Cooled off, Brunner is still contributing
First-year NHL star learns to deal with season's ups and downs
SOG: 82 | +/-: -5
In his previous life, the former European star rarely traveled more than three-hours by bus with his team to an opponent’s rink in Switzerland’s top league. Now he’s trying to get acclimated to traveling five-hours by plane to places like Edmonton and Los Angeles.
“Yeah, that's the tough part with the travel and stuff, but you know that's the mental thing you got to work through,” Brunner said. “It's a fun experience and it's a challenge you got to expect. I have to get mentally prepared every game and get the best out of it.”
Brunner certainly was the Wings’ biggest surprise in the first half of the 48-game compressed season. Most hockey folks thought the toughest thing for Brunner to overcome was getting used to the smaller ice surfaces of the NHL. Initially, it looked like Brunner fit into the league without skipping a beat, producing six goals and three assists in his first 12 games.
However, Brunner wasn’t stunned by his fast start.
“You should never be surprised,” he said. “I came over here, had a good half year in Switzerland, had a lot of confidence. I just tried to put not too much pressure on myself. I'm going to go out there and work hard and it worked out.
“I had expectations but by the end of the day, you don't know until you play the first game.”
But since then he’s come back to earth, and he’s scoreless in his last eight games, which the 27-year-old finds a little puzzling.
“Last four years I never had (an) eight-game streak without a goal,” he said. “But I have to get the good memories back in my head and start scoring.”
While Friday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Oilers at Rexall Place represented his ninth straight scoreless game, Brunner did quietly contribute to Valtteri Filppula’s third-period goal. As Filppula skated into the mid-slot off the half wall, Brunner gave Ray Whitney enough of a nudge that knocked the Oilers’ defenseman off balance and prevented him from making a play on Filppula, who scored on a back-hander at 4:27.
“I was able to get the puck, just trying to create enough room so I could get a shot off and Brunner did a good job in front,” Filppula said. “I don't think the goalie saw the puck.''
Coach Mike Babcock likes to measure a play by what he’s done in the previous five games. If a player has three or more points, Babcock calls him a “significant player” for his team. Brunner entered Friday’s game as such a player, with three assists in the last five contests.
“It’s like anything, the season this year with 48 games in 96 or 100 days, or whatever, is a grind, and if you’re coming from Switzerland it’s probably really a grind,” Babcock said. “The mental toughness to be an every-dayer, to keep your confidence, to do it right all of the time is a challenge. Him and I have spoke about that for sure. In saying that, when you go through our group, and you’re saying ‘OK, I’m going to take someone out,’ he’s got 10 goals, and three assists in his last five games. To some guys that’s a home run, three assists in his last five games.”