One-on-one with Worcester Sharks rookie forward Mike Connolly

Worcester Sharks rookie forward Mike Connolly leads the Sharks in scoring with 11 points on five goals and six assists. Photo courtesy of Rick Cinclair of www.telegram.com

Special thank you to Eric Lindquist and Mike Connolly for this opportunity.  Enjoy.

To what do you attribute to the Sharks' solid start?
It comes from the veteran leaders.  We’ve got older guys that have been around for awhile and they have been tremendous for us young guys coming into the league and team.  We’ve got new faces and are excited to go out and play as we have fun together.  The chemistry is really good as we’ve become a team really fast.  We got a little complacent our last couple of games {vs. Connecticut and St. John’s} so we’ve got to get back to work as we’re a hard working team and are successful when doing so.

I have tweeted several times and posted on my Facebook page that the San Jose Sharks forwards need to watch and study how you constantly position yourself on top of the goalie crease for a screen or rebound on every shift.  Who instilled that in you?
When I came to the team this year, coach Roy Sommer took me aside and said I needed to make the goalie’s life tough for them.  He emphasized on everyone to bump the goalies early and get inside their heads a bit.  I’ve been working on bumping and screening after practice as it’s not easy to screen goalies being 5'9" {laughs}.  As long as I’m there {in front of the goalies}, I’m going to make things harder.

How did you first become interested in hockey?
I think just growing up in Western Canada {Calgary, Alberta} and during the winters, all my friends and older kids would be at the frozen pond playing hockey and I just wanted to fit in.  I became obsessed with hockey.  I always had a stick in my hands and haven’t put it down since.

Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to be a professional hockey player?
I remember as a kid going to the Calgary Flames games and seeing those guys play in front of huge crowds, I knew that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life.  My love for the game grew more and more.  What better way to do something for a job than what you love most.

What did you enjoy most about playing for the Camrose Kodiaks of the American Junior Hockey League {AJHL}?
The coaching we had was tremendous.  Boris Rybalka is the greatest teacher I’ve ever been around.  He taught me about the game and lots of life skills.  It was my first time away from home, and I attribute so much to him, the coaching staff and the community.  He’s a winning coach as he’s always winning.  I enjoyed my time learning from him and the organization.

What attracted you to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and what was it like playing there?
They were the first team to show an interest in me and it never stopped.  You always want to go to a place where you feel they want you the most.  The coaching staff really convinced me with the passion they had.  When I got there, the team hadn’t had a lot of success the last couple of years but we had a great group of older guys, and we turned it around and eventually won the National Championship.  My few years there were very special and I will never forget them.

Your freshman year, 2008-09, you played alongside Alex Stalock in his last season of collegiate hockey.  What was it like playing with Stalock in college and what’s it like being teammates again in Worcester?
I’m excited to be back in the dressing room with Alex.  He’s a great guy to have in the dressing room as everyone gets along with him and he keeps things light on days when things aren’t going good by cracking a joke to make everyone laugh.  It’s unfortunate he can’t play right now, and it’s killing him sitting on the sidelines but we’ve heard his recovery is ahead of schedule and we’re all pulling for him.  I’m just happy to be back with him as he’s a funny guy.

Alex Stalock has been funny doing color commentary with Eric Lindquist for the Worcester games.  During the Connecticut game on October 29, Stalock said, "Oh that’s a bad call," when Brandon Mashinter got called for goalie interference and then yelled "That’s Goalie Interference!" when Andre Deveaux ran into Tyson Sexsmith on the tying goal.
Yeah he {Alex} must’ve forgotten he was on the air {laughs}.

 

You are 27th all-time among UMD scorers with 136 points in 123 games, just the second Bulldog since Brett Hull {1984-86} to begin your UMD career with back-to-back 40-point seasons and the second Bulldog ever to open his collegiate career with three straight 40-point seasons {Dan Lempe, the school’s all time leading scorer with 222 points in 146 games , accomplished the feat four times from 1976-80}.  Is it surreal having your name alongside those two in the record books?
Yeah, anytime you’re alongside such a great hockey player like Brett Hull, who is arguably the best player to play for the bulldogs, it is surreal.  I’m absolutely honored to be alongside him for one of the many records I’m sure he has.

Were you and teammate Jack Connolly constantly mistaken for brothers as the result of your last name?
Yup {laughs}.  I couldn’t tell you how many times we were asked that {laughs}.  Eventually, it got to the point where we just went with it and said we were brothers {laughs}.

