It's been a whirlwind year for Colorado Avalanche rookie Brandon Yip(notes). Last April, he was involved in the memorable NCAA Frozen Four championship game that saw his Boston University Terriers come from behind in dramatic fashion to tie Miami (Ohio) University and then win the National Championship in overtime. Five months later, the 24-year old Vancouver native was making his National Hockey League debut with the Avalanche.
Drafted in the eighth round (239th overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft, Yip starred for the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League before moving on to Boston University for the 2005-06 season. After winning Hockey East Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 and then scoring game-winning, overtime goals in both the Hockey East quarterfinal and Final in 2007, Yip was second in goals and fourth in team scoring en route to helping the Terriers to the 2009 championship.
This past July he signed an entry-level contract with Colorado and after just six games with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League, Yip got called up the NHL. Through 22 games with the Avalanche Yip has made the most of his opportunity scoring 11 goals and 7 assists and has become an integral part of Joe Sacco's mostly young lineup. Despite living out of a local hotel at the moment, with his current production, Yip will likely soon be told to start looking for a permanent place of residence.
We spoke with Yip last week about that memorable night in Washington D.C. last April; pre-game superstitions; killing time on road trips; and a possible post-hockey career with Shaq. Do enjoy.
How are you enjoying your rookie season?
It's unbelievable so far. Couldn't ask for more, really. It's kind of a dream come true for myself and I'm really excited to be here going along for the ride with the guys.
What's the one thing that surprised you about the NHL?
I think the biggest thing is everyone's ability to skate. There's not a slow guy out there. Everyone's quick and fast. It's pretty amazing how many fast guys that are out there.
Flashback to April and the NCAA title game against Miami (Ohio) University. You guys go down 3-1 with four minutes left. What was the feeling on the bench after that third goal?
For the whole year we kind of faced periods like that and there were a lot of times we were down a few goals and we weren't quite on our game. I think, for the most part, we didn't play our best hockey that particular game until the end and overtime, but we're down 3-1, there's four minutes left and we still had a lot of hope and we knew guys weren't going to give up. We knew our team was capable of scoring two quick goals and it happened for us.
Was that the wildest game you've ever played in?
Oh yeah, by far, it was unbelievable. Just the atmosphere and it being a championship game down 3-1 and then coming back. I still get chills just thinking about it.
Are you aware that there's a tribute video to you on YouTube featuring some of your goals and hits from your time at BU?
Yeah, I think I saw it. [Laughs] Someone made it up, but yeah I saw it.
What do you remember about your first game in the NHL?
Before the game, the guys were getting ready and I sat by myself in the locker room and everyone is doing stretching and getting prepared for the game. I kind of took a quick look around and just had to pinch myself a little bit looking at the [Milan] Hejduks and the Sakic shrine in the locker room; [Darcy] Tucker's stall; [Adam] Foote's stall and it's pretty amazing to kind of sit there and take it all in.
Do you remember your first shift or was it all a blur?
I don't really remember it exactly, but I remember leading up to it in warm ups. I was pretty nervous when I got off for warm ups and I felt pretty comfortable and I just wanted to go out there and maybe make a hit or something, get the puck deep and don't mess up, but after I got through it was a lot of fun.
Do you have any game day or pre-game superstitions?
I keep to kind of the same routine: eat breakfast, go to pre-game afterwards, then usually go to lunch to a few places. If we're winning we like to go to the same spot. Then come back to my place and hang out, lay low, maybe have a nap if I'm tired and just try and think about the game and then take off a couple of hours early and get to the rink and start focusing.
So no putting a certain skate on first or taping your stick a specific way?
No, no, I pretty much just do the same things, but if something doesn't happen it's not a big deal for myself. I try not too superstitious. I used to be like that.
What kind of stuff would you do?
At BU I used to eat spaghetti and meatballs before every game and listen to the same songs in the locker room, but I think it's better to keep that stuff out in case something doesn't go your way you're not rattled about it.
Who on the Avalanche is the most superstitious or has the wackiest pre-game?
