Minnetonka ties remain strong for Denver's Bobby Brink, SCSU's Joe Molenaar, Josh Luedtke
The trio will see each other this weekend as No. 3 (PairWise Rankings) Huskies play NCHC series at No. 5 Denver
While it has been four years since Bobby Brink, Joe Molenaar and Josh Luedtke were teammates at Minnetonka High School, the three college hockey players remain in close contact and with a number of other former Skippers.
One example is a fantasy football league (Big Dog Champ) that the three of them play in.
"All three of us are in the same fantasy football league," Molenaar said of himself, Brink and Luedtke. "We're always talking about that. When we're back in town, we're always getting back together. We'll keep tabs on (Brink) with FaceTime during the season."
Molenaar, a sophomore forward, and Luedtke, a freshman defenseman, are both playing for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team this season. Brink is a junior forward for the University of Denver. While the three stay in close contact, there is not a ton of bragging either of the three of them can do about the recently completed fantasy football season.
"We have 10 guys in the league and we finished seven, eight and nine," Molenaar said of the standings.
"A very competitive (league)," Brink said. "I felt like my team was better than it performed this year."
The trio saw one another during the Christmas holiday break. They were hoping to get a chance to see one another this weekend because the Huskies and Pioneers were scheduled to play a series this weekend in Denver. But that series got postponed on Wednesday due to COVID-19 protocols.
As it is with the Huskies, the Pioneers have played just one series since coming back from the holiday break. Denver got a win and a tie in a nonconference series against Alaska on Dec. 31-Jan. 1.
Usually with Team USA
The 20-year-old Brink spent the previous two holidays playing for Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championships. He admits that getting two weeks to spend away from hockey felt a bit unusual in December.
"I got two weeks back home in Minnetonka and it was nice to get back and see family. It's been a while since I've gotten to spend Christmas back there," Brink said. "It felt weird having a long break. I'm usually playing hockey and in a big tournament. It was definitely a different experience, but I enjoyed it."
In 2018, Minnetonka won its first Class AA state tournament title with Brink, Molenaar and Luedtke playing key roles on the team. As a sophomore, Brink led the Skippers in assists (35) and points (56) in 31 games. Molenaar was a senior captain and led the team in goals (31) and had 43 points in 31 games. Luedtke was a junior and led the team's defensemen with 10 goals and 36 points in 23 games.
"The memories that I have is how much fun we had throughout the year," Brink said. "The journey was almost more fun than the destination. Every day, I came to the rink excited. I was with my best friends, spending every day with all day. We were just so close after playing together for so many years."
Molenaar's memories of that season are quite similar.
"What I miss most is just being with those guys," Molenaar said. "We were together roughly 14 straight years. Just super fun being with all your best friends growing up. I think the group would tell you that what we miss most is going to the rink together and playing hockey together."
Minnetonka had been to five previous state tournaments, but 2018 was the first time the Skippers brought home the title.
"The community was super supportive throughout the whole thing, especially since we had never won a (state) title before," Luedtke said. "It was awesome to get to do that for the city of Minnetonka and for all our fans. It was just a surreal experience."
And Brink led the way with his production, despite being an underclassman.
"Once he was there, you learned pretty quick about how skilled he was and his hockey sense and his vision," Molenaar said. "My senior year, with his numbers, it was pretty obvious how talented he was."
"The thing about Bobby is he's got the hockey IQ," Luedtke said. "He's definitely one of the smarter players I've ever played with or against and he definitely uses that to his advantage. Not only that but he has a really good compete level. I remember every day in practice, he was always battling in the corners because he's super competitive and always wants to win. That's definitely helped him in his career and he's very skilled, too."
Those skills have been honed since then. In 2018-19, Brink left Minnetonka to play junior hockey for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. As a 17-year-old, he was second in the USHL in goals (35) and fourth in points (68) despite missing 19 games and playing 43 in the regular season.
"I just believed that I was ready to move up a level," said Brink, who was taken in the second round (34th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. "I thought that I had accomplished what I could in high school and I was ready for a new challenge. I wanted to play in the NCAA the next year, my senior year of high school, so I decided that going to junior was the best route to do that."
As a freshman at Denver in 2019-20, Brink had 11 goals and 24 points in 28 games and was named to the All-NCHC Rookie Team. Last season, he had 11 points in 15 games. But he leads the Pioneers in assists (19) and points (26) in 18 games.
"I think that pucks just weren't going in for me last year," he said. "I was creating chances and I was playing well, but wasn't getting the end result. As a team, we didn't end up getting the end results we wanted either (going 10-13-1). This year, we seem to be getting a few more bounces.
"When I'm playing well, I bring offensive game that I can score, playmake for my teammates. I just try to spend time in the offensive zone and try to take the game to the other team."
Reunited at SCSU
While Brink got a chance to see Molenaar and Luedtke during the holiday break, Brink left Minnetonka with his family before a number of former Skippers got together on the ice.
"We had a good group of guys from our high school team have a little pond hockey tournament over break. It was fun to get all of the guys together," Luedtke said. "One of our teammates' (families) built an outdoor rink for a 3-on-3 tournament. It was a blast seeing those guys who we hadn't seen in a while and competing a bit, too. It was awesome."
"We were out on the pond (playing hockey), hanging out," Molenaar said. "It was nice to see everyone, friends and family, and it was more time with Josh."
When Luedtke heard Molenaar mention that they spent more time together away from the university, he had to give his teammate a hard time.
"I can't seem to get away from him. He's always following me around for some reason," Luedtke said. "It was fun, though."
Luedtke was committed to play for Denver coming out of high school. But he de-committed in the spring of 2020 and ended up choosing to play for the Huskies .
"Honestly, Josh and I playing together again is a dream come true," Molenaar. "We had talked about it and it was something we'd always wanted to do. When Josh's commitment went up in the air, I was super excited when he decided to be a Husky."
3 Huskies named Hobey Baker nominees
Three St. Cloud State players have been named among the 77 nominees for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given annually to college hockey's top player. The three Huskies are fifth-year senior forwards Easton Brodzinski (Blaine) and Kevin Fitzgerald (Hinsdale, Ill.) and senior defenseman Nick Perbix (Elk River).
Brodzinski leads the Huskies in goals (9) and penalty minutes (34) and is second in points (16). Fitzgerald leads the team in assists (14) and points (22) and is a plus-11 in 18 games. Perbix leads SCSU defensemen in assists (11) and points (12).
The second phase of fan balloting will come from a list of top 10 finalists on beginning on March 17 and running through March 27.