Adam Brooks scored again helping the Toronto Maple Leafs to their fifth straight win, a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. It’s also the fifth consecutive time Brooks has been centering a line with Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza on his wings. “I mean those are two guys that obviously are special players in this game,” said Brooks. He was asked if he is settling into the role of playing with two Hall of Fame players, “you know there’s still some pinch-me moments when you’re out there with them.”
The Leafs’ new-look fourth line has put up more than 2,500 career NHL points. Brooks has accounted for five of those. But he is the guy that has brought 41-year-old Thornton and 37-year-old Spezza back to the score sheet. Both of those players are now on five-game point streaks. Thornton had not registered a single point since March 13. 17 games later, he played with Brooks, and he now has six points in five games. Spezza also has six points in the five games playing with Brooks. Add in Brooks three points over that five-game span, and the fourth line has tallied a combined 15 points.
“We’ve kind of established our identity and how we want to play as a line. We talk quite a bit on the bench and talk when things aren’t going well and just trying to get them back on track,” said Brooks, who said he is constantly listening. “They make it very easy. They tell you exactly what they want, and yeah, it’s a lot of fun, and hopefully, we can just continue to play well.”
The Fourth Line Provides a Pop
Sheldon Keefe points to the Brooks goal as the one that really turned the game in Toronto’s favour. “It was a huge goal they scored for us, and they did it through a really good, smart shift,” said Keefe. He expects his bottom six of the lineup to play very structured hockey, and he is getting it from his fourth line. “Just really taking care of the puck and doing what you really hope to get from a fourth line. I think a combination of the experience and skill set of Jumbo and Spezza. Then Brooksy’s energy and his intelligence has really helped that line.”
This is the 24-year old’s second stint on the Leafs’ roster this season. He first played on January 22, before being sent back to the taxi squad and down to the Marlies. “There was a huge stretch of the season I didn’t really even see myself coming back to this position,” said Brooks. But just like he has done so many times in his hockey career, he fought his way back. Remember, this guy went undrafted – twice, before Toronto picked him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. “I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunity… I can contribute when I get in there and can help out whatever the situation may be.”
Can History Repeat Itself?
Three years ago, Keefe was coaching the Toronto Marlies. There were some injuries late in the season, allowing Brooks to have more ice time. “I eventually fell into a bigger role in the playoffs in a similar situation that I’m playing in right now,” recalled Brooks. The Marlies went on to win the Calder Cup that season. “We have been together for a long time. We’ve had a lot of conversations, whether being in the AHL or now. It’s nice to have that level of comfortability with the coach and a guy that really knows your game and knows what you’re going to give.”
Brooks will have to continue to give it his all and play at this level. Zach Hyman will soon return, and there is also newly acquired Riley Nash waiting for his chance. So don’t pinch Brooks too hard. If these are the things that make his dreams, then let the man sleep.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.