Winning a national college championship might be a big career highlight for Bobby Brink but going up against NHL legend Alexander Ovechkin a few nights later just could top that.
It’s one thing to get your feet wet in your pro hockey debut, however, it’s quite another to jump into the deep end of the pool when you square off with the Russian rocket.
Brink, the University of Denver hotshot who just signed a three-year entry-level contract with Philadelphia on Sunday, will be in the starting lineup when the Flyers visit the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
The 20-year-old Minnesota native, fresh off Saturday night’s 5-1 conquest of Minnesota State in the NCAA Division I title game, will be wearing No. 46 and most likely will be playing wing on a line with center Morgan Frost.
Brink became the fourth player from the 2019 draft class to sign with the Flyers, joining defenseman Cam York, winger Noah Cates and defenseman Ronnie Attard.
If you’re keeping track, York wears No. 45, Brink No. 46, Attard No. 47 and Cates No. 49.
Morgan Frost, a 2017 draft pick, wears No. 48.
For Brink, it should be an exciting evening and possibly one with a few nerves. When you’re facing a team which won a Stanley Cup just a few years back and you’re on the same ice surface with one of the most prolific goalscorers (Ovechkin) in NHL history, there’s bound to be a few sweaty moments.
“It’s pretty special,’’ Brink said after Monday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. “I grew up watching him. He was one of my favorite players. I watched a lot of Capitals games so it’s definitely pretty cool.’’
Brink has been on the go since the start of the Frozen Four, where the Pioneers knocked off the University of Michigan in the semifinals. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (best college player) and also achieved All-America honors, including academic awards.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind but it’s been great,’’ Brink said. “Honestly winning the national championship was really special and then to come here is really cool as well.’’
The decision to turn pro after his junior year was rather easy.
“I always knew there would be a chance of signing after maybe 30 games of the season,’’ he said. “I talked with my family and decided it was kind of the right time to sign and thought it was a good opportunity.’’
Brink’s family (parents, brother) are flying right to Philadelphia and plan on being in Washington for the big night.
Going back a couple years, Brink and York played together on the USA World Juniors team, so they already have a friendship.
York has pretty much established himself in the NHL in the past couple months. He’s been playing on the first defensive pairing with Ivan Provorov although tentative plans call for York to move back to his natural left side on a second pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen for the Caps game.
“He (Brink) is a smart player,’’ York said. “You see him off the ice and you don’t think he’s a super-power forward. But he steps on the ice and he’s such a smooth skater. I think he’s going to be a really good addition to our team.’’
York’s advice to Brink for his debut?
“Just play your game,’’ York said. “I think sometimes you know obviously it’s the bright lights of the NHL you think that you have to do something a little bit different now that you’re up here but it’s the same game. Just do your thing and have some fun.’’
For young players, it’s about keeping an even keel.
“I was talking with (development coach) Kjell Samuelsson before,’’ York said, “and he said ‘never get too high, never get too low.’ I think that’s an important mindset for this league.’’
York, a Michigan graduate, said Brink didn’t give him any grief about Denver’s win over the Wolverines in the NCAA semis.
“If he does,’’ York said with a smile, “I’ll punch him.’’
With the Flyers out of playoff contention since last month, interim head coach Mike Yeo has had a chance to get a good look at some of the Flyers of the future. Brink figures to be a big part of that mix in the years ahead.
“Excited to see him make his debut, we’ve had a few of those lately,’’ Yeo said. “Those kids have not just had a chance to come in and play but they’ve played well. A real good thing for our organization going forward.’’
The subject of Brink’s size (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) often comes up and some people wonder if it might be an issue. But the Flyers have watched smaller players such as Cam Atkinson and Danny Briere have success so it’s all about learning how to negotiate the NHL’s big trees in traffic.
“You have to work extremely hard,’’ Yeo said. “You see that with Cam. And you have to be able to think the game. A lot of similarities (Atkinson-Brink) there. Cam’s getting ready to play his 700th game. A good role model for him (Brink). We’re excited about his potential.’’
Atkinson and Oskar Lindblom are both banged up but Atkinson is expected to play against the Capitals. . .Carter Hart will start in goal for the Flyers.