T.J. Brennan is on fire.
The Marlies defenceman scored seven goals in the Marlies first three games. He has two hat tricks and 10 points.
There is no precedent for this kind of offensive output by a Marlies defenceman. Even if you look North, Brennan’s feat is a staggering rarity. The last hat trick scored by a Leaf defenceman was authored by Ian Turnbull 31 years ago.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Marlies goalie Drew MacIntyre, a 10-year pro, “but I played with T.J. in Rochester (in 2011-2012) and I know what he’s capable of. He’s a great player.”
There are a few things you should know about the 24-year-old Brennan’s remarkable streak.
First, all three games were wins. The Marlies outscored Grand Rapids, Lake Erie and St. John’s 15-7 and look to boost that record in Rochester Friday night before coming home for Sunday’s 3 pm gig against Hamilton.
Second, T.J. stands for Terrence James.
Third, he is a defenceman. An offensively-oriented defenceman but a defenceman. Brennan has as many goals as the Marlies entire crew of forwards which is fine enough news in October but terrible tidings should it continue into Christmas.
Brennan scored two power play goals and two empty-netters in the streak. He scored a Bobby Orr goal and weaved en route between three defenders. He scored one goal off his own rebound which returned to him as if on a string.
On his last goal, Brennan was just trying to clear the puck out of his zone as the Marlies nursed a 5-3 lead. St. John’s goalie Jussi Olkinuora was focused on the bench and didn’t notice Brennan’s shot as it skidded past him and into the empty net.
“I just kind of laughed to myself and thought, it’s kind of crazy but I will take what I can get,” Brennan said. “You’ve got to ride it while you can but the most important thing is we are winning and our team is playing well.”
Brennan has scored 58 AHL goals. In 40 NHL games with Buffalo and Florida, he scored four goals and recorded 11 points. Brennan appeared in 19 contests with the Florida Panthers last season and recorded two goals and nine points but finished with a minus eight.
“Seventeen years I’ve been at this and it’s the first time I’ve seen something like this,” said Marlies coach Steve Spott. “I think the challenge for T.J. has always been to be a complete player but he’s done that here. His plus minus (plus 6) reflects that.
“I just want him to go at the appropriate time. He’s picking his spots and he’s been an offensive wonder so far.”
Brennan is from Willingboro, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. Buffalo made him the first choice in the second round in 2007.
“Steve hasn’t held me back but I want what’s good for the team,” Brennan said. “I try to justify his confidence by not taking stupid chances at the wrong time of the game.”
Before you ask, Brennan is not superstitious and doesn’t believe in the time-hallowed sports superstition of keeping the same stick or even the same socks or route to the rink during a hot streak.
He knows the good times will someday end. He is on pace for 175 goals which may be a reach.
That’s why Brennan keeps his book.
It’s a notepad he keeps in his back pocket. Brennan uses it for everything, grocery lists, coaching tips, the habits of opposing teams and yes, descriptions of his best plays. The goals are in the book.
“It’s something I picked up playing for (Panthers coach) Kevin Dineen,” Brennan said. “I write things down when things are going well. This is a game of peaks and valleys and when things aren’t going as you would like it’s nice to be able to pull out the notebook and remember when things were good.”