Wanted: A white knight.
(Doesn’t necessarily have to be Corban, with a capital ‘K’ on the surname, either.)
A whole roundtable of ’em would be ideal, of course. And it isn’t to say anyone needs to slay the fire-breathing dragon and win the heart of the fair damsel right off the hop, either.
But identifying one, at least one, among an ever-growing stockpile of young candidates, willing and able to capture the imagination of a city, provide a quick credibility injection to a rebuild that’s already a couple of seasons behind its best-before date, inject a sense of hope in a time of heightened uncertainty, is vital.
What’s needed is a poster boy for this new dawn of theirs, a saviour-in-training to make even the most painful of nights this season easier to bear, to accept, because, yes, the promise of hope, of salvation, does indeed exist; isn’t so very far off in the distance. Or at least doesn’t seem to be.
Without that to hold tight to, a whole lotta nights down at the ol’ Saddledome could wind up feeling longer than winter solstice.
So, gents, who’s got the moxie to step up?
A show of hands, please ...
Top pick Sean Monahan, perhaps? One of three goalies auditioning to replace a local legend? The Swiss Mr., Sven Baertschi? Max Reinhart? The ideally named Mr. Knight? Do Mikael Backlund No. 11 jerseys suddenly become all the rage under Calgary Christmas trees this Yuletide?
In this post-Iginla, post-Kiprusoff apocalypse, who can Calgary feel confident in cosying up to, for both the present and in winters ahead?
With two NHL years of seasoning to draw on, plenty of swashbuckle to his game and now entering his third year, T.J. Brodie has as good a chance as any to be that white knight.
“After last year and the year before I feel a bit more a part of the team,” confesses Brodie, following the Calgary Flames’ Friday workout at WinSport. “We’re going to be a young, fast team and, hopefully, if we can all be on the same page we can get off to a good start.
“You know, I’d just like to start where I left off. Being solid defensively is big for me but when I get the chance I want to produce offensively, too. Just be confident with the puck, when a pass is there, make it, and put a priority on safe, smart plays.”
While two goals and 14 points in 47 starts doesn’t exactly evoke warm memories of Paul Coffey, Brodie certainly has the tools. Great wheels. That intuitive sense to make plays. A good first pass.
We’ve witnessed hints, glimpses, of Brodie’s vast potential, particularly last season. Without Jay Bouwmeester around to chew up great gobs of minutes anymore, there’s more opportunity to go around now, and the Flames would be foolhardy in the extreme not to hand the reins to Brodie.
“Last year,” says coach Bob (The Rebuilder) Hartley, “I’d say Brodes and Backs were the two very pleasant surprises for us. So it’s part of my job, and it’s part of their job, to make sure we keep that progression going. Obviously, I want to add some responsibility, slowly but surely, to (Brodie’s) plate.
“And when I talk about leadership, I’m not talking about letters. I mean being a good pro. Being counted on. Being around the Gios and Cammys and Glennies a couple seasons, he’s had a chance to really see life in the pros, and he’s already had a good taste.
“But now the trick is to bring every phase of his game — whether it’s his strength, his puck-handling, his off-ice workouts — to the party. Last year was a pretty good season for Brodes, we were pretty happy with him.
“But today it doesn’t mean much.
“We have big plans for him. Obviously, his speed is a big, big attribute to this hockey club and offensively he can do a lot. But my goal with him is to make him a good, solid two-way defenceman. A guy that is as responsible in the defensive zone as when he’s carrying the puck over the offensive blueline. And with his commitment, his willingness to learn, his speed, I think he’s going to give us some real good minutes.
“A comparison? Well, in Atlanta, I had Tobias Enstrom for a cup of coffee. He’s now in Winnipeg. But he was the same type of defenceman.
“Brodes is a fun guy. He’s well accepted by his teammates. He wants to do well. I think he’s going to be a big, big part of our team for many years to come.”
In terms of age, Brodie, now 23, has reached a nice place in his career to be on such a reshaped team — old enough to be handling more responsibility while still young enough be a peer of sorts to the kids just cutting their teeth at the top level, should they be a trifle reticent to seek help from the older campaigners.
“I’d like to think any of the younger guys could come up to me if they want advice, need some help,” he says. “I’ll be there. We’re all in this together. We’ve all gone through the same learning curve. Last year I played with (Cory) Sarich and Wides (Dennis Wideman) a lot, and if I made the wrong play or was struggling a bit, they’d say ‘Be a little more patient’ or ‘I was open there.’ Helping me look at things maybe a little differently. It helps. It really does.
“You’ve got to learn to put the past in the past. Everyone makes mistakes. You’ve just got to go out there and make the right play on the next shift.”
Making the right play. Being counted on. Not only taking that ‘next step’ coaches always talk about, but bounding up an entire flight of stairs.
The ongoing maturation process of T.J. Brodie, his evolution into a mainstay, is bound to be one of the most intriguing plot lines of this vastly challenging season.
“Yeah,” he concedes, “I’d like to be one of those guys. Sure. I want to go out and play well and help the team win. So I don’t mind being that guy, or one of those guys. I love the team. I love the city.
“I want to be a good two-way defenceman.
“I want to keep improving my game.
“I want to be someone they can count on every night.”
And a white knight? Yes, in a town in desperate search of one, or more, maybe he could be that, too.
Let the jousting begin.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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