I first met Brian in the summer of 2003. We were both attending the Los Angeles Kings prospect development camp before heading off to Colorado College for our freshman year. We lived 2 doors down from each other in the dorms and were roommates our junior year (until our house flooded which is a completely different story).
Sals has had an awesome career so far with no signs of slowing down. While at CC he was named to the all WCHA second team, was a two time American Hockey League All-Star, a 5th round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, and last season he was the top scoring defenseman in the SM-Liga (Finnish Elite League).
Brian is currently playing for the Ingolstadt Panthers in the DEL (German Elite League) and was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us.
MHH: Hey Sals, thanks so much for doing this. Growing up in California, how did you get into playing hockey?
BS: I get that question a lot. California now has really great youth hockey programs. Teams are very competitive nationally and players are developing into successful college and professional players. Growing up that was not the case. My old man played hockey and he met my mom playing with her brothers. We are very much a hockey family. They had me in skates before I can remember. I played all kinds of sports growing up, sometimes four at a time, but hockey always stuck with me. Gretzky coming to the Kings was definitely what led to the explosion in popularity of hockey in California. We had season tickets to the Kings for a long time and my parents tell me stories of sitting me under their seats in my car seat during games. Hockey has been a big part of my life since I was a baby.
MHH: Who was your favorite player growing up?
BS: So we were Kings fans. I always liked Rob Blake. He was a hip check artist. But my dad always made me wear double digit numbers because they "made me look bigger." So I liked Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque because of their "77".
MHH: Why did you choose Colorado College?
BS: Colorado College appealed to me because they were the first school to really scout California players. To me, it was where you wanted to go to school if you were from California. Norm Bazin had recruited Noah Clarke, Justin Morrison, and Brett Sterling, all from California, and they all had very successful college careers. Norm was the first coach to really see there were talented players coming from California and that meant a lot to me. CC was closer to home and the education was top notch. The block program was intriguing to me and the smaller number of students was something I was interested in.
MHH: When did you realize you had a chance to make the NHL?
BS: Thats tough. I never expected to be drafted and going to my first NHL camp was surreal. I felt like such a fan of the game and the players all seemed like people I had looked up to. So sitting next to guys like Selanne, Pronger, Neidermayer and Getzlaf in the locker room felt like a fantasy camp. The college and professional game is two different animals, but once I got my feet wet and learned the ropes a bit I thought to myself, "Hey i can really do this, I can fit in here." I think the time I felt like I could play in the NHL was after I had some success in the AHL my second year pro. We had a good team and I got selected to play in the AHL all star game. My confidence was high and I felt like I figured out what it took to be a good teammate and what it took to be a successful professional.
MHH: What was it like being a black ace when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup?
BS: Man it was incredible. Until that point I had only watched the playoffs. I had no idea what it was like. How hard it was, how much you need to go right, how long it takes. It is draining. It was so special to be a part of something like that. I learned so much watching and being around everyone during that time. The camaraderie everyone has, the focus, the desire is unlike anything I have ever experienced. But, at the same time, it was a grueling process. You have to be ready and in game shape at the drop of a dime. That takes a toll on you mentally and physically. You are so close and you want to help out so bad, but you don't know if your number will ever be called. To be a part of that, even as a black ace is something I will never forget.
MHH: Your twitter says you are a burrito connoisseur, whats your favorite Mexican spot?
BS: I love Mexican food. California has some great sports. I can go on forever with suggestions. I think my favorite spot has to be "Tito's Tacos". They do it right. For sure when I am overseas now, the thing that I crave the most is Mexican food.
MHH: How did you enjoy your time in Finland? What are you looking forward to the most about playing in Germany?
BS: I loved Finland. Some of the nicest people in the world I am convinced. They really welcomed me with open arms and made it feel like home. The hockey is great and is very competitive. I really have nothing but good things to say about my experience there. I have a lot of memories and friends that I will always hold close to my heart. But we were their for 5 years and it felt like it was time for a change and a new challenge. An opportunity came to play in Germany and it seemed like a great chance to experience a new culture and country that interested us. I'm really excited to be playing in Germany this season. I'm excited to see what the food is like and how good the beer is. Every league in every country has a unique style of play. I'm excited to learn the German game.
MHH: Any advice for our students?
BS: My advice to young players is simply to have fun. It is such a special game and the experiences and friendships you make will carry with you forever.
A huge thanks to Brian for doing this. Make sure to follow along with his season with the Ingolstadt Panthers by following them on their Facebook, twitter, Instagram, youtube and league pages where they post all the game highlights.