In men’s hockey, no one is quite like Mike Reilly

The junior leads all defensemen in college hockey in points and assists so far this season.

Junior Mike Reilly poses at Mariucci Arena Wednesday afternoon. Reilly, his father and his four siblings all played or are currently involved in collegiate hockey.

Junior Mike Reilly poses at Mariucci Arena Wednesday afternoon. Reilly, his father and his four siblings all played or are currently involved in collegiate hockey.

Ben Gotz

Mike Reilly skated around Mariucci Arena’s ice in between plays of a Minnesota-Bemidji State game in October, barely looking at the scoreboard as he officially joined the University of Minnesota’s wall of All-Americans.

The ’90s song, “(I Wanna) Be Like Mike,” played from the arena’s speakers overhead as play resumed.

It was a big moment for the junior defenseman, who grew up attending Gophers men’s hockey games with his family. Reilly is the celebrated son of a former Minnesota player and the brother of four hockey players who have all made it to the Division I level.

By the end of the game against the Beavers, Reilly helped Minnesota secure a victory, showcasing his unique blend of offensive and defensive skills on the ice.

“He’s a special talent,” Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel said. “He controls the pace of the game, and … his [ability] to be able to open up shooting lanes and passing lanes is special.”

But any young player trying to be like Mike Reilly faces a tall task — the Chanhassen native is one of the most unique players in college hockey.

He’s a defenseman who is his team’s top contributor on offense, a fierce competitor who has been ejected from two games this year and a fan of boy band One Direction off the ice.

So despite being one of four Reillys to play for Minnesota, Mike is truly one of a kind.

From a hockey family

Mike Reilly Jr. was born into hockey.

His father, Mike Sr., skated for Minnesota for two years after transferring from Colorado College.

Mike Sr. and wife Lisa Reilly have five children, all of whom played hockey growing up.

In the winter, the Reillys would freeze part of their front yard and turn it into an ice rink. When the ice melted away in the summer, the family strapped on roller blades and kept playing.

“Hockey was just a huge part of our life,” Ryan Reilly said. “[As] kids, it was always ‘hockey, hockey, hockey.’”

With two close older brothers, Mike Reilly was battle-tested at an early age playing one-on-one in the front yard.

“It always got really competitive and heated, and if someone scored, someone would throw a stick. Connor was the one who’d usually throw the stick. Mikey was kind of the chill one,” Ryan Reilly said. “We always had a lot of competition, had good times downstairs shooting pucks. I think that helped us in our game.”

Family shooting contests like pig, horse or post took place in their basement. Connor Reilly said in January he and Mike used to battle all the time.

“Me and Mike, we’re probably 50-50,” Connor Reilly said.

Even when the Reilly brothers arrived at the University, the family rivalry never stopped — it just changed locations.

“Mikey hates it when I go against him in the power play [in practice] because he knows I’m going to go hard on him just because he’s my brother,” Ryan Reilly said. “There’s still definitely some competition between us.”

Blue line offense

In their early hockey careers, the Reilly brothers could have formed a potent forward line.

But at the beginning of high school, Mike Reilly decided to make a position switch.

He saw family friend and Minnetonka native Jake Gardiner go to the blue line his senior year and decided the move could work for him, too.

“Going back there, you can see everything ahead of you a little more,” Mike Reilly said. “I feel like I can control the game almost a little bit. [I’m] still learning, so that’s the best thing about it.”

But the switch to defense couldn’t take the offensive playing style out of Mike Reilly.

After a limited freshman year at Minnesota, Reilly began to shine the following season. During his sophomore year, he became the first Minnesota player to be named a First Team All-American since 2009.

Reilly led the Big Ten in points, goals and assists for a defenseman in 2013-14 as the Gophers returned to the national title game.

Developed in the family’s basement as a child, Reilly’s shot was good enough to create plenty of rebounds and scoring chances for Minnesota.

“He’s got an elite shot,” associate head coach Mike Guentzel said. “He’s always had that. He gets pucks off. He takes pride in his shooting; he works at it.”

After considering a career with the National Hockey League — the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Reilly 98th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft — he announced he would return to the Gophers this year for his junior season.

And in doing so, his offensive skills are flourishing.

He’s on pace to be the first Gophers defenseman to lead the team in points since 1997.

His 38 points and 32 assists are the best in the nation for a defenseman, and his assist total is tied for second nationally among all skaters.

“Look at his assist total — that just doesn’t happen,” Guentzel said. “He gets the puck to the right people at the right time, and he’s got a special ability to do that.”

Even from the blue line, Mike Reilly is often singled out as one of the Gophers’ main threats.

Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said after his team’s 3-2 victory over the Gophers in January, his team’s strategy during the penalty kill centered on taking away Mike Reilly.

“Reilly is as good a power-play defenseman as there is,” Dennehy said.

Skating both ways

Despite making a name for himself with his offensive performance, Mike Reilly returned for his junior season this year with the intent to improve his defense.

He added 10 pounds during the offseason to build up his strength and maintained his quickness in the process.

“If there’s one thing I’ve wanted to do ever since coming in here, it’s being able to play at both ends,” Reilly said. “I’ve gotten a lot better at that. I think I’m a guy who can play at the end of the game when we’re up a goal, and coach Guentzel has trust in me like that.”

Mike Reilly doesn’t try to make waves on the back end with his physicality.

Instead, he plays well defensively by focusing on his stick placement and positioning on the ice.

Mike Reilly’s offensive instincts still kick in often, leading him to attack with the puck and causing his teammates to adjust as he skates into the offensive zone.

But Mike Reilly is starting to take just as much pride in his defense as he has in his offense, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Gophers coaching staff.

Head coach Don Lucia said he thinks Mike Reilly will garner consideration for the top individual honor in college men’s hockey’s this year.

“I’ll fall off my chair if he’s not a Hobey Baker finalist,” Lucia said on his radio show last Monday.

Bringing on-ice heat

Connor Reilly was barely fazed when his younger brother got in the middle of an on-ice brawl against Wisconsin earlier this year.

“I saw [that] my brother Mike jumped in there — that’s surprising,” Connor Reilly sarcastically joked after the game.

Mike Reilly is no stranger to shoving matches on the ice. He got ejected during two games this season.

But when Mike Reilly gets involved in an on-ice scrum, Ryan said it’s because his brother just wants to back up his teammates.

“I think he kind of sees this team as like his family,” Ryan Reilly said. “I think guys appreciate him for always sticking up for his teammates and doing things like that.”

Off the ice, Reilly doesn’t get heated nearly as often.

But he does catch heat for one of his unique interests — the British boy band One Direction.

He has plans to attend a One Direction concert with junior defenseman Brady Skjei this summer.

“He plays [One Direction] all the time,” Ryan Reilly said. “He’s obsessed.”

His fandom considered, Reilly is different — on and off the ice.