(CP) — T.J. Brennan couldn’t have asked for a better debut with the Toronto Marlies.
The 24-year-old defenseman scored his first career hat trick and set up Trevor Smith‘s overtime goal as Toronto edged the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3 on Saturday in American Hockey League action.
Brennan, who has three two-goal performances in 226 AHL games, was acquired in the off-season by Toronto for his offensive capabilities, but even he was surprised by his performance.
"I think that’s a first for me there," said Brennan about his hat trick. "I just wanted to start the season off simple. You throw it to the net and good things can happen. I got a couple lucky bounces."
The Marlies (1-0-0-0) caught a break in overtime when Griffins defenseman Brennan Evans was penalized for closing his hand on the puck. While leading the 4-on-3 power play, Brennan spotted Smith with a pass, who one-timed it past goaltender Jared Coreau off the post and in at 2:59.
"We got better as the game went on but they’re a quick transition team and you have to play good smart hockey," Brennan said about the 2013 Calder Cup champions. "We did a good job for the most part."
David Broll chipped in two assists for Toronto while Smith added an assist for a two-point outing.
Drew MacIntyre stopped 27 shots for the win as Coreau made 22 saves in defeat.
Brennan opened the scoring with a wrist shot from the slot at 5:25 of the first period, but Jurco and Sheahan scored less than two minutes apart to put Grand Rapids up 2-1 after 20 minutes of play.
Brennan tied it with a power-play goal at 12:19 of the second period, and then put the Marlies ahead a little over three minutes later with another point shot.
Toronto couldn’t hold the lead, though, as Callahan redirected a no-look backhand pass from Jurco to tie the game 3-3 less than five minutes into the third period.
"They’re opportunistic and we turned over pucks in the neutral zone and they made us pay for it," said Marlies coach Steve Spott.
The Marlies had to overcome a lack of discipline late in the third just to force overtime as Brad Ross picked up back-to-back minor penalties, followed by Andrew MacWilliam, who was served a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding.
"I’m really proud of our team for killing that off at that moment of the game," said Brennan.
Brennan was paired all game with NHL veteran John-Michael Liles, who was playing in his first AHL game since being demoted by the Maple Leafs last Sunday. While Liles didn’t show up on the score sheet, Spott was more than pleased with what he brought to the lineup.
"He’s always talking on the bench and calming guys down on the back end," said Spott. "His experience is invaluable to us right now."
Toronto went 2-for-8 on the power play while Grand Rapids failed to score on six chances with the man advantage.