UAA forward Bruijsten going home to play for his country in one of hockey’s biggest tournaments

Even though the UAA Hockey season is finished, you can still find some of the players on the Wells Fargo Sports Complex ice playing pick up games or working individually on drills.

Amongst the skaters out there daily is freshman forward Mitch Bruijsten. What separates Bruijsten from his UAA teammates is that while his college season may be over, a whole new one is about to begin. One of which will be on the international stage.

Bruijsten was chosen to play for the National Senior Hockey Team for his native country of Holland in the upcoming Division 1 World Championships.

On top of that, the tournament itself will be played in his home country and the honor that comes along with it is something not lost on Bruijsten.

“It means a lot. It’s fun to be here,” an excited Bruijsten said, who hails from Nijmegen, Netherlands. “All of my family and friends will get to see me play (after not) seeing me play for three years.”

The tournament is set to go from April 19-25 in Tilburg. This will be good news for the Bruijsten family as the drive from Nijmegen to Tilburg is about an hour.

One doesn’t usually connect the pairing of the Netherlands and hockey together. According to Bruijsten, it’s not big over there at all. Holland has always been a power in the likes of soccer, speed skating and cycling.

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That can change with a strong showing by the Dutch team, who is currently ranked 25th internationally according to the International Ice Hockey Federation.

The Netherlands is in the Division 1A bracket and will square off the likes of Japan, Austria, Ukraine, Lithuania and Serbia.

In fact, if the Netherlands were to win gold in the Division 1A tournament, they would win a spot in the top division against powerhouses such as Canada, Russia and the US.

Perhaps with the help of Bruijsten and his Dutch teammates, they can start making their country’s presence felt in the international world of hockey at this very tournament.

And why not have high hopes for the growing Dutch team? Having the home ice advantage will give the Dutch team a huge confidence boost and energy level while playing in front of their fans.

Bruijsten himself started playing when he was three years old. His father was a goalie back in Holland and got him started in the game.

The game has taken new highs for Bruijsten once he reached the United States Hockey League and his junior team, the Sioux City Musketeers. It was after his second year that the 6’4”, 195 pound forward caught the eye of UAA Head Coach Dave Shyiak.

Shyiak was very aware of the raw talent Bruijsten possessed coming out of juniors and was happy with his freshman year in the green and gold.

“He’s certainly made some progress this year,” Shyiak said. “We’re looking for him to be a strong two-way player for us in the future.”

Bruijsten finished up his initial college year with 2-4—6 point totals. Not bad for a guy who went through adjustment to the college game and played in perhaps the toughest conference in college hockey.

“The WCHA (is a) great league with (teams such as) Wisconsin, Minnesota and Denver,” Bruijsten said. “It’s just great hockey.”

Perhaps an even bigger stat is that Bruijsten skated in 33 of the team’s 36 games played this season. That number ties him for sixth on the team in games played. It also shows the confidence the coach has put in one of his newest faces.

“He’s a good young man who’s very coachable,” Shyiak said. “He works hard and certainly wants to be a player.”

Add that he’s going to get even more experience this spring playing for his country at the World Championships, it can only mean an even better and dangerous Mitch Bruijsten next year when the puck drops on the 2010-11 UAA hockey season.