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Practice Update: Brooks Clicking With Clune and Rychel

As the Marlies stare down a five-game road trip that will take them through four cities and three different states, they will look to continue building on a four-game winning streak that stretches back to New Year’s Eve.

In that span, they’ve scored five goals or more in three games and have outscored opponents 19-6 over that time. While strong performances from the top line of Kasperi Kapanen, Miro Aaltonen and Andreas Johnsson have helped power the scoring, there’s a new combination that’s also producing at a point-per-game clip over that span.

The Marlies newest line that’s finding offensive success is a mix between a veteran leader with 139 career NHL games, an AHL All-Star with 37 NHL appearances and a rookie looking to build on a 130-point junior season.

Meet the trio of Rich Clune, Kerby Rychel and Adam Brooks, who are bringing a whole new meaning to the idea of an energy line.

Brooks, the rookie centre that scored 43 times in his last WHL season but was unable to find the back of the net until the December 31 game against Belleville, is hitting a new stride between Clune and Rychel on a line that works hard and has formed chemistry, leading to results. After scoring that first tally, Brooks has added a pair in the three games since.

“Both guys [Clune and Rychel] to me have played some of their best hockey of the season, and as a result the puck is in the offensive zone a lot more and it’s made things a little bit easier for Brooks that way,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe of Brooks’ recent performance. “Once you score and things start to go your way, it helps your confidence greatly. An offensive guy that’s used to scoring and having your way, that’s a big part of it. And I think all of those things coming together are helping him.”

“I imagine when coaches go to draw up lines, they may feel that some lines would work well and it doesn’t end up working, but then there’s sort of a line that forms out of the blue and it works. I think that’s been the story with our line,” Clune said from Charlotte. “I think Kerby Rychel has taken a huge step this year and he’s played very well for us, he’s a big body, skates well and has great skill. And I think Brooks is starting to have some success after going through a bit of an adjustment period in the first half of the season which is to be expected from a 20-year-old.”

While Brooks has been penning his name on the scoresheet of late, it’s not just his scoring touch that’s made the line so dangerous. The trio plays a complete game that wears down opponents with Clune bringing a physical game and fighting in the corner for loose pucks while Rychel has a nose for the net, evidenced by his team-leading 84 shots on goal this season. Combined, the three make up a line that’s a threat to not only score, but lay a game-changing hit or hem in an opposing defence with a strong offensive zone shift.

“I think [Brooks] gets into spots and puts himself in good positions to receive the puck and make plays. So, being on his line I’m just trying to do what I do, and not do too much,” Clune said of the line’s makeup. “I think I really try to just move in straight lines and play an aggressive, physical game and get my linemates the puck. The more I can get the puck to Rychel and Brooks and find space, the more success I think I’ll have personally and I think it just bodes well for our line when the puck is in their two hands.”

“Obviously playing with Rychel and Clune, first of all they’re really easy guys to play with,” Brooks said after practice this week. “They go in and get pucks, and you know they work hard so we seem to have a lot of offensive zone shifts and that’s going to translate to success.”

In addition to the on-ice results, the experience for Brooks is also an important part of his development during his first year of pro hockey both on and off the ice.

“Brooks has two guys on either side of him that are experienced in the league and they work extremely hard,” added Keefe. “I think both guys recognize that Brooks is a young guy that needs support, so I think they’ve been able to provide that both on the bench and on the ice in terms of the work they put in.”

“You learn a lot. Obviously Dicky has been around for a long time and is always telling me stuff on the bench, and he’s been really good for me and [Bracco] off the ice as well, in the gym and stuff like that,” Brooks said. “[Rychel] was an all-star last year and has played games in the NHL, so they’re both guys that have been around for a while and they teach you little things in and out of the game that you just want to take in.”

“Between [Greening] and I, we’ve been around for a while, and I don’t think there’s any secret to what we do,” Clune said of the messages he and Colin Greening provide off the ice to the Marlies rookies. “We just hit the repeat button everyday, we’re both interested in continuing to learn more about ourselves, and have an open mind, specifically some of the messages we have for the young guys is just to push yourself everyday and take pride in your body and in your work.”

“Those guys are in the best shape of anyone I’ve ever played with so you see what they do, you see how they eat, how they work in the gym, stuff like that,” Brooks said.

With the road trip kicking off Friday and the Marlies preparing for two straight games against a high-scoring Checkers team, the priority remains on playing the system.

Rich Clune and Kerby Rychel are forechecking in the offensive zone

“I think we have to just keep playing the right way. There’s a way we want to play, a proper way that the coaches get us to play,” Brooks said of the team’s focus for this weekend. “When we play that way, we’re a really dangerous team and when we get away from it, we seem to struggle so as long as we keep it going on the road and playing that way, I think we’ll be fine.”

“We’re just going to look to continue to play better and build on the things we’ve done over our last few games, essentially break it down into this weekend in Charlotte and go from there,” Clune added.

The weekend starts Friday night at 7:00 and fans can tune in to the game on AHL Live or listen to Todd Crocker’s call online at marlies.ca.

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