Sam Donnellon | Moorestown's Brennan emerges as top prospect

Posted: June 22, 2007

MOORESTOWN, N.J. - His future lay 1,805 miles away, on the easternmost point of an island nearer the Arctic Circle than his Moorestown home.

This is where the National Hockey League would discover T.J. Brennan.

Not 14 miles from the sixth-largest media capital of the United States, where he learned and honed his game.

In St. John's, the frozen, fog-thick capital of the Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Not the end of the world. Not officially anyway.

But if the mist ever lifted, you might be able to see it from there.

"There's a London, Ontario and a London, England," he said. "We're actually closer to London, England."

He smiles easily, confidently. The year between his 17th and 18th birthday have matured him exponentially, to the point where it is hard to fathom that the man sitting comfortably across the table slugging water is actually younger than the teen you just left at home, a man who might be only a couple of years from matching his own well-off parents in wealth.

The fourth of Terry and Kim's five children, Brennan is expected to be chosen in either the second and third round of the NHL draft that begins tonight in Columbus. Last year at this time he was a little-known high school player, dividing his time between local teams and a traveling Junior team, the Little Flyers. Stephane Charbonneau, a former AHL player with a two-game NHL career, put him in touch with the second-year Fog Devils after coaching him in a summer all-star tournament. He was invited to try out. No guarantees.

Brennan and his parents went to Newfoundland in late August, and they stayed with him for a week as he got settled. And then he was on his own. "When they left that first time," he said, "that was probably the toughest part of it."

A 6-1, 204-pound defenseman, he scored 16 goals and accumulated 41 points in his first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, attracting the attention of scouts with a 97 mph slap shot and a propensity to pick things up quickly.

Like looking after himself. And meshing well in a strange and sometimes wary environment. Living with a host family, practicing long hours, taking long plane trips, logging as many as three games a week - he learned to do his own laundry, find the right foods, schedule his sleep carefully - and savor it.

"It was such a good experience," he said. "There were so many things thrown into it that the hockey was probably the easiest thing to adjust to . . . I actually lived where you could see the ocean and the boats. I can't imagine how cold that water could be. And it snowed all the time. But the people there are unbelievable."

He remembered the first snowstorm that hit - in early November. The car he and a teammate were riding in got stuck in a snowbank, in a part of town neither knew well. "A guy walking up the street asked us if we needed help," he said. "I've got my hand on my wallet getting ready. And he helps us get out. He leaves and I look at my buddy and ask, 'You know him?'

"He says, 'No, but I'm surprised he didn't ask us to stay for dinner.'

"That's just the way people are up there."

And so he eventually fell in love with his new town. It let its guard down with him, too. There was another American on the team, a guy from Massachusetts, a guy drafted. He caused strife. He was sent home.

He is not on anyone's draft list.

Brennan is ranked 29th among North American prospects, 54th in all of the world. He has been interviewed by virtually every team, has met Paul Holmgren, general manager of his hometown Flyers, a man with four picks in the first three rounds. His face turns 17 again when he admits that the thought of being drafted by his favorite team, "comes across my mind from time to time."

"How cool would that be?" he said. "The team that I've grown up liking. That I've always been around. But then again, if any other team ever drafted me, it's an NHL team and that's all I want to do. Play in the NHL."

"For the Devils?" he is asked.

"Even the Devils," he said.

"The Rangers?"

"I don't know about the Rangers," he said, smiling. "Of course if they took me I'd be the biggest Rangers fan ever."

It's all about adjustments, he has learned. If he can brave the fog, the cold, the isolation from all he knew - well, then New York should be a big patch of black ice.

"And it's close," he said. "I don't know how some of my friends would handle it, though."

*

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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