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Wild's Reilly traveled world, then elected to stay home

by Arpon Basu

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mike Reilly was not heavily recruited out of high school.

He was smaller then, and only three schools showed an interest: the University of Minnesota, Colorado College and the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Without much of a competition to retain his services, Reilly chose to stay close to his Chanhassen, Minn., home and went to play at the University of Minnesota.

"I know I was really small and hit a growth spurt right around my junior year [of high school], I grew about five or six inches," Reilly said last week at the NHL Players' Association Rookie Showcase. "In ninth grade in high school I was maybe 5 feet, 100 pounds. I was just kind of immature physically and growing up I was always the smaller guy and just had to find my way around the ice."

Reilly had climbed to about 150 pounds when the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him with the No. 98 pick of the 2011 NHL Draft. But by the time he finished his four years at Minnesota, Reilly had grown to 6-2 and 186 pounds, and had developed into to an offensive-minded defenseman that many teams gladly would welcome on their roster.

The recruiting frenzy Reilly was denied as a high school senior came eventually, just in a very unique way.

Reilly informed the Blue Jackets he would not sign with them before the June 15 deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent who attracted interest from nearly every team in the NHL.

But in spite of the added attention, Reilly made a decision that was very similar to his choice of college; he decided to stay close to home and sign with the Wild.

A decision like that would appear to be all-consuming, taking up every last bit of the time and energy Reilly had to offer.

But instead of focusing on his future, Reilly had one last task to complete in the present.

As part of his business degree from the Carlson School of Management, Reilly had to complete a work study program, something he did not have a chance to do during a hockey season that was extended by a trip to represent the United States at the IIHF World Championships in the Czech Republic in May.

So just as most of the NHL was waiting to launch a recruiting campaign on Reilly, he and his older twin brothers Connor and Ryan decided to get away and complete their education in a place where it's easy to forget about hockey for a little while.

"I was able to go to China after the World Championship for two weeks with my brothers to study abroad," Reilly said. "I was able to kind of get away from it a little bit and not think too much about it. So that was good to get away, and when I came back everything kind of picked up a little bit and I started talking to some teams and managers. It was pretty unique and a situation I never thought I would be in."

As a business student the appeal of going to China is obvious, with its status as a global economic giant. But it was still an uncommon destination for most University of Minnesota students, especially one facing the biggest decision of his professional career when he returned.

"A lot of people go to places like Spain, Italy, Germany, Ireland and things like that. So we kind of went out of the box a little bit," Reilly said. "My dad had a bit of a say in that as well, just being from the business world. It was an entrepreneurship class, so we were able to talk to a lot of companies and learn a lot about how they run businesses in China and also obviously see a lot of great buildings and just walk around.

"We were in Shanghai for a week and Beijing for a week, so we saw a lot of different things. Some of the days got long just sitting around listening, but it definitely paid off for me. I can tell my kids one day I went to China for two weeks. I know a lot of people may be scared to go over there, just don't know much about it, but it was awesome. It's a great country."

When Reilly returned, that's when his focus shifted to his NHL career and deciding where it would begin. Reilly visited the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in June in order to meet with some teams and listen to their pitches. Ultimately, the allure of staying close to home was not the only reason Reilly decided to sign with the Wild.

He said the Wild's style of play was a big factor, as was the possibility of contributing right away in the NHL. But Reilly will have to prove he's able to do that in training camp later this month.

"I want to play with the Minnesota Wild, that's my goal," Reilly said. "I put in a lot of work this summer and I've been skating a lot lately to get back into skating shape. I just feel a lot stronger going into this year than last year. It's still a process, but I'm just looking forward to camp and trying to play my game, support the rush and have a good stick in my end and try to be aggressive. I never have been overly physical so I just have to play my game of moving the puck well up to the forwards and being the fourth guy in on the rush at the right times.

"They have great goaltending, a bunch of up-and-coming forwards that can score and some great veterans as well. I just want to fit into the team and try to be a difference-maker."

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