Photo Credit: Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com
Connor Brown was just trying to do what was best for his team when he stood in the path of Brian Lashoff’s slapshot on October 30th. He wasn’t wrong, in the sense that he very well could have prevented a goal, but it was a decision that circumstantially took him off the ice for several months with a fractured bone in his ankle. With a little less than three months of rehab behind him, however, he made his return to the lineup today, and in doing so, made an immediate impact.
While Brown’s first shift of the game wasn’t overly groundbreaking, his second appearance made it look llike he had been with the team all along. Brown stripped the puck off of Joseph LaBate in front of the net and quickly shelved it past Richard Bachman to open the scoring. “The defenceman just kinda fumbled the puck” Brown said of the goal after the game. “I jumped on it and tried to put it up, and it got over his glove.”
It was the start of a great afternoon, both for him and his teammates. Newcomer David Kolomatis, who was signed out of the ECHL yesterday in an effort to give the Marlies another right-handed shot from the point, scored his first as a member of the team just 7:40 into his tenure, which Brown followed up with another goal. This time around, Brown tried to feed linemate Brett Findlay, who sent the puck back to him without much an angle to work with. Despite the low odds, Brown was able to find an opening and put his second of the game and season past Richard Bachman.
After TJ Brennan followed with his sixteenth of the season just two minutes later, the Comets swapped Bachman out for Joe Cannata, who lost his start against the Marlies the day before. It didn’t make much of a difference, though; Brennan soon a way past him as well, as did Brendan Leipsic and Mark Arcobello. Overall, it was a much more dominant effort from the Marlies than the previous day, though a potentially offside goal by Carter Bancks did break Antoine Bibeau’s shutout bid late in the second period.
With all of that said, Brown was the star of the show, much to the pleasure of head coach Sheldon Keefe. “You’re never really sure what you’re going to get in the first game back,” Keefe said. “But he’s a guy that’s very popular in the room, his energy is terrific, and he’s worked extremely hard. It just goes to show what he means to our group and the type of player that he is.”.
Brown had a long road to recovery, finding himself unable to walk for nearly six weeks. Without gym work and hockey to encourage his appetite and the diet adjustment that followed, he found himself having trouble keeping on weight; unsurprising for a player that was 145 pounds when he was drafted. “In a way, it could be a blessing in disguise that this happened this happened,” Brown said of his recovery routine. “I may even be a bit stronger than I was at the beginning of the year, with a long time to work out.”
The sentiment is one that his coach agrees with. After leading all Amerian Hockey League rookies in scoring with 65 points in 81 regular season and playoff games, it’s likely that the 22-year-old’s body could have used a bit of a breather. “The injury, as unfortunate as it was, forces him to take a step back, rest, recuperate, takes a bit little bit less load on his body,” Keefe said. “He looks stronger to me, he says he feels stronger and has put some weight on, so it’s all that stuff that has a benefit.”
A lack of pressure plays to Brown’s benefit now too. While he started the year expected to be a necessity in Toronto’s lineup, the team has done spectacularly without him, posting a 27-6-2 record (0.800 PTS%) in his absence. The newly-realized depth in the roster allows for the sophomore winger to experiment with different situations to grow his already solid two-way game. One place where he can continue to set himself apart again is the penalty kill, a role he immediately returned to in his first game. Back.
As for whether he would block that shot again, Brown has no regrets. “It’s such a freak thing, blocking that shot,” Brown said of the incident. “Especially now that I’ve thrown on a pair of shot blockers, I don’t think that’ll be happening again, knock on wood. I’ll still be getting into lanes.”
The Marlies return to the ice on Wednesday morning when they take on the Grand Rapids Griffins. Puck drop on the rare road school day game is at 11 AM.