by Andrew Pender || AHL On The Beat Archive
Graham Mink is a hockey player, Calder Cup Champion and husband, and since Mar. 12, he can add “Dad” to his many different titles.
Married to his wife, Cristina, back in June of 2008, Graham welcomed their first child, a baby boy named Gunnar, to the world earlier this month.
A passionate hockey player who gives everything he has night in and night out will now take that same passion that has helped him build a concrete hockey career to help build an unbreakable bond with his new family.
Less than a month after winning his second Calder Cup championship as an alternate captain for the Hershey Bears, Mink came to Rochester when he signed a two-year deal with the Florida Panthers on July 8, 2009. He quickly acknowledged the rich history the Amerks have and looks to do whatever he can to help this city capture its first Calder Cup championship since 1996.
It didn’t take him long to realize the fans in Rochester have high expectations, a fact which helps fuels his enjoyment to play for a team where hockey means something to its city and fans.
Growing up in St. Albans, Vt., Mink had one of the best childhood memories when it comes to being around passionate hockey fans. He grew up rooting for fellow Vermonter John LeClair during his days as a Montreal Canadien.
Making the short two-and-a-half-hour drive up to Montreal from St. Albans, Mink remembers on many occasions watching LeClair and the Canadiens with his friends. But it would be the opening round of a playoff series he attended back in 1996 where Mink would find his calling to play professional hockey.
When the Canadiens opened their playoff series against the New York Rangers, Mink recalls how a sellout crowd of 21,273 fans made the building so loud that the emotion became so powerful, inspiring him to play hockey at the professional level.
But trips to Montreal was not where his love of the game started.
Mink’s path to hockey started when his dad introduced him to the game when he was five years old. Admitting he was really rambunctious as a child, he got himself into a lot of trouble at school because he couldn’t sit still. So his parents used sports as an outlet for his energy. He tried playing soccer and baseball, but it was the intensity and fast-paced style of hockey that he gravitated toward.
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After winning the Division II state championship in his senior year for Stowe High School, Mink looked at being a walk-on for the University of Vermont’s Division I hockey program as his best option to stay on a path to play professional hockey. Wondering how he could get a spot on the team, Mink was advised to play a year of junior hockey.
He took the advice and soon proved himself enough to where he found himself wearing the classic green and gold colors of the Vermont Catamounts hockey team. Admitting he was probably one of the worst players on the team when he got there, Mink’s drive and determination would not be denied as he worked hard on his skills and dedicated his time in making himself a better player.
During his senior year in 2000-01, Mink posted 17 goals, 12 assists and 29 points in 32 games for the Catamounts. His hard work helped pave the way to a future in the American Hockey League, where he has seen time with the Portland Pirates, Worcester Sharks, Hershey Bears and now Rochester Americans.
Even with the success in hockey, nothing will ever compare to what Mink is experiencing today. As soon the birth of his son came up in conversation, Graham’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He describes waking up every morning to see his son with that excitement that only a new parent can relate to. He praises his wife Cristina for being amazing through the whole process and it’s given him a new perspective on the way he carries out his day-to-day routine.
"When I’m tired or I’m not feeling good or whatever, I keep telling myself to suck it up because this isn’t about [me] anymore, it’s about something bigger," said the new father. "I think anyone who has a kid looks at themselves differently once the kid arrives and I think my perspective on that has definitely changed since he arrived."
The birth of Gunnar has rejuvenated Mink’s life in a way that even situations that may have gotten to Mink in the past now just seem so irrelevant. So how will this new experience display his performance on the ice? Let’s just say Mink has always carried that competitive fire that we all look for in an athlete.
"I want to win every game. Every shift I want to score. I’m a very competitive person. I want to win more than they want me to win," said Mink.
Mink acknowledges that every time he goes out there on the ice he now isn’t just playing for his teammates and for the city of Rochester, but he’s also playing for his newly formed family. The newest father for the Amerks is one class act whose heart will be glowing brighter on his jersey each and every night from here on out. With that kind of inspiration tattooed in his spirit as the playoffs approach, Amerk fans should be glad he’s on our side.