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Mullen signs junior hockey tender, hopes to reach Challenge Cup title game

De Smet senior Michael Mullen has his hockey future mapped out.

Mullen, a 6-foot, 165-pound forward, recently signed a tender with Jamestown (N.Y.) Rebels, a Tier II junior hockey team.

De Smet senior Michael Mullen will play Tier II junior hockey at Jamestown, N.Y. when he finishes high school. (Dirt and Turf/Jason Schoenig)

The Chesterfield native leads the Spartans this season with 16 points. He has scored seven goals and added nine assists. De Smet is in action at 6:30 p.m. Monday (Jan. 6) against Marquette at the Queeny Recreational Complex.

Mullen also plays for the AAA St. Louis Blues 18U Midgets. In 35 games with the Blues, Mullen has 29 points.

After high school, he will play at Jamestown. The Rebels are a Tier II junior ice hockey team plays in the North American Hockey League.

“It’s pretty exciting. I love the facilities there when I met them,” Mullen said. “The coaching staff was so good. They called me every week and asked how my weekend went and how the team was doing. They kind of rolled the red carpet out for me. They gave me a practice jersey and sharpened my skates.

“I think it’s a great move. My goal has always been to move on to play juniors. This is my goal since my freshman year. I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start growing until my sophomore and junior years. I hope I can grow so more. I’m coming into my own now. I’m working hard. I’ve made it so it’s awesome.”

De Smet coach Chris Durso agreed.

“A tender is basically a contract where a player is demonstrating his intention to play for that team. So, now Jamestown has Michael’s rights and he can’t be recruited by another NAHL team,” Durso said. “It’s really a great step for him. He will need a year or two of junior hockey before he moves on to the next level. This is definitely the next step for him.

“I’m sure he’s probably getting some looks from some teams in the USHL (United States Hockey League) too, which is Tier I juniors. I think after a couple of years of junior hockey, Michael will be playing Division I NCAA hockey somewhere.”

Mullen used to play football as well but gave it up to concentrate on hockey. He credits both De Smet and the AAA Blues with developing his game.

“I love the game. I love the dirty areas,” Mullen said. “The Blues are focused on development. I think that’s helped me develop my skill a lot more. I didn’t have the hands I needed to have. Triple A is all structure. It’s really helped me. For De Smet, to be able to get those points I’ve been able to get has helped me developed my skill.

“I’ve had some good games this season. We played Priory and I had two short-handed goals. That was pretty cool. We lost 4-2 to CBC and I both of those goals. It’s fun to be able to step up as a leader.”

Michael Mullen, who is a captain with the De Smet Spartans, also is a captain for the AAA St. Louis Blues 18U Midgets.

Mullen is a captain for both of his teams.

“It’s fun to show those kids I was kind of an average hockey player and for them to see what hard work can do,” Mullen said. “I wasn’t anything special but I developed my skills and now I’m captain of both Triple A Blues and De Smet. I have lots of opportunities to help the younger kids at De Smet. That’s been fun.”

That’s important, Durso said. The Spartans are a young team this season.

“I think he relishes the role of captain,” Durso said. “He’s a different kind of leader than we’ve had my last two seasons here at De Smet. But, he’s had some great leaders like Nick Thorpe and Justin Reynolds, who were also both student government presidents. He’s definitely a lead-by-example guy. We have a young team. We lost 14 guys from our varsity team last year. He’s embraced being a mentor for the younger guys.”

On the ice, Durso sees Mullen as “a gritty two-way forward.” He appreciates what Mullen brings to his team.

“He’s not a skill guy, but he will work in the corners to battle for pucks, he will stay on the defensive side of pucks in the D-zone and help out down low,” Durso said. “Lately, he’s been scoring.”

De Smet’s Michael Mullen likes to play in the “dirty areas” of the game. (Dirt and Turf/Jason Schoenig)

What Durso really appreciates in Mullen is his work ethic.

“It would be hard to find a guy who works harder,” Durso said. “After his freshman year, he knew he needed to work on his skating, he did that over the summer and came back as probably the most improved skater in our organization. Between his sophomore and junior year, he knew he needed to get stronger, and during the summer he pushed himself and did just that.

“He definitely still has some weaknesses in his game, nothing glaring. I am confident that he has the determination that if he identifies a weakness, he will work to improve it and try to make it a strength.”

Mullen said he doesn’t mind putting in the effort to become a better player.

“I think I work hard. That’s been a staple for my playing style,” Mullen said. “I can be in the corners and battle it out and score on the next shift. I’m coming into my own in shooting. I think the one thing I do well is work hard. Al MacInnis instilled that in me when I played for him. You can’t teach hard work. It just comes and it will pay off for you.”

He put in even more effort and time to get ready for his final season.

“I wasn’t satisfied with my points and my overall output last year,” Mullen said. “So I trained with Jeff LoVecchio. He’s our personal trainer with the Blues. He really helped me and changed how I perform this year.

De Smet has reached the Challenge Cup title game in each of the last two season. The Spartans fell short both times.

Mullen wants to help get the Spartans back to the title game in March.

“That’s the goal. It’s a real possibility,” Mullen said. “We’ve started to show my success. We got off to a rough start and then we had a five-game wining streak. We’ll get it together by the playoffs.”

Hockey is important to Mullen both for the sport and how it helped him academically.

“I love it. I live at the rink. Even during break, I’m on the ice,” Mullen said. “There’s no better feeling that getting on the ice. In AP Honors English for my in final paper I wrote: ‘When I get on the ice, everything melts away. Problems are gone. All that seems to go away. It’s my safe place. I got an ‘A.’ “

Hopefully, he will write more papers in college.

“Right now, my goal is to get a Division I scholarship. I want to go to college,” Mullen said. “That’s the next step. If it works out professionally, it works out. Right now, I want to get that scholarship. I think I’ll get a lot of opportunities at Jamestown to earn one.”

Durso believes Mullen will be able to live that dream.

“Based on his work ethic both on and off the ice, I think he’s going to thrive the next couple of seasons and put himself in a great position to play hockey in college and beyond,” Durso said. “He’s a great kid. He works hard as a student and took on some pretty tough courses this semester. He will position himself to be really successful in the future. He’s really a likable kid, always cracking jokes. He may have the cheesiest chirps toward opponents that I’ve ever heard.

“It’s always tough to see good young men move on, but Michael is a player and person like a lot of players and people we’ve had come through the program during our time here at De Smet, who will leave this place better than he found it. We strive to embed that in our culture and having people like Michael around helps a lot with that.”

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