Winning still top priority for Mink

by Warren Kosel || AHL On The Beat Archive

Football legend Vince Lombardi once said: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-the-time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

In the realm of professional sports, and in this case, hockey, the success of a team is not measured through ticket sales and revenue generation. Success, by many, is purely perceived by how talented the on-ice product is and ultimately how many victories comprise the win column at the end of the season. Some critics and sports enthusiasts claim that’s a common misapprehension in terms of determining the overall success of a team, but for new Amerks forward Graham Mink, it’s the only way.

“It’s why we play the game,” said Mink, who last season helped the Hershey Bears clinch their record-setting 10th Calder Cup, more than any other franchise in American Hockey League history.

“I am a very competitive person and winning is everything to me. I have been lucky enough to be on two teams that have had a lot of success and it was a lot of fun. It definitely gives you a lot more energy and makes the game more fun when you win.”

Of course he is referring to the two seasons spent in “Chocolatetown,” the home of the oldest and most distinguished team in minor professional hockey. Last season alone, before capturing its second Calder Cup within the last four years, Hershey went on to claim the Eastern Division, the Eastern Conference regular-season and the Eastern Conference playoff championships.

Additionally, the Bears produced the top two scorers in the league in Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin. Both were named to the AHL First All-Star team, and Giroux was last season’s scoring champion and proclaimed league MVP. Not to mention Hershey was backstopped by playoff MVP goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

So where does Mink fit into all Hershey’s success last season?

The answer: right up there with everyone else.

Mink, in his second stint with the Bears, completed the 2008-09 regular season scoring a career-high 32 goals along with 59 points in 68 games to finish second and fourth on the team, respectively. He also ranked second with a plus/minus rating of plus-26.

He continued his offensive output during the playoffs doing more of the same as he did in the regular season, finishing the postseason second on the team with seven goals and fourth with 15 points while skating in all 22 games.

On top of that, Mink saw action in two contests with the Washington Capitals, Hershey’s National Hockey League affiliate.

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Mink made his presence felt four years ago when he first came on the scene with Hershey. Since then, his style of play has not changed. In his first season with the Bears in 2005-06, the 30-year-old Vermont native registered 40 points (21+19) in 43 games and went on to finish tied for fourth in goals. He also recorded 11 power-play goals, third-best on the team. During the playoffs, he averaged a point-per-game, collecting 21 points (8+13) in 21 games to finish third on the team and 10th in the league to help guide the Bears to the Calder Cup championship. He even made his NHL debut that season with Washington, seeing time in three games.

So what’s next for Mink you ask?

“Plain and simple, I want to win another championship,” said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Mink, who played three seasons of college hockey at the University of Vermont. “I am going to do everything I can to bring another championship here to Rochester.”

“Team-wise, I think anything less than a championship will be disappointing, added Mink. “I’m excited reading the headlines and seeing all the players that Florida (Panthers)/Rochester has signed for this season. I think we’ll be a very competitive team and a very fun team to watch.”

In 2009-10, Mink will join a group of offseason signees the Amerks and Florida Panthers have brought in primarily to bolster Rochester’s lineup and reinvigorate an offense that was, for the last few seasons, far inferior to its opposition. He, along with veteran forwards Chris Taylor, Mike York, Jamie Johnson and Jeff Taffe and defenseman Clay Wilson, will have the responsibility of restoring the pride and tradition in Rochester and once again make the Amerks a winning team.

A daunting task to most, but Mink is ready for the challenge and is not phased with the transition to a new organization, especially to one similar to Hershey.

“I’m going to play the same way I’ve always played and that’s by going into the front of the net and playing hard in the corners. I like when things get a little physical and hopefully I can build on the success that I had last season and win another championship.”

Coming from Hershey, a team also known for its storied past comparable to that of Rochester, Mink had the opportunity and the honor to play for the cornerstone franchise in the 74-year history of the AHL. And now with his arrival to upstate western New York, the historical significance of the team may be different, but the honor will always remain the same – something Mink truly values.

“I love playing for teams that have a sense of tradition and pride,” said Mink. “We had that in Hershey and I’m sure it’s going to be the same way in Rochester. When you play for a team that has been around for a long time, there is a strong emotional connection with the fan base and I like that. They (the fans) are hard on you when you don’t have success, but when you do, it’s a great feeling for everyone.

“I think this coming season is going to be the polar opposite of the last two years in Rochester, so I have no worries or concerns,” said Mink, referring to Rochester’s last-place finish in 2007-08 and just a step up in 2008-09. “I feel all the pieces are in place to make a serious run at the title.”

The fans of Rochester certainly got to be happy that winning is still the top priority.