No one's actually too bad. I don't see much of the guys before the game and what they're doing because I'm usually in the room and a lot of guys get dressed closer to game time. So I'm just sitting there. It's usually me, Tucker, Willie (Ryan Wilson(notes)), [T.J.] Galiardi and [David] Koci. We just kind of hang out and focus and the other guys are off doing their own thing. A lot of guys play soccer, but I like to sit in the room and focus on the game.
Is there a team prankster?
I think Tucks the funniest one. There's not been too many pranks going on lately because we've been losing, but Tucker keeps the locker room loose, he's a funny guy. Him [Cody] McLeod and [Craig] Anderson.
Since you're a rookie, did you have any sort of initiation?
No, not so far. They've been nice to me. I don't think they do that as much as they do in juniors and college, but everyone's pretty professional and we joke around but nothing too harsh.
So they didn't make you stand up in the middle of the locker room and sing the BU fight song?
No, good thing because I don't know it. [Laughs]
You guys have surprised a lot of people so far and are in the mix in the West. Do you think some of the team's success can be attributed to the large number of young guys on the team?
When you have young guys step in like Duchy (Matt Duchene(notes)) and Gali and Willie and [Kyle] Cuminsky and all the guys definitely do a great job and log a lot of minutes. It definitely helps out, but having the older guys there, without them the team would probably be a little bit lost because we've learned a lot from them. They tell us what to do out there, they've been in the League for a long time, they know from experience. Definitely having the older guys and younger guys gives us a really good balance for the team.
What do you think of the job Coach Sacco is doing in his rookie year?
Nothing but good things. He means business. He'll let you know when you're not playing well, it doesn't matter who you are. He'll let you know when you're playing well and things you need to continue to do. I've really enjoyed him being my coach so far.
When you first came up to the NHL back in December, who were some of the guys you observed and tried to learn from?
I think Tuck, a lot. My first 10 or 12 games, we played together. Having a veteran guy like him on your line, he's been around the league for a long time and he's had a lot of success, and for him telling you what to do and where to be at certain spots, it made a big difference on me just learning from it.
You guys have had a couple long road trips already this season. What do you do to keep busy on those trips?
On the bus rides I sometimes play cards if there's an opening, sometimes guys have their spots at the card table. On the plane I'll sometimes pop in a movie. The plane rides are a lot of fun, especially when we're winning.
Are you a big poker player?
I used to be. We don't play too much poker, we play a lot of mixed up card games but I've kind of went away from it a little bit.
Being a Vancouver native, will you be heading home during the Olympic break to experience the Games?
No, I'm actually not going to make it home for the Games. It'll be pretty cool, I'm really happy Vancouver will be hosting and I'm happy for the guys on my team that will be a part of it.
I imagine you'll predict Canada to win the gold medal, so I'll ask you who do you think they'll face in the final?
Depending on how the brackets go I think Russia is going to be pretty strong, but I think all the big teams, the Russians, Swedes, USA, they're all the best players in the world. There's not going to be any easy games out there, so it's going to be interesting.
You graduated from BU with a degree in criminal justice. After your career is over do you want to do something in that field?
Hopefully my career is long enough where I can golf the rest of my days, but if it doesn't work out, it was pretty interesting taking it in college. It's something I'd look into, but now I'm just focusing on hockey.
You think you might team up with Shaquille O'Neal for an athlete's version of COPS? I know he has an interest in police work.
[Laughs] Yeah, maybe, we'll see.
Who were some of your hockey idols growing up?
I had a few, I didn't really have one. Obviously, Joe Sakic(notes) being from Burnaby, a local guy and playing for the Avalanche. Not a bad guy to look up to. I liked the style of Cam Neely and how he played. I kind of try and take my game a little that way: be a big guy and be physical and hopefully help out offensively. And Jarome Iginla(notes). Just watching him over the last 5-10 years, he's just a class act guy.
Other than Colorado, your favorite NHL jersey current or past?
I've always liked the Red Wings jersey because they always stay the same and are very traditional. Also liked the Maple Leafs and the old Winnipeg Jets, for sure.
Last movie you saw on DVD or in the theater?
I think Avatar 3D, it was pretty good. I'm not a big sci-fi guy, but everyone said it was great so I went and saw it and it actually was a pretty good movie. Great effects.
Your alcoholic beverage of choice?
Grey goose, water with a lime.