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Bear Witness Interview - Graham Mink

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
In this edition of Bear Witness, 7641 Sports’ Joe Shetrom chats with Bears winger Graham Mink. Mink, 26, played the last four years with the Portland Pirates before arriving in Hershey for the 2005/06 campaign.  The 6-3, 215 lb power forward is a former captain with the Pirates, and logged two NHL games with the Washington Capitals during the 2003/04 season.  Here, the Stowe, Vermont native discusses, amongst others, his first NHL recall, the coaching styles of Bruce Boudreau and Tim Army, and his secret on scoring “Garbage goals.”

JS:  You’ve been in Hershey for about a month now.  What are the noticeable differences between Chocolatetown and Portland, ME, where you spent the last 4 seasons?
GM:  Certainly, a much different town.  People here are great, really nice.  It’s certainly been an adjustment period, but I’m having a great time in Hershey.  Everyone’s treated me really nice.  Finding my way around … I’m finally feeling a little more settled.  The rink is probably the biggest difference between the two.  The facilities here are top-notch, and it’s fun to play here, that’s for sure.

JS:  When you re-signed with Washington in mid-August, were you excited at the prospect of playing in Hershey?
GM:  Very excited.  I’ve been in Portland for four years.  To get the opportunity to play in a different town with a new team was very exciting for me.  I looked forward to it very much.

JS:  Already, you seem to be a hit with the Bears fans with your approachability and blue-collar-type playing qualities.  How does that make you feel, and do you think you’ve always played that way, or has it evolved over the years?
GM:  I feel flattered that people appreciate it.  I’ve always tried to work hard.  It’s something that my parents instilled in me; and my coaches from an early age, to always work hard, and play with emotion.  People seem to like that, and I’ve always tied to play that way.  And hopefully, I’ll continue to play that way.

JS:  You entered this season with exactly 260 combined games between the NHL & AHL.  AHL rules stipulate that players with over 260 career NHL/AHL/European Elite League games are to be considered “Veterans.”  Last season, was someone looking ahead to ensure you wouldn’t get labeled with the veteran tag?
GM:  It came up at the end of the [2004/05] season, in the last month.  Coach [Tim] Army in Portland actually brought me into his office and we talked about it.  He said that I was going to be close; and it ended up working out so that I would finish with 260 games.

JS:  During your 4 seasons with the Pirates, you frequently played against [current Bears Head Coach] Bruce Boudreau’s Manchester Monarchs.  If someone, at this time last year, would’ve said you’d be playing for him next season, but not in Manchester or Portland, would you have believed them?
GM:  No.  Definitely not.  I’ve played against Manchester ten times a year for the last four years.  Every night, his teams’ reputation for working hard and coming hard and skating at you, scoring goals … a tough team to play against.  I certainly wouldn’t have expected it last year.  But, I’m excited for this year.  And so far, things have been going OK.  Hopefully, they’ll continue to improve.

JS:  With Portland, [former Head Coach] Tim Army employed a more defensive-sided philosophy.  Here, Bruce Boudreau seems to use a more offensive-minded system.  Any preferences?
GM:  They’re definitely two different people, and two different coaches.  I like both.  I think a common misconception is that Bruce coaches offensively, and that’s not true at all.  When I first talked to him, we talked about the defensive zone, and being responsible.  I was under the impression that he was an offensive coach, but he’s really a do-things-right coach.  Good defense leads to good offense.  Also, it’s a common misconception that Tim Army is a defensive coach.  He does preach responsibility in the defensive zone, and we have had trouble scoring goals the last couple years in Portland.  I think a couple of years ago it was a mix of the players we had … we had to play a defensive system.  We weren’t very talented, in general.  We had success with it; and then last year, we were a younger team and we needed to learn to be responsible defensively.  Coach Army never said, “Don’t score goals,” or anything like that. But that’s how it kind of worked out.  (Laughing) I certainly prefer scoring goals, you can ask anybody.  

JS:  Compared to previous teams you’ve played on, how does this current team stack up in terms of leadership?
GM:  We’ve got a good group of core leaders.  I think a lot of older guys that are here have been through it.  Boyd Kane won the championship last year; this is his 8th year.  We’ve got guys like Dwayne Zinger, Mark Wotton, Kirk Daubenspeck, and Fred Cassivi … a lot of guys with a lot of games played.  It certainly helps take some of the pressure off the younger guys.  The coaching staff as well … I think it’s going to be one of our bigger strengths as we come down the stretch.

JS:  In your third season with Portland (2003/04), you were given the captain’s “C” when Trent Whitfield and [former Bear] Colin Forbes were recalled to the Capitals in December, 2003.  Did it catch you by surprise, and what did it mean to you being given that honor?
GM:  It certainly was an honor, and it did also catch me by surprise.  I came in, and coach basically had a chat with me about it and let me know that I was going to be the captain.  I was honored, and he basically said keep playing the way that I’ve been playing, and doing what I’m doing … and things will be OK.  And that’s what ended up happening.  Then, the following season, I started out as the captain; and then, Whitfield---we weren’t sure what his status was---he ended up coming and joining the team.  Our team wasn’t doing so well, so a change of leadership was made.  I think it benefited everybody in the end.

