The first Carolina shot came from Jeff Skinner.
It hit Tim Brent, one of only three Leaf penalty killers in what is described as some circles as the never region. Brent should have been down, having his legs brought up and down to gain him some badly-needed breath. Instead, he was skating like someone had taped his knees together.
Then Eric Stall unloaded. Again, Brent dove. Again the puck tore into him.
A few seconds later, Stall again. Brent blocked it again.
Soon after, Brent dove to flip the puck out of his zone and the damndest penalty kill seen here in years, was over. Over 30 or so seconds, Tim Brent had his say.
“I usually don’t hear the crowd that much,” said rookie goalie James Reimer
. “That gave me shivers.”
Going into the graveyard that is HSBC Arena for a game Saturday, the Leafs have won two straight. Of course, you win games thanks to moments like the one delivered so expertly by Brent, but you win something else as well. Loyalty. Coming and going.
Brent had 26 NHL games coming into this season. He is not an expert on what Leaf fans know and what other fans don’t.
But when 20,000 people salute a player for being hit three times by a puck, the player in question, especially if you are as smart a guy as Tim Brent, tends to notice.
“There’s hockey fans and there’s Toronto Maple Leafs fans,” said Brent. “I know people say this all the time, but the fans here are students of the game. Believe me, in other places the fans don’t react that way.”
Brent is from Cambridge. That means everyone from home can watch him play. Every game.
They are not making room for Tim Brent at the Hockey Hall of Fame. He has lived on the margins of the sport and played 269 American League games. He assumes nothing and appreciates everything and he will tell you with the smallest bit of prompting that playing in Toronto for a local kid is spectacular.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coming back to play and I’ll tell you, this is the best place to play. When you go out, everybody has something to say to you. Everybody wants to help. Everybody has advice.”
On a recent hospital visit to Sick Kids Hospital, a parent strode past Luke Schenn
and a host of other high-profile players. He extended his hand to Tim Brent. “Congratulations on making the big team,” he said.
He has been recognized at the drive-through when he slipped back home to Cambridge. A former coach is forever telling him to cut his stick back an inch for better control.
So the guy pelted with shots in what may be a lost season, the guy whose pain was actually worse the next morning, feels amply rewarded by the people who know what gives.
“A few new bumps and bruises but always worth it,” Brent said at his Twitter account @brenter37
. “Especially for fans like you.”
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