Along with Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine, the three of you produced the top-scoring line in Division 1 hockey last season {2010-11} with 171 points.  How fun was it playing on the "FCC Line?"
It was awesome.  We weren’t the biggest players on the ice but with our chemistry, we had a pretty good idea where each other was on the ice and used it to our advantage.  Both Jack and Justin are tremendous hockey players with bright futures.  Justin has moved on {signed by the Minnesota Wild} and is doing well, putting up points {eight points on four goals and four assists with AHL Houston Aeros}.  It’ll be fun watching them grow and seeing where they end up.

On February 5, you tied Pokey Trachsel’s 38-year old school record for most goals in a game by a Bulldog when you scored five in a 6-4 victory over the rival Minnesota Golden Gophers, which was your first ever hat trick.  What went through your mind that game and did any of your teammates or coaches say anything during the game?
The Gophers/Bulldogs is such a big rivalry in Minnesota and they beat us the night before.  Our goal was just to get to them early because in college, giving up a sweep at home is going to hurt you and we needed those points.  I was fortunate my linemates did some good work and I got left alone in front for a couple of goals.  It was a weird feeling and a weird game as we were up 3-0 and they came back on us.  Anytime you can score five goals, I’ll take it for sure but I have to attribute my linemates and the tremendous work they did around them {the Gophers}.

Serving as an alternate captain for the 2010-11 season, you lead the team in goals {28}, set a career high in points with 54 {28 goals, 26 assists} which was also the third highest on the team.  In addition, you were selected to the 2010-11 NCAA All-American Second Team, 2010-11 All-WCHA First Team, 2011 NCAA East Regional All-Tournament Team and named 2010-11 insidecolelgehockey.com WCHA Player of the Year.  With the exception of winning the NCAA Championship, what will you remember most about that season?
That’s a good question {laughs}.  Seeing Kyle Schmidt get the overtime game winning goal.  Kyle broke his hand twice in the month leading up to the championship game and wasn’t sure if he was going to be in the line-up.  To see a senior, local guy score the biggest goal of his life at that moment when he wasn’t sure if he would play was special.  To top it off, he got married in July so he had a pretty good summer {laughs}.

I read the team dyed their hair blonde for the NCAA Tournament in an exercise of team unity. Who came up with the idea?
Cody Danberg, who was sitting out the year {knee surgery}.  It’s something teams do in juniors and we wanted something fresh to bring excitement as we had mohawks earlier.  Some of the guys though, it was like pulling teeth to get them to dye their hair {laughs} but no one was regretting it.  The coaches were a little unsure about it as they didn’t know we were doing it and we just showed up one day with our hair dyed {laughs}.  We gave assistant coach Brett Larson {now Sioux City Musketeers head coach} a hard time because he doesn’t have hair and we gave him jabs, saying how "he wished he could dye his hair with everyone" {laughs}.  That time of year, you need something for everyone to buy into and we did, which is the sign of a good team and a team that wins.

Did the team give Kyle Schmidt a hard time for being the lone holdout despite having a valid excuse with his wedding being just around the corner or was he forgiven since he scored the championship goal in overtime against the Michigan Wolverines?
We didn’t give him that hard of a time {laughs}.  He’s a great guy and had a good excuse with his wedding pictures happening after the season so we let him off the hook {laughs}.  He did get a ton of heat from the media but I think everybody forgave him after he scored that goal {laughs}.

What was it like the day of the championship game against Michigan and what was the team’s mindset going into it?
For me, it was a long day and it felt like forever before the game started.  I didn’t get much sleep the night before.  It was exciting to play in our backyard with the excitement in town and the supporters coming out to the game.  It was amazing how many people got into it.  It was an exciting day and the team was nervous at first but once everyone got their first shifts under their belts and touched the puck, the nerves went away and it was just another game except the stakes were just a little higher.

When Kyle Schmidt scored the winning goal in overtime to clinch the school’s first ever NCAA Championship, what was the moment like and how long did the celebration last?
The way the goal was set up, we had a perfect view on the bench of the pass coming from the corner and saw Schmidt had an open net to shoot at.  The moment did slow down and after he scored, he made matters worse by skating all the way down to the opposite end of the ice to celebrate and we had to chase him down after coming off the bench {laughs}.  It took a while for the win to sink in, like a couple of days.  Once I was home, I had a chance to sit down, relax and reflect on the chaos.  It was something no one can ever take away from us players and coaching staff.

