TORONTO– The beginning of LW Marcel Mueller’s professional hockey career in North America probably didn’t start the way he wanted it.
Two of his first 11 games were marked as healthy scratches because he failed to record a single point. Struggling through early November, he addressed his early slump by keeping it simple,
“Small ice surface is a big difference and the game is way more intense than in Germany.”
Fortunately for Mueller, friend and teammate D Korbinian Holzer was there to lend him support on and off the ice. Not only are they country men, but they’re both 22 and played together in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) before coming to Toronto. In fact, there ties go back even further to childhood.
“I think we started playing against each other at the age of 12 or 13 and for me it was fun, we had a German championship tournament at that age and we beat his team in the finals so it was a lot of fun for me,” Mueller said with a smile and slight chuckle.
Holzer even had some influence getting Mueller to sign in Toronto when GM Brian Burke approached him in the off season.
“It’s good to know someone on a team if you come to a new team especially from Europe coming to North America. And he’s (Holzer) a better English speaker so he helps me out a lot.”
It took 19 games with Holzer at his side but Mueller finally scored his first goal in a 3-1 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit affiliate.)
The scoring pace did not sky rocket over night for Mueller, but the pressure was definitely gone and the first five games in December included five goals and his first career hat-trick. Over the next 12 games, he would score 14 points (5G 9A) and proved to Burke that he had grown accustomed to the North American game.
When the Leafs needed to replace another injured forward in mid January, the 6’3” 232lbs native of Berlin, Germany was called by Burke. Although only playing three games with the big club, Mueller went from early season viewer to a National Hockey League left winger.
“It was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed it and I hope I get a second opportunity to play. You see lots of stuff you can improve and I try to focus on that now,” Mueller said when reflecting back on the time spent with the Leafs.
Could Mueller have played in the NHL without Holzer? Maybe. But there’s no doubting that Holzer has been there for him since day one in his transition to North America.
“We speak German. I think everybody is going to do that if he’s in a different country and has a country man with him,” Mueller said when talking about how they interact together.
Holzer himself had an opportunity to play two games for the Leafs in mid November so it seems these two are right on track to stay together, which would be best for both.
“He lives a couple blocks away in Toronto. We do everything together, it’s a good friendship.”