(OAKVILLE, ON) It’s a day off for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Andrew Brewer is hard at work. In fact, it’s days off when Brewer likely works the hardest.
In hockey, a day off is any day the team isn’t playing. The Leafs don’t play on this day, but they did play the night before, on the road. That means Brewer didn’t get home until after 2:30AM. But, before 10:00AM, he’s up and reviewing video of the team’s next opponents.
“I’m seeing what their alignments are off the faceoff and what they do off of wins and losses, on each side of the goalie,” says Brewer, one of the Maple Leafs’ assistant coaches.
After watching every faceoff two or three times, Brewer makes notes for the other assistants and head coach Mike Babcock. It’s a job that can be traced back to Brewer’s days at the University of New Brunswick.
In the fall of 2007, Brewer put together a video as part of a project for a marketing class. The video commemorated UNB’s 2007 national university hockey championship. It caught the eye of Varsity Reds’ coach Gardiner MacDougall, who eventually enlisted Brewer to work with his team. “I got more involved, first as a video coach, then as an assistant coach, going on the ice for practice, helping the team more and more.”
Brewer says that opportunity led him to where he is today. “I kept on getting great opportunities at UNB and I was able to turn them into something bigger.”
Brewer played hockey, but never at a high level. His father, Perley, who provides colour commentary on Varsity Reds’ webcasts, was a goalie coach in the American Hockey League. He also served on coaching staffs at UNB and St. Thomas University. “Where I don’t have any formal training in video or even hockey, so to speak, the things I learned at UNB really helped make me able to do my job at the NHL level, “ says Brewer.
From UNB, Brewer joined Hockey Canada as a video coach, beating out more than 250 other candidates to get the job.
In that position, Brewer was tasked to help prepare Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia. That’s where he met Mike Babcock. “I have a great relationship with Mike,” says Brewer. “We started working together about 18 months before the Sochi Olympics. We just work well together. I feel that I can help him get the information that he needs and we think along the same lines.”
The relationship that started with Sochi eventually took Brewer to Detroit, where he joined Babcock’s staff with the Red Wings. When Babcock left Detroit for Toronto, earlier this year, he took Brewer with him.
Brewer says working for a second ‘Original Six’ NHL franchise is a dream come true. “At the end of the day, you get paid to watch hockey, which almost everyone in Canada does for free or pays a ton of money to do, so it’s just an honour to have a job like that.”
While he analyzes video, Brewer isn’t an analytics guy, at least not yet. He provides some analysis, but believes his strength is providing information. “My niche, I’d say, is that I try and make the people around me even better than they already are… and giving them whatever information I can to help them do their jobs better and help the players do their jobs better.”
He spends his days pouring over video of teams the Maple Leafs will face. Brewer says what he does during the NHL regular season is no different than what he did ahead of the Sochi Games or last year’s playoffs. “It’s amazing how much preparation you’ll do, even for a Thursday night game in Nashville, just so you’ll know what every person on the ice does and try and make sure we’re the best prepared team on the ice.” And Brewer acknowledges, Babcock and the other assistants only use five to ten percent of the information he assembles. “I try to make sure Mike has every piece of information, whether it’s video, whether it’s stats, whatever he needs for him to be able to prepare the team to the best of his ability.”
It’s work that doesn’t go unnoticed by Babcock. The coach recently told mapleleafs.com that Brewer’s role is one of coaching concierge. “He looks after us and makes sure everything is done right. We try to provide a lot of information to the coaches so we can get the best stuff to the guys and not wear them out at the same time.”
“I don’t think people understand how busy they are,” Maple Leafs forward Shawn Matthias told mapleleafs.com of Brewer and the other assistants. “They’re constantly working, they do a lot for us and they help in many ways.”
Mike Babcock has been described as prickly and intense, but Brewer has seen a different side to the coach. “When my son broke his arm last year, he came over to the house, brought some goodies, signed his cast, played hockey in the basement with him.” Brewer says Babcock simply wants to succeed. “He has a job to do and I think he does his job at the highest level. He’s just like us, he puts his shoes on the same way and goes to work every day and he treats the people around him really well.”
As for succeeding, Brewer’s 2007 class project has turned into a dream job in the NHL. “In 2007, when I made that video, I never thought it would lead to me working in the National Hockey League, but I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
And while he’s celebrated Olympic gold, walked in opening ceremonies, even enjoyed the thrill of a brief Stanley Cup playoff run, Brewer admits one of his greatest hockey memories happened at home. “When we won the national championship in 2011, at the University of New Brunswick, having my son on the ice with me to get the gold medal, having my family in the stands, that was something I’ll never forget.”