Tyler Brennan knows a thing or two about being in the middle of pressure-packed situations.
The top-ranked North American goaltender ahead of the coming NHL draft saw plenty of rubber in his first full Western Hockey League campaign.
It was a nice change after both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons were cut short or stunted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brennan’s understanding of stressful moments, however, goes beyond battling through screens or facing shooters one-on-one.
His father, Jarrod, works as an air traffic controller – a demanding career path requiring laser-sharp focus and a cool demeanour.
Tyler believes some of those attributes rubbed off and helped him on his chosen path.
“Took the genetics a little bit … I love it,” Brennan said when asked to compare dad’s craft and his own. “You don’t really crack under pressure at all. You handle stressful situations really well. I think that comes from just being him and having to do that with this job.
“Being a goalie, it’s a good attribute.”
The younger Brennan once sat in the air traffic control tower for an entire shift to watch and learn.
“Cool to see how he works and everything that’s going on,” recalled the Prince George Cougars netminder. “It put in my mind how stressful that job can be. It just made me appreciate how much work they have to do to keep everyone safe in the sky.
“Gave me a whole other appreciation level.”
Like countless other hockey players with big dreams, Brennan has a new appreciation for the opportunity to lace up his skates.
He played just 19 WHL games and made four international appearances between the opening of the 2019-20 schedule and the start of this past season because of COVID-19 shutdowns.
And there were certainly stressful times for an untested netminder in need of live action to get the attention of scouts.
“That definitely ran through my mind a little bit,” the 18-year-old said. “But my mindset was, ‘When I get the chance to play, I’m going to make the most of it. I’m going to be the best that I can, I’m going to improve in the off-season as much as I can.’
“When I got the opportunity to play and showcase myself, I was going to do that to the best of my ability.”
Brennan finished the 2021-22 schedule with an .899 save percentage and a 3.58 goals-against average on a rookie-filled Prince George team that managed to make the WHL playoffs.
The Winnipeg native then put up a stellar .954 save percentage, allowing seven goals on 153 shots in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Portland Winterhawks.
Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, said Brennan’s numbers – including a pedestrian 11-25-2 mark with four shutouts in the regular season – is secondary at this stage of a goaltender’s development.
“You’re carrying the freight for the team, you see lots of pucks,” Marr said. “Goalies need playing time. They have to learn to be mentally tough to survive at their position and to survive at the NHL level. It’s hard to play on a good team – a winning team – and get the job done. It’s equally hard to play on a team that might not be doing so well.
“As long as they’re playing as the No. 1 [option] on the team at 17, 18 [years old] … that’s a pretty good indicator there’s trust from the organization, trust from teammates.”
Brennan spent parts of the pandemic with one of those teammates on a frigid Prince George outdoor rink in an attempt to stay sharp.
“He shot on me for three hours a day … I was in full gear,” said the 6-foot-4, 185-pound goalie. “Adapted to the situation, made the most of it.”
Brennan made the most of his chance this season with scouts watching. He was NHL Central Scouting’s No. 1-ranked North American netminder at the midterm, and held onto that spot when the final list was released in May.
“He’s grown in a lot of different areas,” Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb said. “He’s just a real smooth, calm person. But the way he plays goal, his technical game is unbelievable for his age.”
And the former NHL centre sees some similarities with one of the game’s best.
“I always say that’s he’s kind of Carey Price-like the way he moves around in that net,” Lamb said. “When he gets playing like that, you feel like he’s not gonna get scored on.
“Everything’s so calm.”
Not unlike what’s required for dad’s job directing traffic in the sky.
“There’s a lot going on in his work,” Brennan said. “There’s a lot going on during a play in the net.
“You’re that last line of defence.”