JS:  Also during the 2003/04 season, you received your first NHL recall, and had the chance to suit up for two games with the Washington Capitals.  How did you find out about your call-up, and what do you remember about your first NHL game?
GM:  It’s actually a funny story.  We had a day off that day, and I was on my way down to Boston to pick something up with a friend of mine.  We get halfway down, the phone rings, and my friend Mel Angelstad picked up the phone.  He’s talking---and Mel’s kind of a jokester---and he says, “Coach is on the phone.”  I’m like, “No he’s not on the phone!”  He (Angelstad) says, “No, he wants to talk to you.”  So, I say alright, he hands me the phone … so I’m talking to Tim, and Coach Army says to me, “You’re going up.  What are you doing?  Where are you?”  I was like, “Are you serious?”  It was totally unexpected.  I had no clue, and it really came out of nowhere to hit me.  We were an hour away, so we pulled a u-turn in the highway, and flew back to Portland.  I didn’t make the flight in time.  Next morning, I was on a plane (to Washington, DC).  I played that night against Tampa, and the next day we drove to Philly to play against the Flyers.  And then the All-Star break started, and I came back down.

JS:  You’re a Vermont native, and ended up playing for the University of Vermont.  How far was the school from your home, and did you even consider going anywhere else?
GM:  I never did.  I always wanted to go to UVM growing up.  It’s 35 miles away.  When I was in high school, that was when Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin were there … both great players.  I remember going to their games and just seeing them … I just thought, “That’s where I want to play!”  I also played high school hockey in Vermont, which isn’t exactly a high level.  And, I did well there after my senior year in high school.  I talked to the coaches, who said I needed a year to play.  So, I went to prep school to play for a year; and then, ended up walking on to UVM.

JS:  During your 3 seasons at Vermont, you played alongside current Bears teammate Martin Wilde.  Any interesting stories about Marty that you can share?
GM:  (Laughing) I don’t know if there’s any I can share.  No, Marty’s a great guy, he always has been.  A great team player who’s there for anybody that needs anything from him.  And he’s a good player on the ice, and helps out the team.  I’m happy to be playing with him this year.

JS:  You and John LeClair are the only Vermont natives to play in the NHL.  Any guesses on who will be the third?
GM:  Brady Leisenring is a friend of mine.  I grew up with his sister, she was in my grade.  Brady was in my brother’s grade, he grew up in Stowe.  He’s playing at UVM now.  He played for the US Under-18 Team, and he is a heck of a player.  He can really wheel, he’s got a heck of a shot, and he’s got some good hockey sense.  I expect him to be an American League player; and, depending on how he develops and how he adjusts to the pro game, possibly an NHL player.

JS:  Even though the Capitals affiliation departed last spring, the Portland Pirates still have a number of autographed items for sale on their website featuring current Bears such as yourself.  Do (or did) you guys ever get a cut of the profits?
GM:  No, that doesn’t happen.  That’s part of the deal with the PHPA (Professional Hockey Players Association).  I don’t really believe in charging for autographs anyway.  If anyone sends me anything, or wants me to sign anything, I’ll sign it.  I don’t feel it’s a professional’s right to charge for a signature … to make money off things like that.  I think it’s more something for the fans … it’s one of the reasons why our fans deserve that right.

JS:  During the season, how do you spend your off days?
GM:  Mostly, just relax.  I like to hang out at home.  Just get things done that you normally wouldn’t be able to do.  I love to sleep in.  …I’m on the internet a lot, and just kind of hanging out.

JS:  Have any superstitions you want to share?
GM:  (Laughing) Yeah, when you’re scoring, don’t change anything.  Just keep doing everything the same.  When I get dressed, I usually put everything on my right side first.  Like: right shin pad, left shin pad; right skate, left skate.  With my sticks, sometimes between periods, I’ll throw them in the garbage can, just to get a garbage goal out of them.  It usually works. I get a lot of grief about it, but it works.  (Laughing) I don’t want to give away all my secrets.

JS:  What’s something interesting that fans might not know about you?
GM:  I was a licensed insurance agent in the State of Vermont for a year and a half.  My dad owns his own insurance agency, so I worked for him during the summers.  I got sick of answering the phones and doing the filing, so he said, “Why don’t you get your license?”  So, I studied and took the test, and passed it.  I think I was 20 or 21 [years old at the time], so that’s something most people don’t know about.

JS:  Do you think it’s something you’ll pursue again at some point?
GM:  No.  Definitely not for me.  (Laughing) Sorry dad!

JS:  What’s the stereotypical questions you get when you tell people you’re from Vermont?
GM:  “What part of New York is that in?”  “Does it snow a lot?”  “Are there a lot of cows up there?”  “You near Ben & Jerry’s?”  Stuff like that.  Which I do, Ben & Jerry’s headquarters are in Waterbury, which is 10 miles from Stowe.

JS:  Nothing about skiing or syrup?
GM:  People always ask me, “Do you ski?”  Growing up in Stowe (which is called the “Ski Capital of the East”)…  I say no, I’m not a very good skier.  My friends always tease me about that too.  But, I gotta stick with hockey, so that works.

JS:  With your name, you’ve probably had some interesting nicknames in your life.  What are some the ones that have stuck over the years?
GM:  (Laughing) I don’t know if I should say any of them because everyone’s gonna be calling me nicknames for the whole time I’m here.

JS:  What about “Golden,” “Mink Coat,” “Mink Panther?”
GM:  “Golden Graham,” “Stinky Mink,” “Minker”  Stuff like that.  I’ve heard “Mink Coat,” but not “Mink Panther.”  (Laughing) That’s a new one.

Joe Shetrom covers the Hershey Bears for 7641 Sports, and can be e-mailed at:

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