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University of Denver forward Bobby Brink begins sophomore season with lofty expectations

By Chris Bayee, SportsEngine, 10/23/20, 5:00PM MDT

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Hub exclusive: The 5-foot-8 Minnesota native will likely get a bigger role in the Pioneers' offense in 2020-21. Brink recorded 11 goals and 13 assists his freshman season.

Bobby Brink, a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, preps for his sophomore season in a Pioneers sweater with expectations to be a key contributor. Photos courtesy of Justin Tafoya/Clarkson Creative

Bobby Brink, a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, preps for his sophomore season in a Pioneers sweater with expectations to be a key contributor. Photos courtesy of Justin Tafoya/Clarkson Creative

It’s good to be wanted.

There was no question Bobby Brink was on the radar of hockey recruiters as a young player, but he wasn’t always lumped in the most-hyped group.

“Even though Bob was considered a top player in his birth year he always was a bit overlooked,” said his father Andy, a former University of Minnesota player and longtime hockey coach. “He didn’t get invited to the [early] Select camps or the [USA Hockey National Team Development Program] tryout camp.”

That seems remarkable in hindsight. After all, in the span of about six months in 2019 Brink was selected the United States Hockey League (USHL) Forward of the Year, drafted in the second round (34th overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers and chosen to Team USA’s World Junior Championship squad. Then he played so well as an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Denver that he was an National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) All-Rookie team selection.

How Brink, a native of Minnesota, landed in Denver is a testament to relationship building, seeing an opportunity and pouncing. 

“This was before the NCAA changed rules on when you could contact kids. [University of Denver assistant coach] Tavis [MacMillan] got a heads up from one of his buddies who is a scout in Minnesota about Bob,” said Pioneers coach David Carle. “I got to watch Bob play two games in December. He was sick on the weekend but you wouldn’t have known it watching him play.

“He was a freshman, and he was the best player on the ice. Every time he had the puck on his stick something good happened — a good decision, winning a wall battle.”

Brink was so determined to make an impression that he actually went to the hospital after the first game to take on fluids, his father said. 

“Denver was the first college to reach out,” Andy said. “They’d just won a national title [in 2017].”

The following January, the Brinks paid their way to the Mile High City, met with then-head coach Jim Montgomery, whom Andy had played against in the NCAA Tournament in 1993, and committed on the spot.

“It’s such a storied program. I wanted to see what it had to offer,” Bobby said. “The coaches were unbelievable, and I loved the culture. 

“There are a lot of good schools in Minnesota, but I thought Denver fit me perfectly." 

The change of scenery, and the Pioneers’ track record of developing players to move on in the game also held a large appeal. 

“We saw the professionalism of Jim, Tavis and David, how they prepared,” Andy said. “It seemed really elite. They prepared hard and there was a lot of teaching.

“You could see how competitive the coaches were, and as a dad you want your kid with people like this. But it was Bob’s decision.”

One good thing led to another. 

The next season, Bobby helped Minnetoka High School win the large-school (Class 2A) state title in Minnesota. In 2018-19, he posted the 14th best all-time points-per-game mark in USHL history (1.29) for Sioux City with 68 in 43 games. 

Maybe his natural progression would have helped him achieve those things anyway, but momentum did seem to build. 

Bobby Brink was a NCHC All-Rookie Team selection a season ago. The University of Denver forward was also a finalist for the conference's Rookie of the Year award.

Bobby Brink was a NCHC All-Rookie Team selection a season ago. The University of Denver forward was also a finalist for the conference's Rookie of the Year award.

A bigger role

It’s also good to be needed.

Brink is just that for the Pioneers, whose roster was depleted a bit more than expected during the extended 2020 offseason. 

College players typically make their biggest strides between their freshmen and sophomore seasons, and the sophomore Brink — fortified by an extended offseason of strength training and skill development — appears primed for a breakout campaign in 2020-21.

