Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Graham Mink comes home

 He's already got the playoff beard down (photo by JustSports Photography)

Early in training camp, I was watching Group B practice. A friend asked me, "Is Graham Mink a career AHLer?" Without even thinking, I said, "Yes." Then I paused for a minute and said, "But he's the kind of guy that knows it and accepts it. Like, 'This is my role, so I'm going to be damn good at it.'"

Even in interviews, he refers to Washington as "they," not "we."

It's an attitude that is evident just talking to Mink about his return to the Washington organization. He's played just seven NHL games (all with the Capitals), but consistently puts up big numbers with his AHL clubs. The 32-year-old winger has had only one season scoring under 40 points since 2005-2006, and he's won two Calder Cups with Hershey (2006 and 2009).

It's Mink's first time back in Hershey since that 2009 Calder Cup win (and third time back overall), and he's ecstatic to return. "It kind of feels like family here. I missed being part of Washington," he said during training camp. "I'm going to be in Hershey, and I'm excited to be back there, I love playing there, it's a great city."

Mink doesn't put on airs about his role with the organization. He knows that with all the young talent joining the Bears this year, he may not enjoy any call-ups at all. But at this point in his career, Mink knows exactly what he's supposed to be doing in Hershey: be a mentor.

"There's going to be a lot of players that are in Hershey this year that are going to come up and help the Caps. My goal is to help teach them and have them learn the game, learn what it's like to be on a successful team and what's expected to be a professional," Mink said.

"I kind of look at it as an extension of the coaching staff as the veteran player. I think most veterans do. You want to bring these 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds and make their learning curve as steep as possible to get to the next level as quickly as possible."

As for the new kids in Hershey like Cody Eakin and Dmitri Orlov, Mink is looking forward to being a leader for them. "They're very smart kids, they're very mature for their age and they pick up fast," Mink said. "It'll be good for Orlov to learn some more English and grow. It's got to be tough being as young as you are and all that ways from home, so you want to make them feel as comfortable as you can and allow them a coming out process of growing up, maturing a little bit."

With Mink's work ethic and drive, he's the perfect candidate to teach the new blood. He thrives on the pressure of being with a winning organization, and brings a good attitude to the locker room. "(The pressure environment) meshes well with my personality," he said. "I want to win every game, every night."

Hopefully that attitude will rub off on the Hershey rookies. It's why Mink is returning to Hershey for what he hopes is a long stay. "Hopefully I can stay for a while this time. It's something I'm looking forward to."

Joel Ward, Teacher?

Ward with the UPEI Panthers (photo by UPEI.ca)

Joel Ward definitely has not taken the conventional path to the NHL. Undrafted, he spent four seasons in the OHL before then going to college in Canada, completing four years at University of Prince Edward Island and earning his BA in sociology.

His choice of a sociology major is interesting in itself. Most college hockey players opt to major in business, coaching, or sports management. Very few choose to go the social science route, but Ward did. After practice one day, I asked him about it.

"I just liked (sociology) from day one. I had a good (professor) my first couple of years. I just liked it, just kind of kept going with it, and enjoying the classes. Sure enough, I was close to graduating with my major in it," Ward said. "Now after hockey I can maybe finish up and see if I want to do something with it."

If Ward ended up going back to school for another degree after hockey, what would he do?

"I was going to minor in teaching and become a teacher," Ward said. "Something to do with kids I'll be in the field of."

But for now, Ward uses what he learned in sociology classes to interact with his teammates in the locker room. "I can bring it into this room and dissect this room a little bit."