Taming Brodie: Heat coach aims to harness top talent

 

Most promising offensive defenceman in Flames organization is a ‘freelance painter’

 
 
 
 
T.J. Brodie is getting tons of minutes for the Abbotsford Heat as he continues to grow into a top defenceman.
 

T.J. Brodie is getting tons of minutes for the Abbotsford Heat as he continues to grow into a top defenceman.

Photograph by: Rick Collins

Technically, Troy G. Ward serves as the head coach of the Abbotsford Heat. In reality, he sees himself as more of a teacher for the top prospects of the Calgary Flames.

When it comes to this crop of students, Ward has one in particular who stands out as ridiculously gifted but challenging to handle all in the same breath.

His name: Thomas James Brodie.

“T.J. is just a freelance painter,” Ward says over the phone before the sun rises in the Fraser Valley. “He wants to do his own thing. He’s a freelance guy, and he has a lot of colours to the paintbrush.

“I’d rather have a little less colours and a more simple painting.”

Welcome to life with a gifted kid in the classroom. Some days are magical. Some days are maddening.

Rarely are things dull.

“The freelance painting — that’s just in T.J.’s DNA,” Ward says. “But sometimes to get all those colours right, it takes some time.

And Brodie — clearly the most offensively-gifted defenceman in the developmental system — is not exactly one to stay within the lines.

Two years ago, the Chatham, Ont. native shocked everyone in Calgary by making the Flames out of training camp. He ended up playing most of the 2010/11 season in Abbotsford, but roared back the following year to establish himself as a regular on the Calgary blueline. In 54 games with the Flames last season, Brodie registered four goals and 14 points

Dispatched to Abbotsford this season due to the NHL lockout, Brodie realizes this unscheduled stint in the minors can serve as finishing school to polish the finer points of his game.

Priority No. 1: learning to decide on the fly when to pinch and when to play it safe.

“That has to come from me and come from coaching,” Ward says. “You have to guide these guys into when’s the right time and when’s the wrong time.

“The only way you can go through that is through good and bad experiences — both individually and as a team.”

True to form, Brodie has experienced plenty of good mixed in with a sprinkling of not so good this young season as a minute-munching defenceman for the surging Heat (6-1-2.) Through nine games, he has one goal, six points and sits at plus-4.

“Troy wants us to be the best players we can be,” says Brodie, 22. “He wants us to take advantage of the opportunity to play down here and get the ice-time.

In terms of ice-time, Brodie is seeing upwards of 25 minutes depending on the night. That workload allows him to test out his decision making in all kinds of situations.

“Sometimes, the read is just wrong,” he says. “You might see something that’s there or not see something that’s there. You watch the video after and you think, ‘ah, I should have done this or I should have done that.’

“It’s definitely good to learn down here, and I’m excited to try to use this time down here to my advantage.”

Next up on the schedule: back-to-back home games starting tonight against the Oklahoma City Barons at a sold-out Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.

For the uninitiated, this is a matchup between the baby Flames and the high-flying baby Edmonton Oilers, who arrive with star-studded crew that includes Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

In Brodie’s mind, the weekend series ranks as business as usual.

“You’ve got to be aware who they have out there,” he concedes. “You know what they’re capable of. But at the same time we have a game plan. We know what that is. So regardless of who we’re playing, we just have to stick to that and focus on ourselves first.”

Who knows? With all the focus on Oklahoma City’s sheer offensive power, Brodie might be the one to grace the highlight reels — or he’ll simply earn the praise of his coach by making the safe, conservative choice in his own zone.

In other words, Brodie could attempt to paint a Mark Rothko with simple lines or go all Pablo Picasso.

“I don’t want to take that out of T.J., because who is to say T.J. isn’t going to be special some day,” Ward says. “Even from a year ago when he left here, I find him way more special. I find his confidence — I find his creativity and I find his guts to try things — as high right now as they ever have been in his life. And I think he’s earned it . . .

“Now our staff here has to learn how to harness it.”

vhall@calgaryherald.com

 
 
 
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T.J. Brodie is getting tons of minutes for the Abbotsford Heat as he continues to grow into a top defenceman.
 

T.J. Brodie is getting tons of minutes for the Abbotsford Heat as he continues to grow into a top defenceman.

Photograph by: Rick Collins

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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