Flung far across the continent, four Southern Ontario-born Leaf prospects are finding themselves playing in the East Coast Hockey League over the holidays.
The NHL lockout has pushed NHL-worthy talents such as Nazem Kadri and Ben Scrivens back down to the American League. Korbinian Holzer was set to contest the spot on the Leafs roster vacated by the trade of Luke Schenn. Two more Marlies, Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin would be enjoying prominent positions with the Leafs but for the work stoppage.
Throw in injuries at the NHL level, and six or seven players who should be in the NHL or shuttling between the AHL and the NHL are working full time in the American League.
That squeezes the Marlies roster but since the club does not have a direct affiliate with one ECHL team, surplus players are placed all over the league.
The Marlies recently sent goalie Mark Owuya to Las Vegas in the East Coast Hockey League where he was scored on by Sam Carrick, another Leaf hopeful who is wintering in Boise and playing for the Idaho Steelheads.
Andrew Crescenzi and Jamie Devane, meanwhile, have struck gold with the San Francisco Bulls. Tyler Brenner, a native of Linwood near Kitchener-Waterloo is a forward for the Bakersfield Condors.
Instead of sweating it out at the Ricoh Centre, Brenner wears shorts to work and is exploring nearby fishing holes.
Bakersfield is a swelling hodgepodge of a place, a centre for oil and agriculture and one of the fastest developing municipalities in the United States thanks to a great climate and lower than usual tax rates. If you are looking for a soft landing from most anything you will be hard pressed to beat Bakersfield, California.
The problem for Brenner is that the hockey team stinks.
The Condors only managed seven wins in the team’s first 27 games and when you are looking up at the San Francisco Bulls, well the view is not good.
“The losing has been tough,” said the effervescent Brenner. “This is how it’s going to be until the (lockout) situation is resolved so I look at it as a learning experience.”
At 24, the six-foot-two forward is in his second go round in the East Coast League. He split last season between the Reading Royals and the Marlies. Brenner spent three years playing for the Rochester Institute of Technology before turning pro.
“We’re 90 minutes from Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful part of the country,” Brenner said. “We had a team bonding exercise on the beach in Los Angeles and I’ve been fishing in Bakersfield. There are lakes and mountains here.”
Because the Leafs own his rights, Brenner finds himself in a more prominent position than he expected.
“I think there’s a bit of a thing where the guys look you up to you because you’ve signed a pro contract,” Brenner said. “I enjoy that part, helping players understand the game and work on it.”
“Everyone is a good player. I just have to keep working on your game. It’s a league where you play a lot more, each team has three lines so you get in great condition and there’s plenty of shooting and skating.”