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'NOW HE IS THE SHOW'
Bill Muckalt returns to Michigan for his senior year - perhaps the most challenging season of them all
BY FRED LINK - DAILY SPOR's WRITER
To a Daily near you.
A Career and Graduate Sch
Look for it October
T he night before Bill Muckalt
was set to fly back to Ann
Arbor from British Columbia,
Matt Herr was sitting in his room with
housemates Marty Turco, Chris Fox
and Gregg Malicke. Herr's phone
rang. On the other end was Muckalt.
"I've got to talk to you," Muckalt
told Herr. "I'm not coming back this
Herr and the others were furious.
Without Muckalt back for 1997-98,
his senior year, the Michigan hockey
team's prospects would decline dra-
matically. Muckalt was needed as a
great player, a leader and a friend.
Herr, Turco and the rest begged.
They pleaded. They cursed.
"Just kidding, I'm downstairs,"
Muckalt said. He was using another
phone line in the house.
"We were going nuts," Herr
recalled. "Calling him every name in
the book, and we hear him laughing."
Over the summer, Muckalt serious-
ly considered not returning to the
Michigan lineup. The Vancouver
Canucks, who drafted him in the ninth
round in 1994, wanted Muckalt to
leave school early to play profession-
"To play in the NHL has always
been a goal of mine," Muckalt said.
"It's been a dream ever since I was
growing up in Canada, and then when
you get the opportunity and the team
that drafted you wants you to come in
and play - it's a tough decision to
turn down money."
But turn down the money is exact-
ly what he did. In the end, it wasn't
enough to convince him to leave
For Muckalt, giving up his senior
year was too high a price to pay. By
leaving school early, Muckalt would
have given up what could potentially
be his best year as a collegiate hockey
player, along with the chance to grad-
uate and the opportunity to spend one
more year with his teammates.
Even though he expects to make his
living playing hockey, the opportunity
to earn his degree in sports manage-
ment was an important factor in
Muckalt's decision to return.
"Even though you can make more
money playing pro hockey, I want to
have that degree to fall back on so I
can have a future after hockey,"
The most important reason for
Muckalt to return was his teammates.
"I guess the biggest factor was that
I've waited this long without the
money, so what's another seven
months?" Muckalt said. "I wouldn't
trade any amount of money for being
back here with my friends and my
teammates. It's just a special feeling."
To his teammates, having Muckalt
back means just as much. All five
seniors on the team live together, and
they're all good friends.
"He's a big part of this team this
year," Herr said. "He's an excellent
player. He's a leader. And he's a great
friend of mine.
that it takes more than talent to win. It
takes hard work, and sometimes a lit-
tle bit of luck.
"(The loss) was a big disappoint-
ment because I know that we had the
best team," Muckalt said "The best
team doesn't always win. Boston
University played us hard and they
banged us around, and it just goes to
show you that if you have a bad night.
no matter how good you are, your sea-
son is going to be over."
Muckalt is motivated by last year's
loss and firmly believes that this
year's team is capable of returning to
the final four.
"Rome wasn't built in a day,"
Muckalt says. "It's not going to be
easy, but by the second half of the
year I think we're going to surprise a
lot of people. I really believe we're
going to be back there."
In the last two seasons, Muckalt has
averaged almost two points per game
and is the active leader in CCHA goal
and point scoring.
This year, however, things will be
different. Morrison and the eight
other seniors from last year's team are
gone. With their departure, the
Wolverines lost almost 60 percent of
the team's goal scoring and much of
its leadership in the locker room.
"It's a challenge for him," Berenson
said. "We've lost a lot of good play-
ers. He's not going to have Morrison,
and now he's going to prove himself
on his own."
On the ice, Muckalt will be expect-
ed to lead the team offensively. With
opposing defenses focusing on him,
and without Morrison to create offen-
sive chances, Muckalt knows that, to
be successful this year, he needs to
work harder than ever.
"He's on a mission," Berenson said.
"He knows he has to step up and be a
dominate player. He knows he's got to
be a leader on this team. He worked
hard last year, but he was playing in
the shadow of Botterill, Morrison and
Madden, and now he is the show."
With 10 freshmen on the team,
Muckalt will be counted on to pass
on his experience to the younger
"I'm going to have to lead by exam-
ple on and off the ice," Muckalt said.
"And show the freshmen why we've
been successful here in the past. I'm
looking forward to it. It's the biggest
challenge we've had since I've been
here, but I know it's something we can
Despite the challenge of playing on
a young team, if Muckalt plays up to
expectations, this could be an exciting
"I want Billy to leave here as a
dominant college player," Borenson
said. "When people talk about the
best players in college hockey, I want
them to mention Billy Muckalt in the
first breath. They wouldn't do that a
year ago, and I think they will next
"It means a ton of a lot to have him
back - not only as a player, but as a
Staying for his senior year actually
makes sense for Muckalt financially
as well. He probably isn't ready to
play rightaway in the NHL, so had he
left, he probably would have spent the
year playing for Vancouver's minor
"I told Billy, 'All you're turning
down is a chance to play in the
minors, and you're giving up your
senior year,"' Michigan coach Red
By returning for his senior season,
Muckalt is following the lead of
Brendan Morrison and Jason
Botterill, both of whom turned down
professional contracts to return for
their senior seasons.
According to Berenson, staying in
school paid off for both players.
"They offered Jason Botterill
$250,000 more after his senior year
than after his junior year," Berenson
said. "He literally made $250,000 by
Morrison was tempted by the pros
even more than Botterill - the offers
started after his sophomore season.'
"Brendan Morrison was a great
player," Berenson said. "But if
Brendan would have had to leave here
after his sophomore year, when he led
the nation in points, he might be out
of hockey by now. But now he's just
going into (pro) hockey.
"He's an accomplished, well-
known, well-respected player with a
degree. He's done everything he could
possibly accomplish at Michigan, and
now he's ready to compete on the pro-
Like Botterill and Morrison,
Muckalt has the opportunity to
improve as a player and increase his
chances of making an NHL team
instead of being sent to the minors.
Consequently, he increases his value
to the Canucks.
"I think that there's stuff that I can
improve on that will help to make me
a better player when I leave here,"
Muckalt said. "So I can be that much
more ready for the NHL"
As a hockey player, Muckalt has
already accomplished a lot at
Michigan. As a freshman, he scored
37 points and was a unanimous selec-
tion to the CCHA all-rookie team.
By his sophomore year, Muckalt
was playing on the first line with
Morrison. In the NCAA tournament,
Muckalt's play was a major factor in
the Wolverines' national champi-
onship. In Michigan's three tourna-
ment victories, he had four goals,
including the game-winner with 2:01
left against Minnesota in the regional
In the championship game,
Muckalt scored Michigan's first goal
and assisted on Morrison's overtime
goal, giving the Wolverines the
national title. For Muckalt, though,
the game was important for another
That year, the wife of Senior
Associate Athletic director Keith
Molin passed away after a bout with
"She was a really big fan and a
great lady," Muckalt said. "I always
looked forward to talking to her after
"When I went to visit her, she said,
'Just win it for me.' For someone to
say that and for it to be that important
to her - it really struck me. I just
wanted to do the best I could to con-
tribute to the team. It was really spe-
cial to know that she was watching
from heaven. That's the one thing that
sticks out the most as memory."
Last year, Muckalt, still skating on
Morrison's right wing, scored a
career-high 64 points as the
Wolverines recorded a program-
record 35 wins, but the season ended
on a sour note when the team lost to
Boston University in the NCAA semi-
For Muckalt, the disappointment of
that final game serves as a reminder