On Saturday, June 1, Flyers Faithful hosted its second-annual Roller Hockey Tournament at the rinks at Wesley Bishop Park in Moorestown, NJ. Local product TJ Brennan, currently playing in the NHL for the Florida Panthers, participated for the second straight year, and was kind enough to speak with Flyers Faithful during the tournament about growing up in the area, his team’s chances, and some of his experiences from during his professional career.
Can you tell me what it was like growing up in the area and now representing South Jersey in the NHL?
It’s been great. New Jersey, especially South Jersey has always had a lot of respectable hockey players. Obviously, growing up here, I had a lot of competition, you know, it’s just great to get recognition that it’s gotten me all the way to the NHL. Playing locally for a lot of my life, it’s great. I hope it kind of opens scouts’ eyes to come down and check out the town down here more often. We kind of get skipped over. You look at guys like Bobby Ryan and Bobby Sanguinetti, just tons of guys that are from Jersey now that are coming up through the ranks, and, you know, I’m just kind proud to say that.
That actually leads right into my next question. Do you think that the Philly/South Jersey area is trending upwards as far as young hockey players coming out of the area?
Yeah, sure. I mean, the Flyers have been huge for a long period of time and they love hockey. I think the foundation just for hockey, and especially ice hockey, is growing. When I started, it was really hard to find ice, and now I think there are a lot more places and a lot more people involved in the process, so it’s making it easier for kids to come out and play. Obviously being an expensive sport, and a lot of other things are involved, it’s definitely great to have that opportunity. In order to get to higher levels sometimes, you need some opportunity from other places to come down and see things. With the Flyers being so huge and it being such a great sports region, it’s great. And that’s definitely what’s driven me, you know, as a kid, to play hockey, is watching the Flyers and having those inspirations there.
When you were a kid, where did you learn to skate and practice?
I’ve had great coaches all my life. I look back and luckily… I don’t know how, ‘cause I didn’t listen to much, but I usually listened to my hockey coaches and my dad and, for some reason, hockey was the one thing that I just had open ears to. So I had some great coaches growing up, and other than that, everything was just kind of self-taught. It was just kind of like, get out there and do it, and if I liked it a lot, I just kind of tweaked things here and there. As I got older, with more experienced coaches and players, I would learn things more. You know, “Hey, you’re doing this, try this out, tweak your game a little bit.” And then obviously going up to Canada, it involves more people. “There’s a lot of potential there, but maybe try this way, follow this path, do this more.” So I was lucky in that sense to get a lot of opportunity and I just tried to work hard with it all.
Do you usually come back to these rinks during the offseason?
Oh yeah. This is where I grew up [in Moorestown], we play roller hockey up here, I’d say, three times a week at least in the summers. This is honestly where I get any sort of creativity. All the kids that we play with, there’s probably a group of 15 to 20 kids we play pick-up games with that are really intense. Last year, we had a championship game, which was exciting. There were a lot of people here to watch. We played against all the kids from our own town so it was a lot of fun and there’s so much skill involved with all these younger kids who play at colleges and in club hockey, just a ton of skill that I learn from all the time. Everyone seems to think, “Oh, you’re in the NHL and come back and play here, you must dominate.” But these kids always keep me honest, and they’re a bunch of good kids and we all have a lot of fun, which is the main focus.
I know you won the tournament last year. Is this your same team from last year?
Um, a couple of tweaks. A couple of guys couldn’t make it and I think we’re short-staffed, missing a couple kids. Like I said, we had to make a couple of exchanges, but I guess the core is basically the same.
You guys have been playing very well today. I think you have a total of 20 goals so far [after only two games]. What do you think gave your team the edge last time around, and now this time around?
We practice a lot, and we have a lot of guys that really love to play, so I think a huge thing when you really break it down is playing in this heat, guys get tired and aren’t really used to that, and we’re used to it, so we have maybe an advantage there. And we’ve played at these rinks before, so we know some of the bounces. We just try and have fun with it. Whether we win or lose, as long as everything’s fair and teams beat us fair, it’s fun and things have just seemed to go our way today. And like I said, as long as people… you know, you don’t want to see anyone forget what we’re all here for and everyone’s technically a winner.
What’s more fun: this, or ice hockey in the NHL?
I think they’re just a little… in different perspectives. I love ice hockey. It’s just a totally different game, I think. With the hitting, I think involves a different type of skill set. Out here, it’s a little more creativity. But everyone out here, you’re playing to have fun. Everyone’s out here strictly to have fun. Ice hockey is a whole different level in sports, so it’s a business involved with a high level of ice hockey and, I mean, they’re both great in their own way.
There has been a lot of chippiness in these games. Do you see more of that here, or in the NHL?
Well, I think everywhere you go, everyone’s proud of themselves and no one wants to go down without a fight, so I think that’s all understandable. I think that’s one of the great things about hockey, is that everyone who plays knows that usually, fighting’s a part of the game and as much as people want to stop it, it’s just how things are dealt with sometimes. It’s like, have a fight, get it over with, and obviously no one wants to see fighting at a charity and, you know, keep your ego aside and just see the bigger picture. But it’s still great to see guys get competitive and fight, as long as they’re put back down a couple steps right away, then it’s good. Everyone’s trying to win, but sometimes you lose and you can’t do anything about it. You gotta walk away and tip your hat. You never want to see anything too rough, but it’s great to see a competitive side.
You had mentioned earlier that you’ve had a lot of great coaches and people helping you out along the way. Out of all the people that you’ve worked with, has there been anybody that’s been really influential for you?
My father. My father is my heart and soul. They’re my backbone and always have been and always will be, so anything in my life, my dad has really… he’s never played hockey but he’s a very smart, successful man, so he’s taught me a lot of things that I can just relate to with hockey. I guess with hockey, it just kind of clicked, so he’s been a huge influence, always keeping me in check, always keeping me honest and always trying to make me a better man, and in return, it makes me a better hockey player, I think. He’s just been a huge influence in always making me learn and making me push forward, and I’m proud to say that I make him proud.
And the last question is: is there anything specific you’ll be focusing on this offseason as far as your game goes?
I think the mental side of the game, for myself, is huge. Really, just staying focused and staying true to myself. In the NHL, there are a lot of players, and there’s not much that separates one player from the next when it comes to that high of a level. So details and everything are usually key, and being mentally focused and knowing when to do those details is huge, so for me it’s really making sure… I know exactly what to do, it’s just that I don’t always do it consistently, so it’s really staying focused and really being prepared for whatever has to happen and being able to do it. I think there are a lot of skilled people in the NHL and it’s the mental side that really separates some people and that’s one thing I want to keep working on if it’ll give me an advantage.