Former Vees blue liner excited to rejoin Golden Gophers

Mike Reilly is eager to have success in his third season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers

Former Penticton Vees defenceman Mike Reilly weighed the pros and cons of signing for big pro dollars or returning to school.

Ultimately, he decided to return to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. It was a choice the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect felt was right even though he feels he could make the jump.

“Yeah, I think I can handle it,” said Reilly in early summer. “I just know the pro game is double the games. Everyone is stronger and faster. I think you have to be able to keep up with those guys. When I’m ready to go pro, I want to be ready, be able to withstand those guys. I want to fit right in and be able to play my game and not try to be something I’m not.”

Over the summer, Reilly, who helped the Vees win the 2012 RBC Cup, attended the Columbus Blue Jackets development camp and said it was a good experience. Among the things done were three-on-three scrimmages, which Reilly said were also intended to be fun.

“It started off slow then picked up the pace,” said Reilly, who led all Gopher rookies in 2012-13 with 14 points, then more than doubled his output last season with nine goals and 33 points in 41 games. “Turned it into more competition.”

In deciding to return to the Gophers for his third season, Reilly, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is focused on having the best year possible on a team he said is really good.

“I’m pretty pumped up about that,” said Reilly. “A lot of guys coming back. It will be their last run at it.”

Last year the Gophers lost to Union College for the national championship and Reilly said they had a great team with five players scoring 14 goals or more. He said that showed the kind of depth they possessed. During the playoffs, he thought back to the Vees’ RBC Cup run and the importance of playing your best with the pressure of fewer games.

“Guys are going really hard. It could be the other guys’ last game,” said Reilly. “You can’t take teams lightly. I kind of learned that in the RBC as well.”

This off season Reilly worked on getting stronger, but not adding too much weight that would slow him down. He worked out with NHLers such as Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski and some American Hockey League players, which was good for him to learn from them.

“I think the more you play along with those guys, I think you get better,” said Reilly, who has built up his six-foot-one, frame to 190 pounds. “Realize what it takes to get to that level. Learn how they prepare.”

Heading into a new season, Reilly and the Gophers have been picked first in the Big Ten preseason poll. Reilly also became the first Gopher to earn First Team All-America honours since 2009.