By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
Copyright (c) The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Trading a popular player is sure to get the attention of fans, so when Condors coach Marty Raymond sent Todd Alexander to Dayton, Ohio, last week for Mathieu Brunelle, a lot of questions were raised.
Such as: “Who is Brunelle?”
Now the question may be: “Have you seen Brunelle play?”
Hoping to jump start his offense with the trade of left wingers with contrasting styles, Raymond did just that.
In four games with the Condors last week (three of those on the road), Brunelle scored six goals, added one assist and was plus-five. That was good enough to get the attention of the ECHL office, which named him Player of the Week.
That performance may also have struck a nerve at the offices of his previous employers, who may have wondered where that type of effort had been all season.
Brunelle, a seventh round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002, had a strong rookie season in Trenton, N.J., last season where he scored 26 goals (second most on the team) and finished with 56 points, fifth best among ECHL rookies.
But the Titans did not make the playoffs and when Brunelle rolled back into Trenton last fall there was a new coach on board — Mike Haviland.
It was not a happy marriage.
Brunelle wanted to score; Haviland demands defensive responsibility.
“It’s always been an issue with me — consistency, to play hard every night,” Brunelle, 21, said. “I didn’t do very well at the start of the season.”
After 37 games (12 goals and nine assists), Brunelle found himself traded from a team fighting for a playoff spot to one — Dayton — playing out the season.
“It was a little bit of a lesson,” Brunelle said of his being dealt to Dayton. “I expected to be traded to a team going for a playoff spot.”
If Brunelle thought the situation was bad in Trenton, where he had slipped to the role of a 10th forward, Dayton served as a wake-up call.
“I was not happy there,” Brunelle said of his 13 games in Dayton where he scored six points. “It was kind of boring and losing all the time it was not fun.”
Brunelle had no idea where Bakersfield was when he was told of the trade, but he knew one very important fact: The Condors are battling for first place in the West Division and his new teammates made an impression on him right away.
“This team had a lot of confidence when I came here and you can see it in the way they practice and play,” he said. “I got traded (by Trenton) to a last-place team so I was pretty happy to get traded here and get a chance to prove myself and be in the playoffs.”
Raymond said Brunelle will have every opportunity to do that, as long as he works hard.
“He got a second lease on hockey being traded here and I think he took advantage of it and wanted to impress his teammates,” Raymond said.
Being an offensive-minded player, Raymond knows he needs to allow Brunelle to be creative — but not at all costs.
“I can’t be on him all the time, telling him what to do every game,” Raymond said. “He’s a hockey player and was born with some certain skills. But there’s certain parameters within our system he has to be able to respect. If he does that he’ll play.”
Brunelle said he is dedicated to improving his all around game.
“(Raymond) lets me do what I want in the offensive zone, but obviously he wants me to play defense,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m trying to work on right now.
“With a winning team like this it’s such a good situation to try and improve. There’s an older group of guys here with a lot of experience that can help me learn about the game.”
Brunelle says his goal is to the next level of hockey — he played seven games for the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League during his rookie season — and he’s learned the wrong way to go about that.
The Condors present the opportunity to make the right impression.