real understanding, from a leadership perspective, of the sacrifice involved to be able to play defensive hockey,” said Swan. “It is not fun to be physical every night, it is not fun to block shots, it is not fun to take hits to make plays, it is not fun to play like that and invest emotionally every day. But he as a player made sure it was fun to play that way.”
Muller also says he enjoyed playing a defensive role because it was part of the game that came easier to him than the offensive side of things. “For me I am not the most offensive guy, but I absolutely hate being scored on,” said Muller. “I like being put in (defensive) situations like the penalty kill, or a situation with one minute left in the game, we have a one goal lead and you have to block shots and do whatever it takes to win. That area of the game comes easy to me, whereas the offense it’s a little harder.”
Next season Muller will take his big physical attributes to the ACAC and play for the Ooks in Edmonton. He says he chose the school because of its winning culture and ability to get players to develop and move on to the next level.
Swan thinks Muller is going to be a great player in the collegiate level.
“I think that he is driven no matter what level he is going to play at. Locke is a guy that wants to play, wants to be challenged and wants to contribute and he felt that NAIT was the best of what he is looking for from an academic perspective,” said Swan. “I think he is going to be an immediate impact player within that program and within the ACAC.”
“I am going to miss junior, especially my time as a PONTIAC, but at the same time you kind of outgrow it and you are ready for a new chapter,” said Muller. “That is where I am at; I am ready for a new journey, a new chapter where I can challenge myself. It is going to be tough but at the same time it is going to be very fulfilling. I am just ready for the next step in my life.” Muller says that he appreciated the 'open-door policy' that Rick and Larry had. “The 'ship is sailing in the right direction and the PONTIACS are in good hands moving forward.”