|Coming off back surgery last season, Mike Brodeur has been getting more ice time as top goalie for the Pensacola Ice Pilots.
With new coach John Marks behind the bench, the Pensacola Ice Pilots are destined to right the ship.
While things didn’t go right over the weekend – the Ice Pilots dropped two games to the Gwinnett Gladiators – Pensacola’s road to success may be rapid with the reassignment of goaltender Mike Brodeur.
The 24-year-old was sent to Pensacola by the Chicago Blackhawks, who re-signed the netminder to a one-year deal over the summer. The reassignment has Brodeur – who made 10 appearances for the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals last season – reunited with Marks, who was Brodeur’s head coach with the Greenville Grrrowl from 2004-06.
“I know he trusts me and I trust his decisions,” Brodeur said. “It makes things much easier. I love playing for him. He makes the game fun.”
Marks believes Brodeur was shipped to Pensacola rather than Chicago’s new AHL affiliate in Rockford so he could play the bulk of the season. The Blackhawks are currently grooming Corey Crawford – who turns 23 on Dec. 31 – in Rockford, and signed journeyman goalie Wade Flaherty to mentor him along. This way, both Crawford and Brodeur have the chance to be No. 1 goalies this season, rather than splitting the games in Rockford.
“For both young kids to just be alternating … I don’t think they’d be getting enough work,” Marks said. “I think they’ve got to get used to playing a lot of games, as most goalies in the NHL now. If you’re a No. 1 goalie, you’re playing 65 games a year. You’ve got to get used to the workload. Chicago’s doing the right thing for both kids, allowing them to play a lot of games and work on their game.”
After recovering from back surgery, Brodeur split last season between Norfolk, Toledo and Augusta. In AHL games, the Calgary native went 4-3-0 with a 3.39 GAA and a .891 save percentage. All things considered, Brodeur was pleased with the way he performed at the Triple-A level.
“It was great,” Brodeur said of his time in the AHL. “We had a really good team. I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to play, because I’m used to playing almost every night. But I tried to take advantage of what I got. I got a few games here and there, and I thought I played pretty well. I don’t know if I was as confident as I’d like to be. This year, I’m feeling in tip-top shape.”
In the end, Brodeur’s reassignment to Pensacola could be beneficial for him on a number of levels. Not only will he receive more playing time, but there’s a good chance he’ll get to see more shots as the Ice Pilots’ last line of defense.
“There’s a lot more time and space down here, compared to the American League,” Brodeur said. “Everything’s a little bit tighter up there. There’s more 2-on-1’s and 3-on-1’s at this level. There’s much backdoor stuff. It seems like guys have a little bit more time.”
With two losses to start the season, the Ice Pilots are going to need more time to blossom as they first try to establish an identity. Despite the back-to-back defeats, Brodeur likes what he sees in his new teammates.
“We’ve got a pretty young team, but overall, our defense has some good size,” Brodeur said. “I think they’re going to do a good job. They like blocking shots. That’s good to see from my perspective.
“We like to work hard,” he added. “Everybody’s on the same page. It’s a great group of guys. I think we’re going to gel really well.”
Marks is feeling fortunate to have Brodeur by his side. Granted, he’s still only 24, but Brodeur’s ECHL experience will only help Pensacola as it tries to re-establish itself as a Kelly Cup contender.
“I think it’s very important to have a guy that’s been there,” Marks said. “He knows mistakes are going to be made. That can enhance a goaltender at this level, because I think it makes them better goalies. They get a few more shots.”
Surely, Brodeur will get another shot at the AHL level. He’s willing to do his share in Pensacola, because a successful season with the Ice Pilots would open some eyes in the Blackhawks’ front office.
“I’m just going to have to play a lot of games here,” Brodeur said. “I just have to work my bag off and stop some pucks. That’s my job. I just want to keep pucks out of the net and work as hard as I can to get to that next level.”
The only certainty for Brodeur this season is he going to play the majority of the games for Pensacola. Given his relationship with his No. 1 goaltender, one has to believe that Marks would take great pleasure in one day bringing Brodeur into his office to let him know that he’s on his way back to the American Hockey League. First things first, though. Brodeur must hold up his end of the bargain for the Ice Pilots.
“If Mike can get 50, 55 games this year, it’s only going to help him, especially if he plays well,” Marks said. “Let’s just see what the progression is. Does the kid in Rockford move up to Chicago? Does Mike move up to Rockford? Then, Chicago would know they got two good, young kids. It’s a big year for Mike.”