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Practice perfects Brassard's skating

by John McGourty /
If you want to get the lowdown on a professional hockey player's skating ability, ask a teacher who also is a great skater. Bill Davidge, the former Ohio State great who went on to coach hockey at the University of Miami, Ohio, spent many years as one of the United States' top power-skating instructors.

After graduating Ohio State with honors, Davidge was a physical-education professor at Miami. He later was involved in player development with the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets. Now, he's an analyst on Blue Jackets' radio broadcasts.

A writer who was very impressed watching rookie Derick Brassard skating at practice asked Davidge to comment.

"He's got a great base of support and his lateral movement is excellent," Davidge said. "Watch his stride and if you remember the way Gilbert Perreault skated, it's the same stride. And, he's got a set of thighs that are second to none, a lot of power. He's quick and fleet of foot and he has great hockey sense. There are a lot of positives with that kid."

Columbus certainly thinks so.

Brassard was the Blue Jackets' first-round pick, No. 6 in the 2006 NHL Draft. That was after he won the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Mike Bossy Trophy as the best pro prospect in the league following a 44-goal, 116-point season.

Brassard spent last season with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, where he had 15 goals and 51 points in 42 games. He was named to the AHL All-Star Game, but couldn't play because he had been called up by the Blue Jackets for one of his 17 NHL games.

This season, Brassard, 21, is centering a line with Jason Chimera, 25, on his right and Jakub Voracek, 19, the Blue Jackets' first pick, No. 7, in 2007. Although the trio is young, it is quickly developing into one of the fastest lines in the NHL. In the first 7 games this season, Voracek and Chimera had 3 goals and 3 assists while Brassard had 2 goals and 4 assists.

By the end of October, Brassard led all rookies and his club in scoring with 4 goals and 5 assists in 10 games, earning NHL Rookie of the Month honors.

Brassard edged forwards Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks (2-6-8 in 9 games), teammate Voracek (3-4-7 in 10) and Dallas' Fabian Brunnstrom (5-1-6 in 8), plus defensemen Drew Doughty of the Kings (1-0-1, 21:32 avg. ice time in 9 games), Luke Schenn of the Toronto Maple Leafs (0-1-1, 21:36 avg. ice time in 10 games) and Luca Sbisa of the Philadelphia Flyers (0-5-5, 18:34 avg. ice time in 10 games).

Brassard recorded points in 8 of 10 games and posted an even or plus rating in 9 contests, including a third-period goal and plus-2 rating in the season opener, a 5-4 overtime victory at Dallas on Oct. 10. He tallied his first multiple-point game (1 goal, 1 assist) in a 4-2 victory at Colorado on Oct. 30.

"There's a lot of speed on that line and a real desire to score goals," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We have 3 guys who want to score a goal on every shift and they are getting better and better at managing the game the right way. I like the way they play."

"Chimera is the best skater in the world," Davidge said without reservation about the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder acquired 3 years ago in a trade with the Phoenix Coyotes. "He's the fastest, strongest, straight-ahead skater in the NHL. He had a goal the other night that was like Bobby Hull. Jason just broke away from everyone and blasted the shot right past the goalie."

More than one high draft pick has bristled when sent to the AHL in his first pro season, but Brassard feels a year in the minors was the best thing for him. Brassard led the Crunch in assists, was third in points and finished plus-9. He had 1 goal and 1 assist and was minus-4 in his 17 NHL games.

"You play against men in the NHL," said Brassard. "My experience here last year showed me where I needed to improve to be a better NHL player. So I worked really hard this summer in all areas, strength and skating, and now I can win battles that last year I didn't win."

"He's a much more complete, competitive player this year," Hitchcock said. "His competitive instincts and his tenacity have really given him a chance to be a very good player in the NHL. Even when he has a weak period or a couple of weak shifts, he bounces back right away. He doesn't get down on himself. For a young player to be put in this position of playing with another young player, that's a good sign. He's been a real pleasant surprise to me."

"There's only a few players aged 18, 19 or 20 that can make that jump right to the NHL," Brassard said. "Rick Nash jumped right in, but he is big and very strong. I play center, a position with more responsibilities, and I have to be able to win my battles. They sent me to Syracuse to get more confidence and I did."

There has always been a premium placed on skating in Quebec, and through the years some of the NHL's best skaters, Denis Savard, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Lemaire, Perreault, Danny Briere and too many others to name, have hailed from La Belle Province. It was surprising to learn that Brassard was taken aside at 15 and told his skating might be the reason he couldn't fulfill his NHL dreams.

"It was an issue, so I took power-skating classes that summer and ever since," Brassard said. "The most important thing I learned was that my feet must always be moving. At least then you look fast! I needed, as a center, to be better at getting back and assisting my defensemen, especially with pucks below the goal line.

"I'm playing with one of the fastest players in the NHL in Jason Chimera and that pushes you to be faster. What makes our line work is that Jason's speed opens a lot of ice for Jakub and I, and Jakub is a great playmaker. Jason and I like to shoot."

After the interview, Brassard rolled an iron bar over his Ray Bourque-like quadriceps to combat lactic-acid buildup and then hit the floor for some ab work. Hitchcock emerged from his room to address the media. Brassard has a good relationship with his no-nonsense, systematic, detail-oriented coach.

"With coach, it's all about details and how hard you compete, how I can transition from defense to offense, what I should be doing with and without the puck," Brassard said. "I'm lucky to be able to watch Michael Peca and Manny Malhotra to see how veterans who play my position follow the system."

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