T.J. Brennan was feeling the effects of his Christmas feast. He’d downed a few more sweets than he probably should have, so upon his return to the rink Wednesday morning he skated his tail off.
“I wanted to make sure I got a good skate in and bagged myself at the end to get a couple of those extra cookies out that I ate over Christmas break,” Brennan said by phone Thursday.
Based on the results, the Rochester Americans defenseman might want to keep a full cookie jar handy. Brennan recorded a career-high five points Wednesday night during a 7-6 overtime victory against Lake Erie.
“Maybe we should have saved that one for the fans in Buffalo on Friday night, make it a little more entertaining,” said Brennan, whose team has a rematch with the Monsters tonight in First Niagara Center. Only single seats remained Thursday afternoon.
The Amerks (14-11-3) are back for their second American Hockey League game in Buffalo this season. They arrive with Brennan pacing the team. The blue-liner has 16 goals and 28 points in 28 games.
“It’s been a good season, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Brennan said. “The main thing for me has been to really focus on defense and become a better player and be aware of my defensive zone, starting from there out.”
The 23-year-old has always had offensive flair. He scored 32 times for the Sabres and their minor-league affiliate the previous two seasons, including his first NHL goal during an 11-game stint in Buffalo last year.
This season’s outburst can be attributed to shooting more. He took 150 shots in 52 games with the Amerks last year, and he’s already at 109 this year in just more than half the games.
He also has 15 points on the power play as the Amerks rank third in the AHL at 20.6 percent. Brennan ranks second in the league in power-play points and ninth overall.
“Our power play has been going pretty good, and when you’ve got guys like Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson and Brayden McNabb out there, it makes it a lot easier,” Brennan said. “There’s no pressure on me because those guys are such good players and such big threats that sometimes my only option is an empty net to shoot at.
“Obviously, points all look good and great at the end of the day. But to be honest that has not been my main focus.”
Brennan has been striving to play better defensively, and coach Ron Rolston recently lauded the effort of the blue-liner, whom the Sabres selected in the second round of the 2007 draft.
“What they’ve told me is offensively they’re not exactly worried about me putting up points,” Brennan said. “They say that’s kind of what I can do. Defensively, it’s always a work in progress, especially at the NHL level. Taking care of your end is a huge part of the game, and then adding offense is obviously another huge part of your game.
“Things have just been going my way, I guess, so far. The main thing is just to keep working hard and realize where my success has been coming from.”
Rochester and Lake Erie (15-13-3) will meet for the third time. The first two were wild, with the Amerks earning a pair of 7-6 victories. They trailed, 5-3 and 6-5, before winning on Foligno’s overtime goal Wednesday at home. They scored four straight goals to win in Cleveland on Dec. 13.
“It’s been more run-and-gun games, and both teams kind of fall into that,” Brennan said. “They have a lot of skill, but we have a lot of skill, too. We’ve just been coming out on top.
“That’s not exactly our game plan there. We want to play a little more disciplined and better defensively, obviously.”
The Amerks will hold a morning skate at 10 in First Niagara Center, with Lake Erie following at 11:15. The skate for both teams will be open to the public. The game will be televised on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel in Rochester and Buffalo.
The Amerks will set a franchise single-game attendance record tonight. The Sabres have added and reconfigured seats, primarily in the 200 Level, and will now host 19,070 in First Niagara Center. The number is symbolic of the team’s 1970 founding. Previous capacity was 18,690.
The Amerks’ record of 17,898 was set Dec. 28, 2004, when they defeated Edmonton in Buffalo during the previous NHL lockout.