Eighteen months ago, T.J Brennan was trying to decide which lacrosse college to attend while playing hockey in the relative obscurity of the Philadelphia minor hockey system. Perhaps because he’s come so far so quickly, the 31st player taken in the 2007 NHL draft is unaffected, humble and down to earth. He’s from the latest hockey hotbed in the US – south Jersey.
Brennan hails from Willingboro N.J., and along with Bobby Sanguinetti, Bobby Ryan and James vanRiemsdyk, is yet another recent high draft pick from southern New Jersey. Amateur hockey scouts might want to add the Garden State to their travel itineraries.
HF: You were such a good lacrosse player and you were offered a number of lacrosse scholarships. Did you ever consider going to school to play lacrosse and play US college hockey at the same time at one of those schools?
TJB: Yes. When I was a junior in high school about a year and a half ago nothing really worked out for me with hockey. I was just staying locally and I wanted to do something pretty big to fulfill my dream one day but nothing was really coming along. St. John’s Fog Devils came down after my junior year in summer but before that nothing was really going on with hockey and I was thinking maybe it was time to just forget about it. Hockey was what I wanted to do but I kind of had to take a reality check. Thank God it worked out.
HF: What were some of the lacrosse schools that offered you scholarships?
TJB: Hobart University…
HF: They have a decent hockey program.
TJB: Yeah, it’s D3 (Division III) and I was actually checking that out. I was talking to their hockey coach and the lacrosse (Division I) coach but I didn’t pay attention to lacrosse that much. Maybe it was time to start looking at lacrosse but I didn’t want to.
HF: You were so humble you were at the draft. You were just glad to be drafted.
TJB: It’s unbelievable. It’s been my goal since I was younger to play in the NHL. I like to be goal oriented and I just didn’t want to stop until I got there. Just to be drafted… I know it doesn’t mean much on its own although now I’ve got a chance. It was unbelievable to get that chance. And now I just want to try and take everything in and do what I can to grab this opportunity.
TJB: I’ve never played against them. I just met Bobby Sanguinetti this past summer at World Junior camp and he lives 15 minutes from my house. I’ll keep in touch with him next summer. But growing up it (hockey) wasn’t that big. There were lots
of Flyers fans but the people that liked hockey loved it…just went crazy about it. I’m glad to see it’s starting to get a lot bigger. Personally, I would like to get more young guys into hockey. I would like to say to them ‘look at someone like me coming from such a small town, not doing anything until I was 16.’ I’d like to say, ‘Keep following your dreams. Just never give up on them.’ That’s what I did. It’s great — I love to see my little brother and all of his friends in hockey. It’s starting to pick up a lot.
HF: I hear you were really throwing your weight around at rookie camp?
TJB: (shakes head no)
HF: That’s not a fair comment then?
TJB: I don’t know. I was just doing what I’m doing here. I’m trying my hardest. You only get one chance to make a first impression. There are a bunch of good guys around here. You really see it now with the regulars here and I’m just trying to keep up and work as hard as I can.
HF: Were there any NHL players that you admired growing up?
TJB: Luckily enough Brian Campbell. I’m a huge fan. I’ve been watching him a lot for three or four years. It’s an honor to be here with him and on the same sheet of ice as him. Hopefully he takes me on knowing that I’m such a big fan.
HF: It must be nice to know Buffalo has such a great record of developing talent lately.
TJB: It’s unbelievable. I’m so excited to hopefully get in the system one day and work as hard as I can and see what they can do with me. I’ll give them everything I have and hopefully they’ll give me the same in return.
HF: How have the first couple of days of training camp been?
TJB: You have a couple of moments when you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m on the same line as Afinogenov or Vanek.’ But at the same time you’ve got to look at it like, ‘I’m here and so I’ve got to step up my game and I’ve got to play with these guys.’ They have an unbelievable amount of talent and I’ve just got to work hard and stay with it, stay focused and don’t be nervous.
HF: Did you do anything different this summer to prepare for training camp?
TJB: After I came here (rookie camp) they gave us a workout and I followed that. A lot of guys were doing it and I thought if I could keep up with that it would be a big help. Quickness now in the NHL is huge so if you add that it could definitely be a key factor. I’m just trying to slim up and stay in really good shape.
HF: You’ve mentioned the importance of explosiveness before and today you mentioned slimming down. Are those the two things you’re working on?
TJB: I think I need to get slimmed down a little more and get the body fat down. Then I can be in tip-top shape just like these guys are here. Anything to give you an advantage over the opponent. Explosiveness can always help. Going into the corners, beating people to the puck, jumping up into the rush, beating the backchecker and making it a three on two or four on two. Explosiveness helps a lot. It’s that first two or three steps and keeping that pace.
HF: You’re considered to be an all-around defenseman in junior. Do you see yourself as more offensive or defensive?
TJB: I think I’m more offensive. I definitely need to work on my defensive coverage but as these guys (Buffalo’s coaching staff) say a lot, anytime you can jump up into the play do it, which is awesome for me. I love that.
HF: I know it’s early in camp but is there anything you’ve picked up from the veterans so far?
TJB: When I’m on the bench I definitely watch guys like Campbell and how they skate up and make passes with their head up and how they stickhandle without losing speed in their stride. I definitely take notice of stuff like that, little things that can help you get to the next level.
HF: Any traveling stories? You play for St.John’s. What do you guys do when you travel?
TJB: Watch the snow fall. No, the people are unbelievable up there. I didn’t know what to expect going up there but it’s been great. My billets are really incredible. They’re such nice people and they get along really well with me and my parents and that makes it easy on my parents.
HF: What is your greatest strength?
TJB: I don’t really like to look at my strengths. I like to focus on the things I need to get better at.
HF: What are your goals for this year?
TJB: My goal since the summer has been to be a lot better defensively this year. I’d like to be a real good stand up defenseman who also likes to jump into the play. So I really need to work on that. I just really want to be a shutdown defenseman at the junior level. Hopefully noticeably so that people say he doesn’t belong at this level.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.