Minnesota Hockey Journal

March 2017

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MARCH.2017 // M I N N E S OTA H O C K E YJ O U R N A L . CO M 09 k LIKE MANY YOUNG MINNESOTA HOCKEY PLAYERS, Justin Braun watched the Minnesota State High School Tournament games from the stands at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., dreaming of one day playing in it himself. The Vadnais Heights native turned his dreams into a reality in 2003 and 2005 with the White Bear Lake High School hockey team. He knew he wasn't an all-star player, but he couldn't help but let the roaring crowds give him a small taste of what the NHL might feel like. That feeling has become familiar to Braun, who has quietly established himself as a top defenseman for the San Jose Sharks. We caught up with Braun to learn more about his work ethic, his favorite Minnesota hockey memories and what it was like to play in the Stanley Cup Final last season. Minnesota Hockey Journal // You weren't necessarily the top high school player in Minnesota coming up. How did you establish an NHL career for yourself after staying very under-the-radar during high school and even when you were younger? Justin Braun // I just tried to enjoy it and kept working hard. I kept moving on to the next level and didn't look ahead too far. After high school, I went to juniors and had a chance to play in college and took advantage of that. Just hard work and enjoying the journey. MHJ // Do you have advice for young kids who might not be all-star players in youth or high school hockey? Braun // Just have fun. I have my high school buddies I played hockey with back then and I talk to them every week. We just had a good time, showed up to the rink and had fun. It was just the love of the game. You don't have to be a superstar. Hopefully someone notices your talent, you can get that scholarship and eventually go pro. MHJ // Is there a specific hockey coach that really inspired you or helped to develop your game? Braun // I had so many. Scott Schafer helped me a lot in Peewees, then you had [Scott] Hambly in Bantams and [Tim] Sager in high school. They all helped pave the way, but I think some of the biggest ones were my college coaches at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. They helped mold my pro-style game and helped me be not so sporadic. They really helped me dial in a little more and put an emphasis on defense and stick position. They played a big part in helping me get to this level. MHJ // What are some of your favorite memo- ries during your early playing days? Braun // Probably the biggest is obviously the state tournament. I got a chance to play in that twice, my sophomore and senior years in high school. As a kid growing up, you'd go to those games. Your parents gave you a day off of school and you got to head to the X and watch those games Thursday and Friday. I think growing up, you always wanted to play in that and I got the opportunity to do that. Unfortunately, we didn't end up winning either of those games, but it was still a fun experience. MHJ // What made those games so meaningful? Braun // Just playing at the X. You're a teen- ager and you have dreams to play in the NHL. You don't know if you're going to make it there, but you get a chance to play on that ice and feel like a pro for a little bit. It's usually a pretty big crowd, so you got that feeling—feeling like a big-timer for a little bit. MHJ // What do you remember about play- ing in the 2005 section finals to make it to the state tournament during your senior year? Braun // I don't remember much of the games, but I remember the celebration after and all my buddies who were seniors got to jump on the glass at the Coliseum and the fans were going nuts. That was probably some of the most fun I had in my high school hockey. If we had gone a little further, it would have been a little dif- ferent. Those section tournaments—it's your last chance to really get to the tournament. We were able to do that after all those years playing together and then go down playing the game we love. That was a fun experience. MHJ // Talk about your constant section foes, Hill-Murray. What is it like playing in a rivalry game like that to get to state? Braun // It's great. That was one of the best games of the year. You'd show up, the place would be jammed and standing room only. You got your whole high school there; they got their whole high school there. You got the band going. It was just hockey at its purest. You've got two rival teams going at it and both want that bragging right. Those were the most fun games of the year. MHJ // White Bear seems to be somewhat "cursed" in the state tournament, as it hasn't quite made it past the first round in 18 chanc- es. What's your take on that? Braun // I wish I knew. We had some good teams going there, but we weren't able to do it. There's got to be a curse. We must have done something to someone else's mascot back in the day (laughs). Hopefully someday they can beat it. MHJ // What was it like to play in the Stanley Cup Final last season? Braun // That was an experience of a lifetime. The fact that we were the first Sharks team to get there and a few of these guys have been play- ing forever and they get a chance to play in the Cup Final. It was fun. Unfortunately we weren't able to close it out. It was just a surreal feeling to be one of two teams left. Hopefully this year we can take that next step and close it out, but it was a good experience for just about everyone. MHJ // You had some NHL ties with your father-in-law, Tom Lysiak, who unfortunately passed away during the playoffs last season. Did the two of you bond over hockey? Braun // We liked to tell stories about hockey. I think he was surprised how some things have changed. It's just cool to hear the stories about when he played. It was surreal being able to hear a little history of what it used to be like firsthand. With him being a forward and me being a defenseman—he was a little more skilled than me, too—I don't know if he could help me that much (laughs). It was really cool sitting with him and sharing the old stories about times with the boys and stuff. Not so much about hockey all the time—but experi- ences with the guys and how much fun he had. You just look at the rinks in the winter and kids skating out there and that's what I grew up doing—going to the pond and the lake."

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