This past week, 25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs top rookies converged in Oshawa for a three-game tournament against rookies from the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Among them was Tyler Brenner, a 23-year-old Linwood native who said the rookie camp and tournament was an important step to take in his development as a professional hockey player.
“It’s been a very high pace and a great experience, especially getting a few games in right before main camp, which is nice,” he said on Monday afternoon, the team’s lone day off during the four-day event.
Although Brenner has been in Toronto and skating with members of the Leafs NHL squad for the past three weeks, the rookie tournament officially started with a team practice on Sept. 10 and ended with a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night.
Brenner was a healthy scratch in that game, as well as the team’s first matchup against Chicago, a 4-2 win Saturday, but he performed well and collected a goal and an assist in the team’s 5-1 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday while skating on the third line with Kenny Ryan and Kyle Neuber.
The 6’2”, 200-pound forward said that he hopes his production in that game, as well as his physical style, helped turn some of the coaches’ heads and will give him some confidence heading into the main Leafs camp this weekend.
“I think it created a little more space for me and my linemates. It gets me more involved and into the game,” he said.
Brenner also said the team of young skaters was beginning to gel and generate some good chemistry, which should bode well not only for the Toronto Marlies, the AHL affiliate for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but for the big club as well in the coming years.
With the Leafs NHL roster pretty well set for the upcoming season, odds are Brenner will have the chance to get to know most of the guys even better playing for the Marlies.
“It’s great to meet them all because I’ll be playing with them for the next couple of years,” he said. “I feel a little more comfortable and at ease and not so nervous. It’s a great experience overall.”
The former Sugar King captain potted 41 goals and 35 assists in his final season in Elmira back in 2006/2007 before earning a scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology south of the border. He was a standout player for RIT, registering 26 goals and 41 points in his final season last year.
The Leafs signed him to a two-year contract in March, a lifelong dream for the boy who grew up cheering for the blue and white. He scored twice in his AHL debut with the Marlies and finished with six points in the final eight games of the AHL season.
Brenner is confident that his decision to attend RIT was the right one for his development, and should serve him well in his continuing quest to make it to the NHL when camp opens Friday.
“It’s a fast-paced game in the States so when I came to the AHL it was a little tougher and guys were a little bigger, but I just continued to play the way I had been at school, and things have worked out.”