No. 1 goalie possesses pro potential

Winnipeg’s Tyler Brennan is top-rated North American puck-stopper available for NHL Draft

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Tyler Brennan has long been one of the most promising goaltending prospects in the WHL.

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Tyler Brennan has long been one of the most promising goaltending prospects in the WHL.

Until last December, he never received playing time proportional to someone with his vast potential.

As a 16-year-old, the Winnipegger made 15 appearances for the Prince George Cougars. During a COVID-19 limited 2020-21 campaign, he played only four games before being called up to serve as the third goalie on the Canadian roster at the world U18 championship.

James Doyle / PG Cougars As the Cougars No. 1 goalie Brennan made 25 additional starts and finished the season with a 3.58 goals-against average, .899 save percentage and an 11-25-1-1 record in 39 appearances.

In 2021-22, he was still the No. 2 man in Prince George behind veteran starter Taylor Gauthier until the Christmas break when the Cougars made a long-awaited trade, shipping Gauthier to the Portland Winterhawks.

As the No. 1, Brennan made 25 additional starts and finished the season with a 3.58 goals-against average, .899 save percentage and an 11-25-1-1 record in 39 appearances. Although the numbers were modest, he helped the youthful Cougars to their first post-season berth since 2016-17.

“I wanted to be the starter this season and it was a good change to jump in and get put in that role and I think I handled it really well for that half season that I was the starter there,” said Brennan, who is the No. 1-rated North American goaltender by Central Scouting heading into this week’s NHL Draft in Montreal.

‘I wanted to be the starter this season and it was a good change to jump in and get put in that role’– Tyler Brennan

“It was a relief when we finally made the move because I was ready to become a starter a lot earlier than when I did but I took took advantage of when I did.”

Cougars general manager Mark Lamb admits he tried to make a move a year earlier but the trade market dried up completely during the pandemic. And so he waited.

“I look back at it all, Brennan got to be a starter and we got Ty Young, who deserved to be on the team (as the No. 2), and we got Taylor Gauthier to a spot where he really wanted and he got a (pro) contract out of it,” says Lamb. “And I think we might get both our goalies drafted, so it’s all good.”

The youthful Cougars are deep at the position with the 6-4, 190-pound Brennan and the 6-3 Young, who hails from Coaldale, Alta., rated sixth among North American puckstoppers for the draft.

What’s more, Brennan could be the first goaltender from Manitoba selected in the first two rounds of the draft since Winnipeggers Chet Pickard went 18th overall in 2008 to the Nashville Predators and his brother Calvin Pickard went 49th overall in 2010 to the Colorado Avalanche.

Brennan’s first taste of WHL post-season action would be a good starting point for any evaluation. Even though the Cougars were swept in the opening round by Gauthier and the Winterhawks, he allowed only seven goals while posting a 1.86 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.

“Obviously, I’d rather have won that playoff series but I think that’s some of the best hockey I played my whole life and you know, it sucks that we didn’t win because that’s the main goal,” said Brennan. “I’m trying to help my team win every night. So it was disappointing not getting four wins there to win series.”

Last month, he was one of three goaltenders invited to attend the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo and was interviewed by 20 teams.

“I really enjoyed the combine,” said Brennan. “I think it was a good experience for me through the interview process and then the testing process. I learned a lot from just that week and I didn’t feel any added pressure. I went there and showed what I can show and I know what I can do and I feel I did that.”

In the absence of game action in the off-season, Brennan has been busy trying to improve the best way he knows — in the gym and on the practice ice.

“I think it’s been kind of the same for me over this summer and last summer,” he says. “The game is getting faster and the players are getting stronger and better. And I think for me, I’m just trying to get quicker and stronger and more explosive. I’ve been working on that a lot this summer.”

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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