Tim Brent is the right guy in the right place. Finally.
When the Maple Leafs open next Thursday against Montreal it stands to reason that Brent, a 26-year-old from Cambridge who has a scant 19 NHL games and one big league goal in his resume, will be centering the checking line between Colby Armstrong
and Fredrik Sjostrom.
Two things are difficult to figure out when cogitating over Tim Brent’s career: how he managed to finally land an NHL job and why he couldn’t before.
“I seem to have come pretty close every year of pro,” he said. “It’s come down to the last couple of guys. I just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Brent’s assets and challenges stack up about even.
Brent isn’t especially big. He is generously listed at six-feet but you could shave at least an inch, maybe two off his height and be closer to the truth. He is not a fighter or a grinder.
He has never been a standout scorer. Brent’s best year in junior brought an unremarkable 26 goals for the former St. Mike’s Majors. His high-water mark as a pro is 20 goals and 62 points, garnered in 2008 with Rockford of the American League.
But he is a very good skater and despite a lack of NHL exposure, he is seasoned. His American League games played total is an old school 302. Mostly, what he has going for him is between his ears. Tim Brent is a hockey survivor because he studies relentlessly.
Most players chomp popcorn in the press box when they are scratched. Brent makes notes.
Ask him about what he needs to do and he doesn’t spend an instant on what brings in the major dollars: goalscoring.
“I think the important thing is play away from the puck, penalty killing, faceoffs, small things that sometimes end up being a big part of a hockey game,” he said.
Brent said the realization those little things hold the key to his future didn’t arrive over one day.
“I consider myself a student of the game. I have tried to learn and get better every year. This camp it just seems I feel good, confident. Things are going well.”
Brent said his mission was a simple one. Think like a coach.
“You have to make it hard for the coaching staff and management to take you out of the lineup. That’s the focus I have had since Day 1: make it hard to send me down or take me out.”
Brent has taken time while with the Leafs to talk about the game with coaches.
“You pick coach’s brains. Keith Acton has been a long time. He knows the penalty kill. That’s something I am going to key on if I want a job here.
“You want to learn what he is saying. You don’t just listen to what he is saying. You learn what he is saying. When you are out there, it should be second nature, not something you think about before you go out.
“I think certain guys have thought about the game where they see it past being just a game. I have really tried to learn the game inside and out and I think it probably shows in my game. I would love to be a coach some day.”