Washington Capitals\' Nicklas Backstrom, right, tries to control a bouncing puck in front of Toronto Maple Leafs\' Tim Brent during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto Saturday, January 22, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
TORONTO - Maple Leafs centre Tim Brent has gone from the first line to role-playing duty in Toronto, and that's not exactly the role expected of a player drafted twice out of the Ontario Hockey League.
Brent has settled in as Toronto's fourth-line centre and penalty killer, and the former member of the OHL's St. Michael's Majors franchise is trying to make the best of his reduced role.
"It can be a tough job to do," the 26-year-old said. "You have to be mentally sharp all the time."
Brent scored the Leafs' lone goal Saturday night to give his team some life in the third period during a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. It was the rookie's fourth of the season.
His season began with a bang, and more ice time. He scored goals in both of Toronto's first two games and was seeing time on the top two lines while Leafs head coach Ron Wilson was looking for successful combinations.
But by November Brent's ice time had dropped to 10:00 minutes or less most nights. Other than a 19-plus minute blip against Dallas late in November, that's pretty much where he's stayed.
It's a tough spot for a guy who was a junior star and a scorer in the American League.
"I try to talk on the bench as much as I can just to keep myself into it if I'm not getting a lot of ice; make sure I'm ready to go every chance I do get," he said.
Toronto Marlies call-up Jay Rosehill was Brent's linemate on Saturday. He spoke highly of Brent.
"He's patient with the puck and he's really responsible defensively," said Rosehill, who also praised Brent's ability to communicate both on and off the ice.
Without any penalty-kill time, Rosehill plays even fewer minutes than Brent with the big club and finds it difficult to stay ready physically.
"It's tough," he said. "You go from the minors where you're used to playing more minutes and you get over the hump in the first period and your legs get going, it seems like it's a little harder to find that in this league when you're playing low minutes.
"But it's up to you to keep yourself in the game mentally."
Brent does that by trying to talk as much as he can on the bench.
"Mostly to try to keep a positive mood on the bench, no matter what the score is or what's going on," Brent said. "Try to help motivate guys.
"It's the guys who are on the ice are the guys who can impact a game, so you want to do whatever it takes to help the team win. If that means being a little bit of a cheerleader and trying to pump guys up that's what you do."