Red Wings' Damien Brunner enjoying first taste of NHL playoffs
Detroit Red Wings centre Damien Brunner celebrates after scoring against the Chicago Blackhawks during the NHL Western Conference semifinal series in Chicago, May 15, 2013. (REUTERS/Jim Young)
Damien Brunner had one eye on the Chicago Blackhawks and another on the world hockey championship taking place in Sweden on Sunday.
With a day off before Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference semifinal, the Detroit Red Wings winger was able to keep tabs on his Swiss countrymen competing for gold at the Worlds.
Had he not been in the thick of a playoff series, Brunner would be in Europe trying to help Switzerland beat Sweden in the final.
“Yes, it’s a really big day for Swiss hockey,” Brunner said. “It’s going to be more fun walking into the dressing room in the morning and getting all the money (from wagers on the contest).”
Switzerland’s miss has been the Red Wings’ gain this year.
Having come over from the Swiss league following the lockout, Brunner represents the Red Wings’ next generation of stars who are contributing to the team’s success now.
Brunner has four goals in the playoffs for the Red Wings, including one in a 4-1 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 2 Saturday.
“He scores. He wants the puck and he scores,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “Anybody who wants the puck, and plays with the kind of speed, he is valuable to us.
“He’s a guy that started the year in the top six and now he plays on the third line, which is probably a good spot for him. He’s going to get better because he’s going to get bigger and stronger. He’s going to understand the league more. He’s better defensively already. We think we have a good player there.”
Brunner, 27, signed as a free agent with the Red Wings last summer after a couple of dominant seasons in Switzerland. He stepped into a young Red Wings lineup and was able to collect 12 goals and 26 points in 44 regular-season games this season.
So far, he’s enjoying his first taste of NHL playoff hockey.
“It’s an experience, the travel, playing every other day,” Brunner said. “We got used to that during the regular season, but it’s more intense and all the fans are into it, it’s a lot of fun.
“I knew it was going to be intense and tough and we went the full seven games right away. On the other side, it’s hard to expect something that you’ve never been in. I’m enjoying it.”
The Red Wings are happy to have Brunner around both on and off the ice. His outgoing personality has made him a favourite in the locker room.
“I don’t think he gets what’s going on,” smiled Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. “He doesn’t understand the realm of things and what could possibly happen as the playoffs unfold. He’s in a good mood every single day. He always has a smile on his face and when he’s out there he’s competing hard and pucks are going in for him.”
Brunner has found success playing on a line with Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson. The third line has been strong for the Red Wings, particularly in their own end.
“I think we have pretty good chemistry and I really enjoy playing with those two guys, they’re great guys off the ice too,” Brunner said. “We’re having fun together and we support each other. You just try to put shifts together, get some offensive-zone time, keep the puck away from them and get some momentum.”
The development of the trio as a third line is one of the reasons for the Red Wings’ success this season. “They played great for us and the have a really responsible guy in the middle with (Andersson),” said Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall. “That line has been huge for us.
“(Brunner) is a sniper, that’s what he’s been doing all season long for us. So we’re happy to have him. He finds a way to get those goals. He’s such an easy-going guy. He always has a smile on his face, he’s one of those guys that’s fun to be around.”