When rookie defenceman T.J. Brodie was among the scoring leaders on last year’s Abbotsford Heat, it was the culmination of two totally opposite story lines. It was somewhat of an indictment of the Heat, which as we all know by now, were dead last in the AHL in goals scored last season.
It was somewhat of an indictment of the Heat, which as we all know by now, were dead last in the AHL in goals scored last season. Brodie was second on the Heat in overall scoring with five goals and 34 points, which was just one behind Matt Keith, who after one year in Abbotsford, has moved on to play pro hockey in Sweden.
Not to take anything away from Keith, but it’s hardly anything to brag about when your leading scorer has 35 points, which was good enough for 172nd overall in the league. That said, Brodie, a smooth-skating 21-year-old blueliner from Chatham, Ont. who enters his sophomore minor league campaign, was a refreshing change of pace from an otherwise dreary squad that for all its offensive shortcomings nearly made the Calder Cup playoffs.
But after an impressive rookie season, Brodie never quite found his place at Flames camp, especially in Penticton for the second annual Canucks Young Stars Tournament. As a result, he was dispatched back to Abbotsford, back to the minor leagues.
“I started off slow in Penticton, didn’t play that good there,” said Brodie, who also had a plus-three rating in his rookie tenure with the Heat.
“But in the exhibition games I thought I played alright, especially defensively which is what they told me to work on. I didn’t score like I did last year which is what I expected because that’s not what I do.
“It could’ve gone better.”
A year ago he had come into Flames camp as a fourth round draft pick and came out a member of the NHL club’s roster, albeit for a short time before he was reassigned to the Heat for more playing time.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” he said.
“Everyone’s goal is to be up there and the Flames are trying to win so you have to do what it takes. We all understand that and it’s just motivation to work harder and try and improve.”
As Brodie looks to improve, he’ll be part of an Abbotsford team that has, at least on paper, made numerous changes this off-season both on and off the ice.
The Flames and the Heat have brought back Brodie’s defence partner Chris Breen – combined the two became the go-to duo for former head coach Jim Playfair down the stretch. The Heat have also added depth and scoring up front, with the reassignment of Ben Walter and Paul Byron, who had 77 and 53 points respectively last season in the AHL.
That’s to go along with a talented sophomore crop that includes the likes of Carter Bancks and former Flames first-round pick Greg Nemisz. With the addition of Clay Wilson, another talented point-producing blueliner who went up against the Heat as a member of the Rochester Americans in the 2010 North Division semifinal, suddenly the pressure on Brodie and Breen has shifted from being the team’s only shutdown/offensive pair.
They’ll be counted to chip in offensively, but it won’t make or break this year’s team if they don’t do so with as much necessity as last season. Can Brodie produce with the same – or improved – sufficiency as he did last season? It’s possible, if not probable.
But if once again he is solely counted upon to be both an offensive and defensive catalyst, then it could spell another disappointing season for Heat fans