by Todd Crocker || AHL On The Beat Archive
Behind all magic tricks — from the days of the first magician, Dedi, to Harry Houdini in the early 20th century, to Criss Angel’s Mindfreak — lies misdirection.
Get the participants or audience to believe you are doing one thing while you perform the feat that will stun them. The toughest part, as any budding Lance Burton might know, is pulling the trick off repeatedly and still having the crowd in disbelief.
This year’s Eddie Shore Award winner as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman, T.J. Brennan of the Toronto Marlies, employed misdirection in order to capture the coveted award. It would be easy to watch a single game or even a series to see the trick. The one-timer blast that found its way to the back of the net over and over again was surely part of his act, one that fans went wide-eyed over. But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.
“I know he had ambitions to play in the NHL this year but when he came down he didn’t pout,” said Marlies assistant coach and former NHL defenseman Gord Dineen. “He became a leader in our room. He was a guy who played every night. Consistent. Every day he brought enthusiasm. He’s not that old a guy but you consider him a vet. You can try and push that on younger guys but only a guy like T.J. can show the kind of enthusiasm you need to play this game at this level.”
“Spotter (head coach Steve Spott) and Gord and Kinger (assistant coach Derek King) have been a huge help to me this season,” Brennan said. “I’ve been able to grow my game, get better, see things more clearly.”
After a blistering start that saw Brennan rocket off the line with two early hat tricks, he found himself on an elevator in Rochester with his head coach and smiled about the start — but earnestly warned not to expect that all the time.
Spott, who has a great deadpan delivery, told the blueline sniper he didn’t expect it… but two goals a night would be okay. The elevator reached its destination just as the laughter escaped the both of them.
“I think it’s the confidence he brings to the offensive zone,” said Kevin Marshall, Brennan’s defense partner for most of the season. “With me thinking more defensively as a defenseman it’s interesting to see the way his mind works when we get in the zone. He’s helped me grow the offensive side of my game too. Great teammate, great friend.”
Marshall and Brennan are a solid example of how the Marlies rely on each other both on and off the ice.
“As much as an award like this goes to one person, there is a whole room of guys that should get this,” said Brennan. “We’re a team. I don’t get this kind of recognition without all those guys contributing the way they do.”
This is also not a part of the misdirection. Brennan has put that feeling out there all season long. He is the consummate teammate. His integrity on these feelings is unassailable.
Brennan takes into account his surroundings and the people involved in them, constantly. His natural ability to engage fans at events or at home at the Ricoh Coliseum and on the road isn’t rehearsed. It isn’t practiced. He is truly as interested in why they love the game as much as he does.
His positive energy isn’t the trick you might have missed this season either. That part of him never seems to waver.
“For him to make that next step he has to be sound in the defensive areas and he has made considerable progress this season,” said Dineen.
And that’s the big reveal.
While everyone was concentrating on the 25 goals and 72 points he racked up this year, it was the defensive side of the game where Brennan grew the most.
“Sometimes you think you know exactly what you need to do but I’m humbled by the learning process,” Brennan admitted. “I just want to know all the time. This year I have really worked on getting better and more responsible.”
His work shows, and the Eddie Shore Award just might confirm it.
For the hockey-savvy, that ranks with David Blaine seeming to float in mid-air in the middle of a street. It’s a good bet most of us weren’t seeing him get better defensively while the twine was tested behind the opposing goaltender.
The only thing that would cap this magical year for Brennan?
No misdirection here.
“I’m here to win a Calder Cup.”