Making up for lost time

Robin Short
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St. John’s IceCaps forward Austen Brassard tries to get position on the Portland Pirates’ Darian Dziurzynski during the teams’ game Tuesday night at Mile One Centre. It was Brassard’s first game back since Nov. 2 and while IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge admits missing games probably wasn’t the best thing for the rookie’s development, he was pleased with the Windsor, Ont., native’s game.

Rookie Austen Brassard looks good in first game back following self-imposed hiatus

He didn’t figure in the scoring, managed only one shot on goal, was even on the plus-minus registry and played only a handful of minutes.
But all in all, Austen Brassard was pretty pleased with his game Tuesday night against the Portland Pirates.

And you can probably buy that reasoning given it was the rookie’s first American Hockey League start since Nov. 2, and only his seventh hockey game this season.

Brassard rejoined the St. John’s IceCaps on Boxing Day after missing nearly two months of action when he returned to his Windsor, Ont., home for what he will only confirm as, “personal reasons”.

“It was really exciting to get back,” said the soft-spoken right-winger. “I had a lot of built up energy and excitement, and it was good to release it.

“I thought I had a good game.”

Mention rookies and IceCaps in the same sentence and invariably the two names which jump out are spunky J.C. Lipon, the energy-plus winger with 17 points in 32 games, and Brenden Kichton, who is fourth in AHL rookie scoring with 27 points in 35 games from his defensive position.

Lost in the mix is Brassard, Winnipeg’s fifth choice, 149th overall, in the 2011 draft.

But it’s easy to see why the Jets elected to draft the former Belleville Bull and Windsor Spitfire – he’s big (6-2, 207 pounds) and he can certainly skate.

“And he’s got a good set of hands,” reports St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge. “But his game is going to be that of a guy who is going to have to play physical.

“He has the skill set to make plays, but he’s a player whose strongpoint is playing big and physical.”

Brassard, 20, doesn’t feel the self-imposed respite will thwart his development, despite the fact he skated very little while home in Windsor.

McCambridge, however, begs to differ.

“With the amount of games he’s missed,” he said, “it does impede his development. And a big part of his development is playing games, and he’s missed a substantial amount of time here.

“But, I will say, since he’s been back with us, he’s been able to get himself in shape relatively quickly. The game he played against Portland was a real strong outing for him.”

Thursday, Brassard, a member of the 2011 Canadian under-18 team, was the last player off the ice at practice, lingering for nearly 30 minutes after the regulars headed to the locker room.

Brassard and defenceman Will O’Neill worked on several passing and shooting drills together with rookie goalie Jussi Olkinuora.

“I’m looking to try and put myself in a better position on this team,” he said, “and I’m doing the extra things for that reason.

“I wouldn’t say it’s for catching up.”

McCambrdige could not say how long it will take Brassard to reach peak form, although he did indicate the player reported to the team in good condition.

“And I believe there’s a difference between bigger guys, like Austen, and smaller guys. History has told me it takes longer for bigger guys to get their legs underneath them. You see that with teams whose makeup are larger, big-bodied guys compared to smaller players,” McCambridge said.

Brassard hopes to be in the lineup again tonight when the IceCaps play host to the Toronto Marlies 7:30 p.m. at Mile One Centre in the first of a pair of back-to-back games.

The IceCaps are coming off a 2-1 series victory over the Pirates, and are 6-4 in their last 10 games.



Organizations: IceCaps, American Hockey League, Jets

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Portland

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