What went through your mind when you signed with the Sharks organization this past spring?  Had they been scouting you during the season?
No, there wasn’t a lot of contact.  I am very appreciative of how respectful they were down the stretch while we were making our run.  They were gearing up for their playoff run and understand what it’s like when trying to win a championship.  They gave me my space and let me play.  When the time came to talk on the phone, the process started after the season.  My agent said I couldn’t go wrong with the organization as it’s a first class organization with first class people.  From the first time I got into San Jose, its been first class all the way as they have treated me nice and I’m excited to be a Shark.

How much did Sharks rookie camp over the summer help you get ready for your rookie season in Worcester?
The camp in the summer was a great opportunity to get in and meet the players and day-to-day staff.  It made me more comfortable in the setting at the rink.  Anytime you spend around professionals up at the NHL level, you’re definitely going to benefit from it.

What have you enjoyed most so far about playing in Worcester?
The guys.  We’ve got a fairly young team and the older guys are in there taking care of us by showing us what it’s like to be a professional.  It’s a tremendous group of guys and we’re excited about the potential we have as a group.

San Jose has a tradition where they take the puck of a player’s first goal and turn it into a trophy.  Does Worcester have a similar tradition?  Were you able to keep the puck?
No, it’s more traditional by putting a piece of tape around the puck with the date and team playing against.  What they did with my puck works for me and yes I have it {laughs}.

Did you do anything differently to prepare for this season than you did at UMD?
I don’t think so.  Obviously over the summer I was headed to a new team and wanted to make a great first impression.  My work ethic in the summer is always good but this summer especially as I was determined to be in the best shape of my life to make the best impression possible.  Other than that, it was a standard summer.  I’ve been with the same trainer, Doug Crashley of Crash Conditioning, for 7-8 years and he incorporated what San Jose does off the ice into my workouts.  I show up at the gym and do what he asks.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Oh wow you’re going to make me dig to answer that {laughs}.  It came from my parents as they never forced me into anything.  They always told me to do what I love and I love playing hockey.  They encouraged me to play and work hard at it.  My love for the game has grown from the support they have given me.  Its been a family affair going to the rink and watching hockey with them.  I’m very grateful of how supportive they’ve been.

Will you be getting a Twitter anytime soon as Sena Acolatse is always mentioning you in his tweets?
I guess if he’s tweeting that much, I guess I don’t need it that much {laughs}.  I guess you can assume I’m right there besides him when he tweets {laughs}.  I don’t know if I’ll be getting into the Twitter business as I have my Facebook page but barely use it {laughs}.

Sena Acolatse has called you "Pit Bull" on Twitter.  Is that officially your nickname?
James Livingston came up with that nickname and its stuck.  If It's for how I play on the ice, I'm cool with it {laughs}.

Eric Lindquist tried to get Alex Stalock to sign up with a twitter account Tuesday night during the St. John’s game.  He’s had Alex do the in-game update tweets for "@SharksAHLinGame" and said his twitter account could be "@AlStalock32.Alex said, "That Twitter stuff isn’t for me."
Yeah I can’t see Alex joining the Twitter world anytime soon {laughs}.

Mike Connolly Quick Hits

Nickname....."Pit Bull"

Favorite Musician.....Kings de Leon

Favorite Movie....."Batman - The Dark Knight"

Favorite TV show....."How I Met Your Mother"

Favorite NHL Team growing up.....Detroit Red Wings

Favorite road city.....San Antonio

Favorite professional team {other than Sharks}.....Miami Heat

Favorite sport {other than hockey}.....Football

Favorite book.....Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge by Bob Probert.  I read it in three days last season.

Favorite food.....Steak, no question {laughs}

Favorite website.....YouTube

Favorite holiday.....Thanksgiving

Favorite magazine.....Not a big magazine guy.  I just browse them at checkout line.  Seems like "People" is always in front with celebrity news {laughs}

Favorite saying.....Don't really have one {laughs}

Favorite board game.....Not big into board games

Favorite pro athlete.....Steve Yzerman

Favorite hockey moment.....Winning the National Championship last season

Hockey idol.....Steve Yzerman

First job.....Washing cars at a dealership

Hidden talent.....None {laughs}

Favorite restaurant.....Texas Roadhouse

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