December 05, 2015
Bill Muckalt never knew the meaning of the word quit. Because of that he earned a college degree and a 256 game NHL career.
Muckalt was from the Vancouver suburb of Surrey. He grew up dreaming of playing for the Canucks one day. The improbable dream came a step closer in 1994. After a solid season in the British Columbia Junior League with the Merritt Centennials, the Canucks drafted Muckalt. He was still an extreme long shot, as he was drafted 221st overall.
Muckalt committed to playing with the University of Michigan that fall. Over the next four seasons he earned a degree in sports management and communication, while enjoying a great collegiate career highlight by two NCAA championships. The right winger had 105 goals and 226 points and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 1998.
Upon graduating Muckalt immediately joined the Canucks for the 1998-99 season. He had a good rookie showing, scoring 16 goals and 36 points - a rare highlight in a bad season in Vancouver.
Muckalt struggled in his second year and then was devastated when he was traded to the New York Islanders with Dave Scatchard and Kevin Weekes for star goalie Felix Potvin. Muckalt really struggled with the fact that he was traded by the team he dreamed of playing for.
Muckalt lasted a year and a half with the Islanders. He injured his shoulder shortly after he arrived and he only played 12 games. The following year he was injured again and played 60. During his entire time on Long Island he would get 15 goals and 18 assists, hardly the numbers expected from the college superstar and the player who had 16 goals and 20 assists in his rookie year.
"That was a tough period," Muckalt said. "The Islanders didn't have the kind of ownership they do now. There weren't many fans. And with my injuries on top of that it didn't make for a fun experience at all."
In the summer of 2001, Muckalt was traded to the Ottawa Senators along with Zdeno Chara for Alexei Yashin. Muckalt was excited to be returning to Canada, but with Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat all on Ottawa's right wing, Muckalt was almost an after-thought.
Muckalt was turned into a penalty-kill specialist, playing just a few minutes a game. He inexplicably finished the season without a single goal in 70 games.
"That was obviously very frustrating," Muckalt recalled. "There were more goal posts and crossbars during that time, it just didn't want to go in. I didn't think I played all that badly, to be honest with you, I just didn't get the results I wanted."
Muckalt was cut by the Sens and became an unrestricted free agent. Muckalt jumped at the chance to join the Minnesota Wild - one of the few teams willing to take a chance on him.
At first it very much looked like a win-win situation for both player and team. He would scored five goals and eight points in his first eight games with the Wild.
But then he suffered a devastating shoulder injury - his previously uninjured shoulder - that would knock him out for the rest of the season.
"I went head over teakettle," Muckalt remembered of the hit by Calgary's Denis Gauthier. "It was a yard sale. I was coming down on my head from outer space and I was trying to protect it because I knew if I landed on it it would be pretty serious."
"I was devastated," Muckalt said. "I basically lost the whole season. I couldn't believe my luck really. It was hard to take."
"I mean, you have to work hard regardless of what you do in life," he said. "The way I look at it, I'm lucky to be doing something that I dreamed about since I was five years old. Why would I quit?"
Muckalt never quit, but ultimately the game was taken away from him. He played just nine games in the minor leagues the following season before being forced to hang up his skates.
Muckalt turned to coaching after his playing days, including returning to his Alma Mater as an assistant coach at the University of Michigan.