Flames prospect aimin' for big gig

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

CALGARY - A year ago, T.J. Brodie was the Calgary Flames training camp surprise.

This year, the defenceman wants to add a new and longer chapter to his NHL career.

Best yet, he says he understands what must be done to make it in the top league on a full-time basis — a strong defensive game.

“I’ve been working on that the last year. I felt like I improved a lot and learned a lot,” Brodie said Friday, the opening day of the team’s prospects camp.

“There are things you have to be taught and things you have to do naturally.”

The natural gifts you need to be a good player weren’t an issue for Brodie last season. They were on full display during the exhibition season, in which the first-year pro scored four goals in five pre-season outings and earned his spot on the opening-day roster.

It was the defensive play which obviously required plenty of fine-tuning after a three-game regular-season stint. It just took some time after he was dispatched to the AHL Abbotsford Heat for him to realize it.

Brodie was the subject of negative talk in the first couple of months in the minors.

The word was he didn’t respect the AHL’s calibre of play and was butting heads with Heat head coach Jim Playfair. That could be taken as a player who figured he was too good for the league.

Brodie, the 2008 fourth-round draft choice who turned 21 this summer, said it’s more a case of not evolving his game quickly enough.

“I didn’t really change the way I played from junior to the AHL,” Brodie said.

“I still played the junior-game, an all-offence mindset, and Jimmy didn’t like that, so he had to pull me back a lot to get me to concentrate more on the defensive side of the game.

“You have to learn to look for the simple play instead of the difficult play. You can’t skate with the puck when you’re in trouble like you can in junior, so you have to make the simple pass.”

Still, the Flames don’t want to stifle Brodie’s offensive abilities. The blueliner had a tough NHL stint last season — no points and minus-3 in those three games — but compiled five goals, 34 points and a plus-3 rating in 68 games for the Heat last season and was named to the all-star game.

He also spent the summer readying to take his game to another level, spending much of the time in Calgary working with strength and conditioning coach Rich Hesketh.

“I tried to put on some more weight and keep the speed the same — maybe even improve it. I was able to focus mentally by being here,” Brodie said.

And he’d like to remain in the Stampede City, having been given a taste of NHL life.

“It’s something I’ll never forget. It still doesn’t feel like it happened. Going into camp last year, when I think about it now, I was not expecting it to happen. I went in for the experience and assumed I’d be sent down once main camp was done with, so to stay there was amazing. Now, I want to be here full time.”

The prospects will practise Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Westside Recreation Centre before heading to Penticton, B.C., for the YoungStars tournament.


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