And the University of Denver will need it. Early NHL signings (leading scorer Emilio Pettersen inked an entry-level deal with the Calgary Flames, and No. 2 scorer and captain Ian Mitchell did the same with the Chicago Blackhawks) and a surprise transfer (forward Tyler Ward to New Hampshire) claimed three of their top eight scorers, and a fourth (Liam Finlay) graduated.

Brink and junior center Brett Stapley have the highest returning point-per-game average (.86) for the Pioneers, and along with junior center Cole Guttman will be counted on to provide offense up front. 

“Bob became a really consistent player for us in the second half last season in his ability to make finishing players,” said Carle, who succeeded Montgomery in 2018. “Early on, you saw Bob close to making finishing plays. In the second half it happened more.” 

Brink put up 13 points in his first 18 games before heading to the Czech Republic to play for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. He returned and scored 11 more points in 10 games before missing the final seven games while recovering from injury. 

The second-half surge, on the heels of the World Junior Championship appearance, was a matter of getting up to the speed.

“Everything gets harder when you [enter college hockey],” Brink said. “Guys are faster, stronger and some are much older. You have to always improve if you want to be an impactful player.”

If the college game continues to slow down for Brink, that will be bad news for opponents, said teammate Magnus Chrona, sophomore goalie for the Pioneers who, like Brink, was a member of the NCHC’s All-Rookie team.

“Obviously, Bob’s a pure goal scorer,” said Chrona, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick. “If he has the time to aim it’s going to be a goal. He’s also a great passer, so defenders can’t be sure what he’s going to do.

“With great players you have to try to read their blade [when they have the puck]. He’s so good at keeping you guessing. It makes it impossible to see his release.”

A handful of early departures, including the team's top two scorers, leaves the door open for a player like Brink to take on an expanded role with the Pioneers this year.

A handful of early departures, including the team's top two scorers, leaves the door open for a player like Brink to take on an expanded role with the Pioneers this year.

Growing up hockey

One of the most common descriptions of Brink by his peers and coaches is simply rink rat. 

“I don’t think there is any place he’d rather be than on a frozen piece of water, and it shows in his game,” Carle said. “He’s got a high level of creativity to his game, arguably as good as anybody we’ve had as a freshman.”

Growing up in the State of Hockey afforded Brink no shortage of opportunities to play. Having a father with the experience he does also helped. Andy is Director of Athletics and Admissions at Breakaway Hockey Academy in Chaska, Minnesota, and he has built his career in coaching and skill development.

Bobby’s love for the game was cultivated from preschool age, when he would skate with Andy’s Pee Wee teams at practice, and enhanced through countless hours on the family’s backyard rink. The fostered his creativity and decision-making — two hallmarks that immediately captured Carle’s attention. 

“The No. 1 thing that stands out is his hockey sense and his ability to win one-on-one puck battles,” Carle said. “He’s got real strong hands, he can get on top of pucks, possess pucks and win 50-50 battles. Those are really the two things we look for most — great hockey sense and great compete levels. Bob has those in spades, and I think you’re seeing that translate into the college game at a real high level.”

Though some pro scouts panned Brink’s size (5-foot-8) and foot speed, it didn’t dissuade the Flyers from drafting him.

Part of that is because Brink possesses excellent overall athleticism. He played a variety of sports growing up, including baseball, lacrosse and golf. Andy said hockey dominated the Brink household during winter, but it wasn’t the year-round be-all, end-all that it is for some young players. 

“It’s so important to be competitive in something, especially if you play an explosive sport,” Andy said. “There are explosive movements in all of those sports. It helped him develop that mentality.”

That’s one Chrona experiences first-hand day-in, day-out at practice. 

“He’s competitive every single day,” Chrona said. “It makes it so fun to go against him. He makes both of us better. I have to be more dialed in.”

It’s good to be counted on, and Brink will be this season by Denver.

“He’s a kid who wants to be on the ice in every situation, and we believe he can be,” Carle said. “He will have a big role in what we accomplish.”

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