Brendan Mikkelson  is looking forward to the stretch run and playoffs, even if it is in the American Hockey League.
Mikkelson, who had trouble consistently cracking the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup, cleared waivers and was sent to the minor leagues Monday. The Regina native arrived in New York Tuesday, ready to refocus and rejoin the Eastern Conference-leading Syracuse Crunch.
Playing just four games with the Lightning this season, Mikkelson may stay in Syracuse through the Calder Cup playoffs, which would be his first time playing in the postseason since his rookie year with the Portland Pirates in 2007-08.
“I haven’t played in a week or so now,” Mikkelson said. “Hopefully I’ll be in the lineup and can contribute, and be someone who helps the team.”
The 6-3, 210-pounder was sent down to clear space for fellow defenseman Radko Gudas . Mikkelson believes he can improve his game by molding it to what Tampa Bay was looking to get out of the hard-hitting, intimidating Czech blueliner, Gudas: solid play at both ends, as well as providing a healthy dose of grit.
“(Gudas) is going up because he’s hard to play against, so maybe that’s something I could make a focus of here to help round things out,” Mikkelson said. “Having guys who are hard to play against, you can never have too many of those, right?”
Mikkelson, who has played in more than 130 NHL games, was the odd man out for Tampa Bay. As a healthy scratch, he had extra skating after practice. The workouts allowed him to stay in game shape, as well as fine-tune some of the little things in his game.
“The extra work I was doing was working smart and hard, as opposed to just working hard,” Mikkelson said. “That helped.”
But those workouts can't fully mimic game situations.
Mikkelson played regularly during a conditioning assignment with the Crunch in late February. He saw ice time in all situations during the two week stretch, and registered an assist during Syracuse’s seven-game win streak.
When he returned to the Lightning, he didn’t think much about the possibility of a more permanent stay in the AHL.
“It’s a grind enough as it is... If you get wrapped up thinking about that stuff and the ‘What ifs,’ and not the things you can control, it makes it more of a mental grind," Mikkelson said.
That grind, for now, is in Syracuse.
“It’s a great mix of skill and grit, speed, everything,” Mikkelson said of the Crunch. “It’s good to be back to help out, and do whatever I can to make sure we have a good stretch here to finish the regular season.”