By Todd Crocker | AHL On The Beat
If you allowed your abstract expressionist side to emerge, one artistic idea you might want to try is producing a constant stream of paint behind the movements of Brendan Leipsic as he darts about the ice.
In no time you’d have the equivalent of a Jackson Pollock masterpiece, complete with a dizzying array of lines and shapes. Awards would be given to you, celebrities would buy your art, museums would hang it. You might even be considered an Irascible. Certainly the person you have used to deliver your paint already has been.
Leipsic is reminiscent of those mid-20th-century artists who formed a group (the Irascibles) to protest how modern art was being curated in 1950 in New York. It was an edgy group that included Pollock, Willem de Kooning and James Brooks among many others.
Like those artists who continue to dazzle us and make us ask questions about what art really is, Leipsic has had to fight to be legitimately recognized every single shift of his junior and pro career. Some gave him credit as a pest and others saw talent but they also saw his size as a detriment. However, his 5-foot-10 stature is a giveaway on the ice when he slips past much larger defensemen who just can’t seem to track his movements. He doesn’t play beyond his size, he uses it to his advantage.
A fiercely proud Winnipegger (if there is another kind, they are well hidden) Leipsic grew up in an athletic environment. His mother Kathleen was an Olympic gymnast who competed in Los Angeles in 1984. His brother Jeremy, who just won the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Play of the Month, is also dashing about the ice creating havoc at nearly a two-points-a-game pace. Creativity paired with athleticism seems to run in the family.
Creative can be code, in hockey, for unorthodox. When a player does something expected and it succeeds, coaches beam and organizations high-five themselves. When a player does something unexpected and succeeds the player owns it alone. Failure in both those categories is often an orphan.
Leipsic put up a four-point game to start the season and then went on a six-game scoring streak, took one game off and started a new streak. He has done this at least half the time expectedly and half the time unexpectedly. A one-time blast from the right faceoff dot on a recent power play is what you expect. A push across the line, back up the wall, cut to the middle, slide back, feed to fellow Manitoban Byron Froese is pure art in the making.
His first goal in the National Hockey League, which also included the highlight of his mom’s pure joy of the moment, was also unexpected. He batted it out of the Vancouver air like he was batting top of the order for the Winnipeg Goldeyes instead out front of the opposing net for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s easy to see when Leipsic speaks about it that he doesn’t want that goal to be a one-off. Sweet memory in front of his parents, his junior billets from Portland, Ore., where he played so many postseason games it was like he played a whole other season of junior hockey. Sweet but not solitary fuels his drive early this year.
Leipsic was also considered annoying in junior at the highest level and what his pro career seems to have taught him is there is a time and place for that and a time and place for … not that, or at the very least, not as much of that. He seems focused and serious in his third season of pro after being drafted by Nashville in the third round of the 2012 draft. When he first came to Toronto with Olli Jokinen in a trade that saw Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli move the other way, Leipsic knew there was some talent here to grow with.
While that edgy, irritating, snappish style which make opponents hate taking a shift against him is still the signature on the bottom of his self-portrait, Leipsic has grown with Toronto’s young skilled players. The CCM/AHL Player of the Month for October has developed into more than an irascible player to line up against. He has elevated his game to dominant playmaker, and that is not an abstract expression.