English: Logo for the University of Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Which the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the formation of the NCHC, the WCHA is going to have a very different look to it starting for the 2013-14 season. I had the opportunity to interview Former Golden Gopher forward Andy Brink and you’re going to find that he has some interesting things to say.
You played with the Minnesota Gophers from 1992-1996. What team in the WCHA did you consider to be your biggest rival? Why?
My freshman and sophomore years Wisconsin was our biggest rival. They were more talented than us but we had their number. One of our coaches, Bill Butters, made it clear that we never lose to Wisconsin. My junior and senior years, CC was our biggest rival. They were really good and played with confidence. We had great games with them.
What is your feeling about this being the last season in the present form of the WCHA? Who do you hate more Michigan or Michigan State?
The WCHA was the best league in college hockey. Anyone could win on any given night. Every weekend you had to play well to win regardless of the opponent. I, personally, disliked Michigan the most. But that’s because they were difficult to beat. They had a lot of talent and played hard.
What is your favorite memory playing in the WCHA?
What I reflect on most fondly was winning on the road. There was no better feeling than winning in Engelstad, The DECC, Dane County Coliseum and the other arenas that we played in. When you win on the road in the WCHA you really feel like you have accomplished something. Every building was fun to play in and each team had loyal fans that were very vocal.
Favorite NCAA Hockey Memory?
My favorite memory NCAA Memory is from before I played. I grew up in Bemidji and grew up a Sioux fan. I remember going to Sioux games as a kid and still have a Sioux #20 Bob Joyce jersey. UND’s 1987 NCAA Championship is my fondest memory because I followed that team really close. There were also 2 players from my hometown on their roster and George Pelawa (from Bemidji) would have been a big part of that team had he not died in a car accident in the fall of ’86.
What do you think of Minnesota not playing UND in hockey for the next four seasons? Do you think it’s a bad decision to not continue the rivalry?
It’s hard to imagine UND and the Gophers not playing. It’s been such a good rivalry and very even. Being only 5 hours away from each other and both programs always being so good, obviously, it’s not good that they are not playing a series every year.
Thoughts on the College Hockey re-alignment and the Gophers going to the Big Ten Hockey Conference? Good or bad for College Hockey?
I don’t know. Things change. There are so many good young players now and so many opportunities for kids to get better that I think College Hockey will be really good no matter what. Kids today are faster and stronger and learning the game at a earlier age. For those kids that are late bloomers, there are many opportunities to develop at an older age in different junior leagues. College Hockey will benefit from this and I think we will see more parity throughout college hockey.
Favorite Opposition player during your time with the Gophers? Favorite arena to play in?
Even though I only played against him for 1 year, Greg Johnson, from UND was my favorite player to play against. He was good at everything and relentless. I think he had 5 assists against us in one game at Engelstad my freshman year. Chris Marinucci from UMD was also really good and similar to Greg Johnson. Old Engelstad and Old Mariucci were the 2 best rinks to play in. They both had character and a lot of history and were really loud.
You have are a co-owners of Breakaway Hockey with former Golden Gophers and Buffalo Sabres great Dave Snuggerud and you see a lot of great players come through the ranks. One of your former students at Breakaway Hockey is Nick Mattson who plays for the University of North Dakota. What’s your thought’s on his first year and a half in the WCHA playing for UND? Also, what are his strengths on the ice.
Nick is a great kid. Very motivated and loves hockey. Was always at the outdoor rink improving his skills and having fun. Was always trying to improve. I know Nick is capable of being a very good offensive and two way defenseman in college hockey. It takes confidence to perform well consistently and I think Nick has been very good through his first year and a half in the league. I know he will get better and better because he is smart and motivated. Also, I have always respected how nice he is off the rink to others, he comes from great parents! Besides his skating and puck skills, Nick’s biggest asset is his vision and his ability to be “calm” with the puck.
*Disclosure; Andy Brink is my brother-in-law and while played for the Maroon and Gold, I am very proud to have him as a member of my family. Brink has been a good ambassador to the game of hockey and he is making differences in the lives of youngsters on and off the ice.