January 22, 2016

Potential protégé: Jeff Brown's new-found reliance on Noel Hoefenmayer

It can't be easy for players-turned-coaches not to see a little bit of themselves in their players, no matter how much the game has changed over time.

For years, Brian Kilrea, a long-time gritty center in the minors, made a habit of acquiring tough, shot blocking, two-way forwards for the 67's, the likes of Sebastien Savage and Brody Todd some of his most-sought after mid-season acquisitions.

It appears Jeff Brown is starting to follow the same mould.

However this time around, that coveted player might be one that's a lot more mobile, and can create offence from the back end, just like the bench boss and general manager did three decades ago with the Sudbury Wolves.

Now, there's no conceivable way that Noel Hoefenmayer will duplicate his coach's rookie season.

The game is so much different than it was in the 80's, when Brown scored 46 points as a freshman on the Sudbury blueline, and with young players playing more and more sheltered minutes nowadays, his possible protégé is only just getting top-four minutes as the season progresses.

But there aren't too many better coaches for a young, puck-moving defenceman to learn from, and his coach, who knows a thing or two about offensive d-men, sees a lot of untapped potential.

"It's real hard for 16-year olds to play defence in this league," says Brown, ironically, given his ability to do so quite well.

"I work with him and part of it is letting him know, you don't have to pass up a shot just because you're a rookie."

Hoefenmayer has since turned 17 since Brown spoke about the confidence-building of his young blueliner, and is now into the second half of his first year, where rookie defenders typically become noticeably stronger and better-adapted to the major junior game.

"He definitely knows what he's talking about, everything he says, you have to take it all in," said Hoefenmayer, albeit with the 67's in a rut in December, on his coach who was just starting to give him minutes on the top unit.

"He's been giving me really good advice on the offensive side and overall, and it's always a great opportunity to get this ice time."

Whether it be manning the point with the net empty in the final minute or playing upwards of 20 minutes a night, there will be growing pains.

Thanks in large part to the fact that his biggest minutes were during the 67's roughest patch of the year, he sports a -13 rating, the second-lowest on the team.

But it's invaluable experience, says Brown.

"It's about getting games in, so that down the stretch we know he can be relied on.  I watched him in the GTHL, I've seen how creative he can be, I know what he can do as a defenceman in this league."

Adds Hoefenmayer: "It is a lot different from the GTHL, it's a big difference going from playing half the game to having ice time minimized, but it's still a great opportunity to get used to the league."

If recent patterns and Brown's habit of continually going to the well with his top d-pairings continue, it won't be long until he's playing half the game with regularity at the OHL level.

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