Jackets prospects play in Columbus — Minnesota splits series with Ohio State

Mike Reilly currently leads the NCAA among all defensemen in division I in assists (32) and points (38).

Courtesy: University of Minnesota Athletics

Players in Columbus Blue Jackets organization were playing in two places in Columbus this weekend. Three Jacket prospects were in town with the University of Minnesota to play the Ohio State University. While they split the two game series, the prospects accomplished something special.

Gophers Forward Seth Ambroz (drafted 128th overall, 2011), defenseman Ryan Collins (47th overall, 2014) and defenseman Mike Reilly (98th overall, 2011) played in front of a Columbus crowd that included Jackets team representatives and put on a show.

Reilly (0-1-1), Ambroz (1-0-0) and Collins (0-1-1) each tallied a point — all on the same goal.

At 15:36 in the second period, with the Gophers leading 3-2, Reilly got the puck to Collins at the point who found Ambroz in front of the net for the deflection and fourth and final goal of the game.

"I saw that Mike passed it over and I was calling for it, more like a backdoor," Ambroz said. "He kept waiting, kept waiting, so I kind of adjusted and it was perfect placement from Collins. I just had my stick on the ice, but those two made the play."

Ambroz, a senior from Minnesota who has ten goals and 11 assists in 34 games this year, said the Jackets prospects didn’t realize it was an "all-Blue Jackets" goal until they returned to the bench.

"I didn’t think about it until I came back to the bench and (Kyle) Rau pointed it out to me," Ambroz said. "I was like, ‘Ahh, that’s pretty sweet.’"

Ambroz acknowledged that playing in Columbus in front of Blue Jackets representatives was special but that the players’ focus remains on the Gophers’ success.

"Coming here, the main focus for us was we needed to get the win for our team," Ambroz said. "Obviously we’re part of Columbus and that is great and we were able to get the first win and that’s all that matters."

Saturday’s match would not be as kind to the Jackets’ prospects. The Gophers fell 5-2 to the Buckeyes and Reilly, Ambroz and Collins were kept off the scoresheet.

Minnesota is ranked 12th in the NCAA going in to the weekend and has only two regular season games remaining before entering the Big Ten hockey tournament that begins Mar 19. With high stakes games still ahead, the pull of professional hockey is present, but not all-encompassing.

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"Throughout the week you want to get better day in and day out with practice," Ambroz said. "On weekends, you want to execute. You don’t worry about what is going on next year or anything like that. You just have to worry about what is coming up next, and for us it’s about what we can do to be successful tomorrow."

Of the three Minnesota players, Reilly is drawing the most attention.

"Mike Reilly is having a great year in Minnesota," said Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen at the trade deadline. "He’s a prospect we believe in that can step in to some big shoes with our organization. We look forward to getting him signed."

At 21-years-old the junior currently leads the NCAA among all defensemen in division I in assists (32) and points (38). His 1.12 points per game also puts him on top of the list of all defensive players according to collegehockeyinc.com.

"(Reilly) has become a better player every year," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. "He’s got things that you can’t teach. Obviously he has elite hands and vision and he thinks the game so well and his feet are really good, but each year he’s gotten physically stronger."

When Reilly was drafted he listed at 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds. He’s currently 6-foot-1, 182 pounds. For comparison, the average weight of the current Blue Jackets defensemen is 214 pounds and the average height is 6-foot-2 but Lucia sees Reilly as being able to close the gap physically.

"He’ll continue to get stronger as he matures," Lucia said. "He’s one of those kids that was a late bloomer physically so there’s still room for him to grow and get stronger, as he’s continued to do that it’s allowed him to become a better defender than he was two years ago."

The players’ coach says focus is the name of the game. Lucia said it’s team-first mentality right now for the Reilly and the other Gopher players who are 19-12-3 overall and tied for second in the Big Ten with Michigan.

"You start thinking about what is going to happen down the line, you’re just not going to play the way you need to play," Lucia said. "Mike is a good team guy. It’s all about our team, and I’m sure when the season ends he’ll sit down and discuss what is best for him."

For the Jackets, they are ready to listen when Reilly is ready to talk. College hockey players are unable to sign professional contracts until they leave school.

"If he decides to leave school then we’d be happy to get him signed," Kekalainen said.