Leafs' Brent living his dream

Maple Leafs' Tim Brent skates at practice at the Mastercard Centre. 
 (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)

Maple Leafs' Tim Brent skates at practice at the Mastercard Centre. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 PM ET

TORONTO - Tim Brent likes to think he’s plays for Joe Leaf Fan, the one who follows the blue and white from cradle to grave and attends the Church of Hockey Night In Canada in between.

So what does he think of making his home debut Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs’ greatest nemesis and near century-old rival?

“You did not speak of the Canadiens in our house,” the Cambridge native said Wednesday. “Both my grandfathers, my dad, my entire family, it’s always been Leafs, Leafs, Leafs. If you were a Habs fan, you were not welcome in too many places, that’s for sure.

“The Montreal games were always special to watch. We have a huge Newfie population in Toronto (his grandmother is from Torbay outside St. John’s). The majority are Leafs fans, but there are some Montreal fans. So growing up, if the Leafs would beat them, it was always a fun phone call to make to buddies who were Habs’ fans. It’s always been that way with the two teams.”

The third line centre will be pinching himself during O Canada, not quite believing he’s going take part in the 774th meeting of the Two Solitudes. In four NHL training camps with Anaheim, Chicago and Pittsburgh, he came so close to making the starting 20, but always wound up on a bus to the minors.

“The year Anaheim won the Cup I was the last guy sent down,” the 26-year-old recalled.

“I was the last guy sent down in Pittsburgh and one of the last guys in Chicago (in 2008). It has been pretty close and I’m sure glad to have got over that hump. I was confident in the way I played, but until they actually give you the nod and you get the sweater, I sat back and didn’t want to jinx myself.”

Coach Ron Wilson began to talk up Brent halfway through camp ahead of candidates such as John Mitchell and Nazem Kadri. But much of the credit for Brent getting this far to date goes to Marlies coach Dallas Eakins. The coach relayed a story this week about Brent calling him in the summer, after ending the season on a high note with a Game 82 callup by the Leafs, and asking Eakins what he needed to do to make the jump. They went down the list of all third- and fourth-line candidates at camp and Brent came to the conclusion he was as good or better — if he applied himself mentally.

“I just had a confidence coming into camp and I kept it up,” said Brent, who is also candid that the fuss created around Kadri allowed him to fly under the media radar.

But Wilson and Burke were looking for someone with Brent’s hunger, who would embrace a lesser role and be motivated to keep it. When he played well on the penalty kill as well as his regular shift with Colby Armstrong and Fredrik Sjostrom, he was the ideal fit for the Leafs’ top six — bottom six philosophy up front.

“We’re finally at a point where we can distinguish (top and bottom six) on our team right now,” Wilson said. “The top two lines have to produce offensively, while at the same time not being (minus players). The third line tries to shut down the other team’s top line or get thrown out after we score or get scored on. Fourth line, we want guys who are truculent, belligerent and maybe kill penalties.

“Everyone has to be comfortable. You can’t have guys on the third and fourth line think they’re supposed to be on the first line and they reluctantly do their jobs. If you don’t have a passion to do it, you have a mental letdown.”

There’s little chance of Brent dozing off when he gets a look at that CH crest.

“It’s unreal for me (as a Leafs supporter). For the fans out there, they can just kind of imagine what it’s like just to put on the jersey and be able to play, not only on opening night, but against the Canadiens.”

He is trying to get as many of the clan into the Air Canada Centre as possible.

“It’s a pretty hot ticket in town. I’ve kept (a couple) just for close family, but it will be a special night for everyone. At some point, I hope to get everyone in.

“My dad would to take me to Leafs games for my birthday. We couldn’t do it too many times, but when we could, it was something special. I had a coach in minor hockey, John Hamilton from Cambidge, who had season’s tickets, but otherwise we would find them on line or buy them somehow.”

He doesn’t have to worry about a good-vantage point anymore.


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