You get the feeling the return of Brendan Brooks to Braehead Clan is an important statement of intent and a glimpse into the direction the club intend to go under new head coach John Tripp.
His return has been mooted for a while now – it’s done the rounds on the rumour mill and this week was finally confirmed with Brooks returning to Glasgow as Richard Hartmann’s replacement following a one year stint with Fife Flyers.
His departure from Fife Ice Arena is a hammer blow for Flyers fans who have already seen Shane Owen, Phil Paquet and captain Ryan Dingle depart, while former Braehead defender Ric Jackman has announced his intention to retire.
It was in Kirkcaldy that Brooks notched up his 1,000th appearance in a career that has taken in stops in North America and Europe and recently led to a Great Britain call-up, with Brooks playing a starring role in earning promotion from World Championship Division 1B at the end of April.
Approaching 39, you would have been forgiven for thinking Brooks’ role in Braehead won’t extend beyond the bench and that Tripp may only deploy him as injury cover. You might be right. Yet you sense that, despite his age, the veteran forward can log bigger minutes if called upon.
Far from slowing down after two seasons in the Elite League, Brooks’ numbers show that he can still be relied upon to put up points.
In his first stint at Braehead two seasons ago, Brooks scored 39 points in 51 EIHL games. Last year under the stewardship of Fife coach Todd Dutiaume, he went even better to register 48 points in 52 games.
But it’s his presence off the ice that may prove to be the most significant part of this move. Make no mistake, it’s a shrewd bit of business. Brooks knows the league and he knows the club.
He has made it unequivocally clear that had it been up to him he would never have left to join Fife last summer, describing his return west as him ‘coming home’.
Oddly, the Canadian provides a sense of continuity amidst considerable change and will be a veteran presence in the locker room, something that is desperately needed at Braehead Arena.
With big figures such as captain Matt Keith, Alex Leavitt and Jay Rosehill all departing this off-season, that is a void that needs filling and the acquisition of Brooks goes some way to filling it.
Then you have to consider that, in coaching terms, Tripp is still an unknown quantity. While this is Brooks’ first taste of life behind the bench he is less experienced than the new Clan coach, but his presence can be an asset when it comes to recruitment and he can also aid Tripp in acclimatising to the league and his new surroundings.
All the signs at this stage point to a full scale clear out under Tripp. Understandably there are some Clan fans who are a little restless, though they would do well to remember that recruitment last off-season began in earnest only to fail to deliver the kind of season that Braehead fans and the front office expected.
Priority number one for some Clan fans is to provide clarity on the future of prolific forward Scott Pitt, while it remains unclear if the likes of star forward Matt Beca and the injured Mike Hammond will return for a second season.
It is little surprise, however, that one of the immediate tasks for Tripp and Brooks will be shoring up a leaky rearguard that proved unable to provide any semblance of stability for last year’s number one netminder Michal Zajkowski.
Tripp has already identified this as the first port of call in the recruitment stakes, hinting that a defender or the club’s new number one netminder might be the first import signing of note this off-season.
There is no knowing where Braehead might have ended up last season had their defence been even half as consistent as their forward corps. It is no secret that it was the forwards who carried the team and bailed out a shaky defensive unit for much of the season.
It is also common knowledge that the club remain as ambitious as ever. Whether internally they believe that have enough to mount a serious push this season, or whether 2017/18 is simply a campaign of consolidation given the considerable upheaval, is certainly less clear.
Play-off shortcomings under Ryan Finnerty proved decisive in Braehead parting company with the Canadian at the conclusion of last season. Tripp’s task, which by extension is also Brooks’, is to put a winning product on the ice and, in the long run, challenge for the title.
Braehead will enter next season in the now exclusively Scottish Gardiner Conference as heavy favourites for the crown.
Managing that expectation and, perhaps more importantly, proving their competitiveness in cross-conference fixtures will go a long way to determining whether the Clan can mount a serious title challenge.
Brooks though provides the first cornerstone of that rebuild, and the first step towards that goal. Moreover his presence as a veteran figure in the GB squad this spring, coupled with his extensive playing experience, means he is ideally placed to help mentor the burgeoning Brit core in Glasgow which cannot be a bad thing.
His popularity with the Clan support and his familiarity will be an asset as Tripp embarks on his first season as a coach outside of the DEL2 in Germany. It also highlights why Brooks has been welcomed back with such open arms.
An expanded 12-team league next season has almost unanimously been met with interest and anticipation. In Braehead’s rebuilding job, with Brooks at its heart, we already have one of our more intriguing sub-plots to the next campaign.
(Image permission: Dean Woolley)