Adolph Brink has been coaching high school hockey for a couple decades around the state of Connecticut, but the last two years have been much different than any other. That’s because his only child, A.J., has been one of the goaltenders for Branford High.
It makes it easy for the Brinks to get a lot of father-son time many parents and sons don’t get. Of course, there are the negatives that come with it as well.
“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t playing for him,” A.J. Brink said. “Whenever I don’t play up to a higher level, I have to go home to it. Normally, another goalie wouldn’t have to.”
However, Adolph has made a concerted effort to keep hockey at the rink and when they go through the front door at home, hockey is over and the father-son relationship takes precedence.
“I made up my mind that if I had the good fortune of coaching my son, there would have to be self-imposed parameters,” Adolph Brink said last week. “There is a point when I stop being Dad and start being a coach. It’s like a light switch.”
At 48 years old, Adolph has been around the game long enough to be able to separate things.
“I’m more mature now,” he said. “If I had been younger, not 48 and 20 years into coaching high school hockey, it would be more difficult. Now, I go on instinct and not from an emotional point of view.”
Adolph played college hockey at St. Lawrence University and in pro hockey with the New York Rangers’ organization and the minor leagues, but was never the crazy athletic father that pushed sports on his son. Whatever A.J. wanted to do sports-wise was fine with him. But with Adolph coaching at numerous high schools during young A.J.’s life, he became a rink rat and hockey was a natural.
“I promised myself and my wife I wouldn’t push him,” Adolph said. “Whatever he wanted to do, we’d let him do. As long as he gets good grades, everything else is gravy.”
There are no worries about that.
A.J. is an excellent student and plans on studying nuclear engineering in college with his top choice being Texas A&M. The Aggies’ hockey program is just a club one, so there are no scholarships.
“Hockey isn’t going to take me though my whole life and I know that a good education will,” A.J. said.
“I want my kid to get good grades first and foremost,” Adolph said. “I’ve coached the Chris Drury (Trumbull) and John Quick (Hamden) types who have played in the NHL. Those kids are far and few between. For 99 percent of kids, this is the most important organized hockey they’ll play. I just want my players to get good grades and be successful.”
For A.J., he knows he also has to uphold a higher standard than the rest of Hornet teammates.
“We have team rules like dress code, curfew and other things,” A.J. said “If the other kids look around and see I’m not doing things, they wonder why they should do it.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge in the Brinks’ hockey relationship came during the end of the 2011-12 season. Fellow freshman Alessandro Sarno was hot at the end of the regular season and ended up playing the entire postseason, leading Branford to the Division II championship game, which it lost to Trumbull, 5-3. A.J. quietly sat on the bench and watched.
“That’s where I credit him a whole bunch,” Adolph said. “When I was at Fairfield, he saw some of the decisions I made where I’d play certain kids. Sometimes you have to stick with what works.”
Things were the opposite last season when A.J. was the hot goalie at the end of the season and he led the Hornets to the quarterfinals, where they were beaten by Fairfield Ludlowe in triple overtime, 4-3. A.J. was 9-3 in net, allowing just 2.41 goals-against per game and had a 92 percent save percentage.
“I was an easy target, and I get that,” Adolph said. “But A.J. got on a run at the end of the year and had three shutouts in the last five games. The decision is really easy there.”
In fact, Adolph was lucky to have another goalie on the bench in now senior Ryan Kallert, who played some as a freshman, but has dealt with injuries since. So Branford had three goalies that could start for most teams.
“You go home and you’re giddy, but people thought it was difficult,” Adolph said. “It’s really not. Look at what I had and why were they feeling so bad for me.”
Sarno is still a student at Branford High, but is playing junior hockey for the Wolfpack team out of Cromwell. Kallert will be the backup to Brink this year.
“We were going to try and go with two-goalie system again,” Adolph said. “He’s the most technically sound of all of them, but it all depends on his health.”
Now in his fifth season at Branford, Adolph is glad the Hornets’ job opened just before A.J. got to the high school. Adolph remembers the dilemma that his friend, Ken Barse, had to deal with at Glastonbury. His son played for Wethersfield, Glastonbury’s chief rival, and Barse chose to take his son’s senior year as a sabbatical.
“He came to a crossroads and decided to follow his kid,” Adolph said. “Of course when he took his sabbatical, Glastonbury won the Division II title that year, but you sacrifice for your kid. If I was coaching anywhere else than Branford, I probably would not have so I could follow A.J. That’s time you can’t get back.”
Branford opened the season this past Wednesday night at the Wonderland of Ice against Fairfield Ludlowe in a rematch of the quarterfinals.
“Right now, the next 20 games are the homework for the postseason,” A.J. said. “The finals and the tests are the postseason.”
A.J. would love to get Branford that first state title, not only for himself, but for his father.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s easily a 20,” A.J. said. “I’d love to win a state championship, but to say that the Brinks won the state championship together would make it much sweeter.”