Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Gwinnett Gladiators rookie forward Brian Kaufman is from Minnesota and majored in finance at Miami (Ohio).
A rookie forward for the Gwinnett Gladiators, Brian Kaufman is under contract with the AHL's Houston Aeros and was assigned here not long before the ECHL season started.
Kaufman is coming off an excellent college career at Ohio's Miami University which included a trip to the national championship game against Boston University last April. The 25-year-old Minnesota native finished with 84 points in 125 games at Miami and was in AHL camp in Houston before coming to Gwinnett.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Kaufman talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, from sports in his home state to playing for a national championship to learning the guitar.
CT: How does the pro game compare to college?
BK: It's a bit more controlled. You don't have many guys running around. It's a lot smarter.
CT: How would you rate the adjustment period?
BK: For me it hasn't been too bad. I consider myself to be more of a pro-style player. Still, a lot of different stuff, different rules, different style, is an adjustment. But it wasn't quite as bad as I anticipated.
CT: Does your number, 15, have any significance? Or is it just what was left?
BK: (chuckling) It was just what was left. I've worn it since probably my freshman year in high school and it's just always been available everywhere I've gone. I came here and actually the (15) jersey here is the smallest jersey they have and I'm one of the bigger guys, so they debated not giving it to me. But it ended up being OK.
But no real significance. My freshman year I had a really good season and that was the first time I'd worn it. I liked it and I've been able to keep it.
CT: What was this summer like for you, transitioning from college to pro? There are a lot of decisions to be made and contracts to discuss.
BK: I was lucky enough to be able to sign my contract at the end of last season. So it was nice, especially this year how it's been a weird market in the hockey world. The majority of my friends didn't know what they were doing. But this summer was actually similar to the usual. Some of my college friends come up and we work out together in Minnesota.
CT: When did you start playing?
BK: When I was like 2 years old, I think. It's funny because my dad had me with skates on, pushing a little bucket around the ice before I could walk. It was kind of like my walker, but he likes to joke that I was able to skate before I could walk. Which isn't true, but it sounds nice.
CT: It was simultaneous.
BK: (laughing) Exactly.
CT: Have you always been a forward?
BK: I have. When you're growing up you kind of play both, but I just liked scoring goals.
To be honest, I actually wanted to play goalie up until I was about 9 or 10 years old. But my dad wouldn't let me. He's like, 'You're going to regret that some day.' And thank God he didn't let me.
CT: Did your dad play?
BK: He did, through high school in Minnesota. And I have two brothers that played high school in Minnesota and played college.
CT: But they didn't go pro?
BK: No, they didn't.
CT: Got their degrees and went into the real world?
BK: Yeah, they're in the real world working. They both work for Wells Fargo. It's funny, they attribute their success back to athletics and what it's done for them.
CT: What are the best things about where you grew up -- besides family and friends?
BK: I grew up in Minnesota and one thing that separates that from the rest of the hockey world, for sure, is that you can play high school hockey. It was a big deal if we traveled over a half hour for a game because everybody is right there.
That way you can stay in high school with your childhood friends and live at home and play other sports. I was lucky enough to play football and baseball. I think that's something you can't really get anywhere else.
And then just the colder climate, being able to play. I love Minnesota, where you can play all sports -- there's a season for everything. It does get cold, but that's hockey time. Once it warms up, you have your baseball and football.
CT: Are you a Vikings' fan?
BK: I am. Huge Twins fan, pretty big Vikings' fan.
CT: What did you think about Brett Favre coming to Minnesota?
BK: I've always been a Brett Favre fan. As much as I hate the Packers, the way he plays the game, with his passion and intensity and the way he leads his team and gets the best out of all of his players is something that's very admirable for other athletes.
There's been things that I disagree with, but we're happy to have him. He's doing well and a great complement to AP, Adrian Peterson.
I hate the Packers, I always have, but I've always secretly been a Brett Favre fan. I would never admit it before (laughing), but I respected the way he played the game.
CT: You went to Billings to play NAHL (junior hockey) -- did you ever think about major junior or was college always the goal?
