Prospect report: Towering Breen continues to make strides
Defenceman thrilled to get an invite to Flames training camp
*Size: six-foot-seven, 224 pounds
*Home town: Uxbridge, Ont.
*Last season: Abbotsford Heat — American Hockey League. One goal, six assists, a plus-three, and 37 penalty minutes in 70 games.
Into his third main camp with the Flames, the big man has yet to play a shift with the National Hockey League club. But since scoring an entry-level deal from the organization as an undrafted free agent back in 2010, Breen has improved steadily under Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward. A family man — with a two-year-old daughter named Skarlett, a four-month-old son named Cullen, and fiancee Jamie-Lee — Breen has matured quickly off the ice and been able to make the necessary adjustments on-ice as a professional. “It’s making a little more sense to me and kind of getting a little easier,” said the former Ontario Hockey League blueliner who played with the Saginaw Spirit, Erie Otters, and finished his junior career off with the Peterborough Petes. “Troy is big on that … sitting you down and asking how it’s going. The toughest was learning how to manage my sleep and getting my rest, especially with young kids. You never know if they’re going to have a good night. It’s been a learning process, but I’m definitely better at it than I was.”
However, Breen was thrilled to hear the news last Thursday that he’d been summoned for the Flames compacted seven-day training camp ahead of the 2012-13 NHL season. He played Friday in Abbotsford’s 3-1 home loss to Chicago, said goodbye to his fiancee and kids, and flew to Calgary. “I was pretty excited, pretty nervous. I got ready to go and prepped myself and got my family ready for me being away a little bit. A lot of nerves but I was really excited.”
Obviously, at six-foot-seven, his imposing size is a natural plus to his game. But his mental side of the game has what’s really matured over the past few seasons under Ward and the Heat coaching staff. “Just being more consistent every night,” Breen said. “Just playing the way I’m supposed to play to make a career in this game is kind of what they’ve been working on with me down in Abbotsford. We do a lot of video and they’re always on me.” Breen will never be mistaken for a point-producing blueliner — with just seven goals and 23 points in 177 AHL games — but he’s been trying to put a complete game together. “They’ve kind of helped me with the offence, getting pucks through and positioning,” he said. “A lot of mental plays. They’re always pressing on me because they want me to go up, obviously.”
There aren’t many spots open on the Flames blueline. Eight of the 11 defenders at camp are on one-way deals. He’s also competing directly against NHL veteran and his Heat D-partner Steve McCarthy. The pace, too, is much different. And the Flames don’t have time to patiently wait for someone to adjust. “Definitely quicker up here,” Breen noted. “Practices are more intense and guys are all pushing for a spot now so it’s been pretty intense. With the lockout, I think the guys were pretty antsy to get on the ice.”
Breen is staying positive and feels like he’s made strides. “I feel good on the ice,” he said. “So, hopefully (the days) aren’t numbered here. And even if they are, it’s not the end of the world. I’ll just go down to Abbotsford and keep trying to improve and try to work my way back up.”
“I always knew I was a defensive defenceman. I’m not really trying to change my game too much. That’s kind of what I have to do and who I’m going to be for the rest of my career.”
— Chris Breen
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