Reilly’s rookie year full of ups and downs

The former Gophers skater played in 29 games for the Wild in his first season.

Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly controls the puck against Michigan at Mariucci on Feb. 14, 2014.

Chelsea Gortmaker, Daily File Ph

Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly controls the puck against Michigan at Mariucci on Feb. 14, 2014.

Mike Hendrickson

Mike Reilly didn’t go far from home when he went to the NHL.
 
 
The former Gophers defenseman signed a deal with the Minnesota Wild in July and played 29 games for his hometown team in his rookie season.
 
 
He was called up to the Wild four times but spent most of his season with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild.
 
 
He scored one goal and recorded six assists when he was with Minnesota.
 
 
“Every time I came up, I felt like I learned something,” Reilly said. “When I went back down, I felt comfortable knowing what I had to do to make it back to the NHL.”
 
 
Reilly, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, elected to explore free agency after leaving the Gophers following his junior year. The Chanhassen, Minn., native signed with the Wild on July 1, fulfilling a childhood dream.
 
 
“[It was] pretty surreal,” Reilly said. “It’s special to be playing in the NHL, and [to do it] for your hometown team is pretty cool as well.”
 
 
Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel, who works with the team’s defensemen, said it’s like Reilly never left. His two older brothers, Connor and Ryan, skated for the Gophers last season.
 
 
 
“[Mike’s] never going to be too far away,” Guentzel said. “He’s still a young kid at heart.”
 
 
Under Guentzel’s tutelage, Reilly had a decorated career with the Gophers, earning All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors twice.
 
 
He led the team in points as a junior and was known for the offense he brought from the blue line.
 
 
Guentzel said he worked with Reilly on being a stronger defender in college, something that can be unrecognized when looking at a player of his caliber.
 
 
“Mike worked at the issues. Mike’s practice habits were really good,” Guentzel said. “He cared about being a better rush defender, better net defender and better corner defender. He cared about those things and worked at it.”
 
 
Reilly was assigned to the Iowa Wild at the start of his first professional season in October of 2015 and made his NHL debut for the Minnesota Wild for the first time in January.
 
 
He was coached by John Torchetti in Iowa, who was later named the interim head coach of the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 13 after the previous head coach, Mike Yeo, was fired.
 
 
Reilly’s longest stint in the NHL came mostly under Torchetti’s watch, as he was with the Minnesota Wild from Feb. 8 to April 5. 
 
 
“I think with Torchetti, there was more of an opportunity there to maybe rely on the young guys,” Reilly said. “It was a good fit.”
 
 
Reilly played an average of 12:05 per game with the Minnesota Wild. The most ice time he ever received was 16 minutes during the team’s Stadium Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 21.
 
 
He had previous experience playing an outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium because he did it as a sophomore against Ohio State.
 
 
“Some of [my teammates] started to hear that I had played in one before,” Reilly said. “I shared some stories. … It was definitely special.”
 
 
Reilly will try to make his stay in Minnesota last longer next year after moving up and down as a rookie. Guentzel said he knew Reilly at a young age and could tell he had the mental ability to succeed in college and possibly after.
 
 
“His skating was elite, and he had really good stick skill,” Guentzel said. “Those are the things you notice right away. … He was just mentally so far ahead of everybody else as far as being able to see the game.”