What would it be like to play on the same team as your two twin brothers? That’s the case for Minnesota sophomore Mike Reilly, who is joined by his brothers, Ryan and Connor, on the Minnesota Gophers men’s ice hockey team. I caught up with the Gophers’ standout defenseman and asked him that question and more before Minnesota takes the ice against Michigan State tonight at 9 p.m. ET on BTN/BTN2Go as part of our Big Ten men’s hockey Frozen Friday doubleheader.
An in-state product, Reilly leads all Big Ten defensemen in scoring this season with 20 total points in 24 games played. He has recorded two assists in each of the last three games for the No. 1-ranked Gophers.
As for our Frozen Fridays, get ready at 6 p.m. with “Frozen Friday Face Off” with Rick Pizzo and Paul Caponigri, then catch our “Frozen Friday Final Rush” at 11:30 p.m. with complete highlights. Tonight’s first game features Wisconsin (14-7-1, 5-3) and Michigan (12-6-2, 4-2). The puck is set to drop at 6:30 p.m.
BTN.com: You have been scoring at an impressive pace this season, especially for a defenseman. Did you grow up playing offense, or where do these offensive numbers come from?
Reilly: I did play on offense growing up, and then I moved back to defense basically like my freshman year of high school. One person who had a big influence on that was Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs). He moved back to defense after playing offense early on. Making the move gave me the opportunity to learn the game on both sides.
BTN.com: You play for the No. 1-ranked college hockey team in the nation. Do you feel pressure when hearing that? Do you feel like your team constantly has a bullseye on your back?
Reilly: Everyone knows we’re ranked No. 1, but we don’t go into games thinking we’re better than anyone. We enjoy the success, no doubt, but our goal is to just keep trying to get better. Last weekend we won both our games, but we didn’t play our best. We had to rely on our goaltender. So we aren’t perfect by any means. We want to just keep getting better and play our best hockey towards the end of the year.
BTN.com: You mentioned your outstanding goaltender, Adam Wilcox. Being a defenseman, it is your job to make his job easier. Does he ever give you guys credit for his success?
Reilly: Yup. He’s always giving us credit. He’s my roommate too, so I probably hear it even more than everyone else. He’s a great communicator and such a fierce competitor. Adam is a guy that hates getting scored on, even in practice. That’s what makes him so successful.
BTN.com: What are your expectations for this team this season?
Reilly: We just want to keep working every day to get better. Yes, we are the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, but we don’t want to get complacent. Our goal is to play for a National Championship. Our ranking doesn’t matter. What does matter is how we finish at the end of the season.
BTN.com: What is the one thing your team has to improve if you want to accomplish that goal of playing for a National Championship this season?
Reilly: The main thing we need to work on is that we tend to lose focus at times. There will be times when we don’t handle the puck that well, and we have to do a better job at that and managing the puck better. We don’t want to have to rely on the outstanding play of our goaltender every game.
BTN.com: Is there a specific player in the NHL who you try and model your game after?
Reilly: There are two guys that come to mind — Nick Leddy (Chicago Blackhawks) and Jake Gardiner. I grew up watching both of them. Nick (Leddy) played here at Minnesota and Jake (Gardiner) is one of my best family friends. We grew up together and played on the same Triple A teams together. They are both Minnesota guys who have had great success at the college and professional level.
BTN.com: When you talk about Big Ten sports, many people are quick to associate the conference with football and basketball. But it is no secret that hockey is a huge deal at Minnesota. How much did that factor into your decision to play college hockey for the Gophers?
Reilly: It’s true, a lot of Big Ten schools are known for their great football programs and basketball programs. But hockey is big here at Minnesota. It’s nice to be able to grow up and idolize so many great players who have come through this program. I knew Minnesota was the place for me just from coming here and seeing Minnesota play. The games are always packed and there is just a buzz around the area when it comes to hockey. It’s just a pretty big deal here, which is nice.
BTN.com: You have two twin brothers on the team. How does that work? Do you guys get along?
Reilly: Yup. I have two brothers, the same age, the same grade, and they live right next to me. We spend a lot of time together, which is great. Growing up with two twin brothers has helped so much because you always have someone to compete against. We have a sport court in our yard that serves as a roller rink in the summer and then we turn it into an ice rink in the winter. I always had someone to play with growing up.
BTN.com: Final question for you here Mike. What are your initial thoughts of the Big Ten conference forming a hockey league?
Reilly: I love it. I was looking forward to it ever since I first heard about it. Yes, we are leaving out some rivalries, but we’re still playing Wisconsin, and we get to start some new rivalries. Michigan is a good one. Going to Penn State to play in that new arena was amazing. It’s exciting and I love it so far. Things are just getting heated up and there’s much more to come.