If someone had told Norfolk Admirals rookie Troy Brouwer coming into his first AHL season he would be a potential Rookie of the Year candidate and an AHL All-Star, chances are he wouldn’t have believed you.
“I never thought I would be able to do this in my first year,” he said of his 2006-07 season. “Maybe a couple years into it, I would have expected it, but I’m really happy with myself so far.”
Admirals head coach Mike Haviland is very pleased with what the 21-year-old right winger has been able to do in his rookie year.
“Troy’s been very good,” he said. “He’s done an outstanding job. He’s done more than we ever thought he would do and he’s excelled for us all year.”
Brouwer is no stranger to being an offensive force, as he was in his final year of junior hockey last season, when he led the WHL in scoring with 102 points in 72 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors. He would have been old enough to have played in the AHL last year, but the Blackhawks chose to have him play his overage year in the WHL. Being one of the oldest players surely helped him post those gaudy numbers.
“Last year, I came off a really great season in the WHL, and coming in here, I thought I’d be a role player and chip in when I can, so I have exceeded what my expectations were with how the year has gone so far.”
Brouwer currently sits in fifth place in overall scoring in the league with 53 points in 44 games, and second among rookies behind Chicago’s Brett Sterling (ATL). Brouwer’s obviously had a pretty smooth transition into pro hockey. It’s even more impressive given that he hasn’t changed teams in five years, having spent his entire junior career with Moose Jaw.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, I began to excel a little bit and play really well and the coach gave me a great opportunity to play a lot and so far I’ve made the best of it. The transition’s been a little bit easier than I thought. It’s a quick game, but once you get a few games under your belt, you’re pretty comfortable.”
Brouwer, drafted in the seventh round in 2004 by the Blackhawks, was recalled to the team on Dec. 23 until Dec. 30, playing in two games, under six minutes a game. He was recalled again on Jan. 26 for the injury-depleted club and saw 18:15 in ice time against Nashville. He has no points, has taken one shot, and is -2 in the three games.
Since he’s already surpassed his expectations coming into this season, he’s now set his sights on reaching other goals.
“Right now, I’m really trying to push for a nomination for Rookie of the Year, and making the All-Star Team was a really big step for me as well,” he said last week. “But my main goal is obviously to get back up with Chicago again, so I’m really working towards that, just playing game by game and doing what I can.”
That Brouwer looks comfortable playing in the AHL is an understatement. His strong play in all aspects of the game has earned him a spot on the Canadian roster for the AHL All-Star Classic this weekend.
“A lot of people were saying that I would go because I’ve had such a good season and they like to take a lot of the young guys so, it was one of those things where I half expected it, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I was going. To be able to go and experience that is going to be pretty exciting.”
Joining Brouwer in Toronto will be Brandon Bochenski and Martin St. Pierre. The three have found tremendous success playing on Norfolk’s top line since the beginning of the season and the trio leads the team in scoring so far.
“They’re amazing players,” he said of his linemates. “Ever since they put us together, we started clicking and playing well. Coach was happy with how our line was playing, so he’s kept us together and we’ve been able to put some points on the board and win some games.”
Haviland formed the line early in the season and it’s certainly reaped benefits for the Admirals. The three have been on a tear all season long, as each member of the line is in the top five in AHL scoring.
“That’s been a line since Day 1 and they’ve really excelled for us,” Haviland said. “It’s just a good combination. [Brouwer]’s a banger and a crasher and then you’ve got a set-up guy and a really pure goal scorer. But that kid can score goals, too. It’s just a good combination and it’s obviously been one of the hotter lines around the league.”
Helping with the adjustment of being a heavily-relied upon scorer, though, is that fact that the Vancouver, BC native was used to being a top offensive player with Moose Jaw. The only difference this year is that he doesn’t have to be as physical of a player in Norfolk, but that’s not to say he won’t if he has to.
“I had a little bit more of a physical role last year,” he said. “I’m not really looking to be a fighter here, but if Bochenski or St. Pierre get a cheap shot taken against them, I have to step in and protect those guys. I’m out there to create room for them, and I get to chip in on the points side as well.”
Brouwer came into training camp last fall with plenty of potential and he is certainly fulfilling that potential thus far this season. At 6’3, 215 pounds, he is built like a power forward and has the skills and skating ability to fit that mold. He is looking to continue his strong play in Norfolk and hopes to turn a few heads in the Chicago organization in the process. Brouwer puts a good deal of pressure on himself to perform and to live up to the lofty expectations he has created for himself.
“Yeah, I do put pressure on myself,” he said. “Especially playing with two great players like that, you’re obviously going to get looked at pretty closely, and if you’re not playing well, then people are going to notice. So, I put a lot of pressure on myself and I expect a lot out of myself playing with those two and so far, I haven’t been disappointed.”
While Brouwer’s individual play has certainly been noticeable this season, so too has the play of the team. The Admirals currently sit atop of the league with 67 points, and have been especially hot of late with eight wins in their last ten games. When asked how well he expects this team to do this season, Brouwer offers two simple words.
“Calder Cup,” he said without hesitation. “That’s where our sights are set. For right now, we’ve got about 35 more games left and we just have to try and stay on top of the league. We’ve put together a real good run lately here. But our expectations for ourselves are very high, and anything less than the Calder Cup is going to be a disappointing year.”
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