BK: College was always the goal for me. If you're going to go to major junior, you pretty much need to be in the top few percentile of your age group. You get drafted when you're 14 or 15 and, at that point, I was struggling to make the high school team. So I wasn't good enough at that point, for sure, to even have a chance at major junior.
I went to Billings, had a good time there and, improving my game a lot, was able to get a spot at Miami. That was one of the best decisions I ever made, to go to school there. I had a great four years. Honestly, I couldn't have thought of a better place to be.
It wasn't even really until my sophomore year, maybe my junior year there that pro really became an option.
CT: So you would say that your game took some big leaps while you were in college?
BK: For sure. I think it took a big leap when I was a sophomore in high school, then when I went to Billings, my second year out there and then my second year at Miami.
CT: So second year pro's looking pretty good?
BK: Hopefully, yeah.
CT: You made it to the national championship game your senior year at Miami?
BK: It was an exciting run. One of the better ones I can remember. But to lose that game was pretty heartbreaking and something most of the boys back at Miami haven't gotten over.
(Grinning) I don't know if you've checked, but they're No. 1 right now.
CT: I did see that they opened the season ranked No. 1.
BK: So they have a little chip on their shoulder it seems -- which is great. They have a great team back this year, and the coaching staff and the administration is unbelievable.
It's amazing the support they have there. The four years there I learned more that I did the rest of my life. If it wasn't for Miami, I wouldn't be here, that's for sure.
CT: It's been six months since that game (in which Miami had a two-goal lead with one minute left and then lost on a deflection in overtime). How vivid are your memories of it?
BK: Pretty vivid. The boys around here like to give me a lot of grief about it. They play it sometimes on ESPN Classic.
CT: Do you ask how many of them have played for a national championship?
BK: Nah, I just like to not think about it. But they're always, 'How could you blow that?'
I still haven't watched it.
But it was exciting. It was a cool place to be, being an American and playing in Washington, D.C., and the treatment we got. We were able to go to the Capitol and go on the House floor and see those kind of things.
It was a great run. Obviously it could have ended better, but I'm sure within time that'll all be forgotten. Well, probably never forgotten, but we'll realize what we really did and how much fun we had along the way and it'll all be OK. But right now it's still a bit of a sensitive subject.
CT: Do you ever give Matt Francis (whose Bemidji State Beavers were eliminated in the semifinals by Miami) a hard time?
BK: He gives me more of a hard time. (Laughing) He'll say stuff like 'You ruined the hopes of a nation. We were the Cinderella story and you guys had to crush our hopes.'
But he's awesome about it and a great guy. We've joked about it a good amount. I don't know if I could be as lighthearted about it if we had a BU guy here. But that was a great game and obviously it's the same thing for him. It was a great run for them and they were a great team.
It's funny, too, UNH (New Hampshire) lost to BU to go to the Frozen Four with Jamie Fritsch on the team. Same thing, with like 10 seconds left in the game, the guy put it in their own net. So it was almost like it was just meant to be for BU.
CT: What did you major in?
BK: Finance and marketing. I took enough classes when I was playing juniors before I got to Miami so that I was able to transfer in with a full semester's worth (of credits).
CT: So you finished your degree?
BK: I did. Well, I ran into some problems because I left and went down to Houston at the end of the (season). But I have graduated.
CT: Does anybody ask you for investment advice?
BK: Ah, no. Not yet at least. If anybody does, I'll direct them to my brothers. They're the smarter ones.
CT: Who are your roommates here?
BK: Jamie Fritsch and Drew Paris. We have a three-person apartment.
CT: Do you guys share similar interests?
BK: For sure. We like to consider ourselves the closest to a family on a team. We rotate making dinner. Every other night one of us makes a dinner for "the family." Sometimes we'll invite (Mike) Fourney. We like to consider him our fourth roommate.
Yeah, we have a good time. Drew likes to play his video games a bit more than Jamie and I. Jamie's teaching me the guitar right now actually. I've always wanted to play and he's unbelievable with it. So I bought a guitar and I'm about two weeks in and I can only play one song.
CT: What song did you learn first?
BK: "Free Falling" by Tom Petty. It's one of the easier ones.