Tim Brent on leaving for the KHL, adapting to life in Europe, and memories of Toronto

During a time where there wasn’t a lot to cheer for in Leaf Land, this moment shone through.

Tim Brent is a couple years removed from his Leafs days, but he is not forgotten in this city. Tomas Kmec, a young hockey reporter from Slovakia, recently went to some KHL games in the Czech Republic, the home of the lone Czech KHL team Lev Prague. Tomas offered to interview some KHL players for us, and Brent’s team, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, recently came to town. We’ve already posted his interview with Leo Komarov here at TLN, as well as an interview with Ryan O’Byrne. Brent’s new KHL team, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, also came to town recently. All Tom asked for was that we give him credit. Please give Tomas a follow. He’s the reason we have these interviews.

Here’s Tomas’ talk with Tim Brent on his decision to go to the KHL, injury struggles, his time in Toronto, and hope to play in the NHL again one day.

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What made you choose the KHL?

I think there’s a lot of guys in my situation this year where there’s a lot of free agents and not a lot of jobs available. I got this opportunity and it seemed like a good fit for me at this time. I wanted to try something different, to have more responsibility than I had in the NHL last year. So that`s my reasoning.

You’ve had to overcome a lot in the last year on the injury front. What happened?

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I had surgery on my groin in the offseason. That was the first time; I never had such problems before. I was training in the summer and then I couldn’t get rid of it. It nagged me the whole season. I’m finally starting to feel good again now.  You know, the 30 games I played… I’d play four or five games and then I’d miss a couple because of the groin issue and then I’d come back but never really get into the groove. It was kind of a frustrating year to say the least.

It was the second year of your contract. Did you feel pushed out or that Carolina wouldn`t offer you a contract extension, or was the KHL your first choice all the way?

The KHL thing kind of developed a little bit later. I decided I’d wait till the free agency and kinda see how the things were going. But there was no real interest in me. There were some teams interested but you know, there was nothing firm on the table as far as contracts go and I didn’t want to end up without anything at the end of the summer. When this opportunity came available I decided to jump on it. KHL is obviously a great league, but it doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on the NHL by coming here to play. It`s been good so far.

What, if anything, have you brought with you to Europe to remind him of home?

Oh geez (laugh). I have a lot of pictures of family. My girlfriend has been able to come over quite often which is great. She comes over and she stays for a month. She works so she has to go home to do that but it`s a big help for me still. 

What are your first impressions of the KHL?

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It’s a great league. I really enjoy the style of play here. A lot of skill, speed. A lot of very good players.  Some obviously I’ve seen and played against in the NHL, others decided never to come over but they’re very good players. It’s been fun and hopefully it’ll continue to be.

Growing up in Canada and playing professionally in the North America. What has the adjustment to the European game been like?

I’m still adjusting. It’s a very different style, and although I really enjoy the style, I like it, there is still an adjustment, because you have maybe a little bit more time than I’m used to having. You can hang onto the puck maybe a little more. There are so many habits that I have to get rid of for the time being.

I was talking to Ryan O‘Reilly last year about living in Russia. About cultural differences, the language barrier, and so on. What has the transition been like for you?

It’s a little bit of a challenge. I’ve got a great group of teammates, which makes it easier. A lot of guys speak English. We have five imports that speak English well, the coach speaks English, but you know, the city of Nizhny Novgorod doesn’t speak English a whole lot, which is understandable. So I’ve found a driver that speaks both English and Russian which is a huge help, even trying to get groceries. There`s a language barrier here, but at the same time, it’s a great experience. I’ve kinda come here and tried to embrace the culture, understand the way people in Russia live, and respect that. I’ll definitely have more compassion when I go home and somebody comes to Canada and can`t speak English. That I think is gonna be just a great experience.

Why did you choose Torpedo?

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I knew Wojtek Wolski. He signed his contract with Novgorod early. So we talked a bit when Torpedo first approached me with an offer and you know, I felt like it was good to know somebody going over there and we have spoken about playing together.

Did you know anything about the city or the team before you arrived to Nizhny Novgorod?

I did. You know, as soon as they made me an offer I kinda did some research and I knew that it was one of the bigger cities in Russia as far as population (aprrox. 1.25 million), so I knew it`d be a good city (to live in). I knew their goalie Vitali Koval, who was mentored by Vladislav Tretiak There’s a long history and a great history in Torpedo, which was another drawing point for me. So that kind of helped me made my decision.

What sort of role are you playing? Going back-and-forth in the AHL and NHL you seemed to play both top six and bottom six roles.

I think every player wants to be on the ice as much as he can, so it`s nice to be playing 18 or 19 minutes rather than eight minutes. It can be a really tough role to fill. I have a lot of admiration for guys in the NHL that do that on a nightly basis because it`s not an easy job to play six or eight minutes every night and stay into it. It`s better to play close to 20 minutes and it`s easier to stay in the game that way.

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You‘ve been quite a journeyman in the NHL and AHL. You‘ve obviously got plenty of experience in that regard. Most people say the KHL is the second-best league in the world right now. Do you feel like there`s a significant difference between the AHL or NHL and the KHL?

I think that statement is correct.  Especially now, the AHL seems to be a very young league. A lot of teams are developing their young prospects there. The KHL is definitely a more of a veteran league. You have guys like me, who played for several NHL teams and several other pro teams, that have kind of been around the block. And that makes the difference. The AHL is a very good league, don`t get me wrong, but you know, a lot of young players are still green to the pro game.

You’ve played for many coaches. Can you name some that have had the biggest impact on your development as a player and/or as an individual?

Actually there`s been a few. I really enjoyed in the American league playing for Todd Richards, who`s now the head coach in Columbus. Him and Dan Bylsma were both coaches there. Dan‘s obviously in Pittsburgh. Really loved playing for those two guys. Also Dallas Eakins on the Marlies. He pushes guys hard but I think he understands kind of a mix of players. You know, he played both big roles in juniors and the minors and then the seventh defenseman kind of role in the NHL, so he understands what everybody’s feeling. He was a huge part of me breaking into Toronto and being a Maple Leaf for that year. I think theres no better fit for him and for Edmonton. I`m really excited to see how he does. That was the team I kept a close eye on after he signed there because Id love to play for him at some point again. And then Ron Wilson was kind of the first guy who really gave me the opportunity and I appreciated what he did for me.

It’s not like you’re shutting the door on the NHL or anything.

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No, no. I`m kinda leaving both doors open. Ive reallly enjoyed playing here and Id obviously love to play in the NHL as well. I think that both leagues are good enough that you can kinda go back and forth and not lose a step.

You never spent more than two seasons in one place, except for when you was playing for the Majors in the OHL. Im sure you would prefer to stay somewhere for longer than that.

Oh yeah, Id love to. But you know, it`s a funny game. Even a contract somewhere for a few seasons doesn’t mean that youre going to be there that long. They can get rid of you whenever they want.

Well, speaking of contracts and executives that have to deal with these things, which one do you remember the most, who treated you fairly or who`s company did you enjoy the most?

I really liked Jim Rutherford in Carolina. He was always very straight-forward; very good to me. And the same can be said about Brian Burke. Again, he gave me a great opportunity to kinda get my foot in the door in Toronto and you know, three full seasons in the NHL after that.

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How badly do you miss the Leafs‘ fans?

I love Leafs fans (sigh).  I mean seriously, I grew up a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan and it was a really special season for me to play there, in front of them. Theres not many places in the world where you can go and play in front of fans like that.

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