These days, J.T. Brown takes a peek over his shoulder and likes seeing Syracuse coach Jon Cooper behind him instead of standing behind the opposing bench.
While Brown, a prized college free agent signed by the Lightning out of Minnesota-Duluth last season, was lighting it up for Waterloo in the United States Hockey League, Cooper was coaching the Green Bay Gamblers. During Brown's two years in Waterloo, his team lost 16 of the 18 matchups against Green Bay, which included a pair of three-game playoff sweeps.
"We were a good team, we just never could figure out how to beat him,'' Brown said. "But it just goes to show that he's a good coach. He was a winner at junior, he's a winner, and obviously what he did last year (winning an AHL championship), you have to be a pretty good coach do that at two different levels.''
Brown figured to make the jump from college straight to the NHL this year after fitting in with the Lightning during a five-game showcase at the end of last season.
But with the NHL mired in a lockout, Brown's first professional season started this year in Syracuse. He is coming off his first hat trick as a pro after scoring goals on his first two shifts Sunday against Worcester before capping his three-goal, four-point performance with a goal late in the third in a 6-1 Crunch victory.
The Burnsville, Minn., native said he is starting to adapt to the way the game is played at the professional level.
"I felt a lot of times in college that a lot of it would be a track meet, and it is a lot more systems involved here,'' Brown said. "The main thing to me was just making sure you stay with the system. If you do the right things on defense it's going to go to offense.''
Brown was slowed at the start of the season with a minor injury that cost him four games, but the 22-year-old winger has started to pick up his game.
"He's done a really good job so far after practice and doing little things and stuff like that just kind of guiding me and making me sure that I'm playing the game the way he needs me to play,'' Brown said of Cooper. "It is a little bit of a learning curve, obviously, coming to a new coach in a different style, but I definitely like our coaching staff. I think that we have one of the best, probably I'd say the best, in the league.''
As Brown has started to become accustomed to life in the pro ranks, Cooper is becoming accustomed to seeing a different type of player than he saw back when the two were adversaries in the USHL. Back then, Brown was a top-line player expected to score using primarily his speed and skill, but he now has an element to his game Cooper never had the chance to see.
"I completely underestimated him, because the parts that I am really noticing now — him being fearless, being first in corners, all of those sorts of things — he did not have those elements when I coached against him,'' Cooper said. "To me, he was just an open-ice player, and he was a good one, but again I just didn't know he had those other intangibles to his game, and that is what really has impressed me.''
During his four-game absence from the lineup, Brown sat and watched games with Syracuse video coach Brian Garlock, which helped him understand the system better and gave him a better perspective on the way Cooper wants the team to play.
"He was very ready to adapt, so that's what I really liked about what he did,'' Cooper said. "And then you couple in there that he's a really gutty kid, he's fearless when he goes out there, he doesn't go into corners and pull up. I think that was the part that you really say "Wow, there's going to be some light at the end if the tunnel for this kid.' ''
NHL LOCKOUT UPDATE
How long: 10 weeks
What has been missed: 22 Lightning games (11 home, 11 road)
What will be lost next: Three games — Thursday at Ottawa, Saturday at Winnipeg, Tuesday vs. Philadelphia
Last negotiations: Nov. 21 in New York
Next negotiations: Expected to resume today involving federal mediators at an undisclosed location
LIGHTNING AFFILIATE UPDATE
SYRACUSE CRUNCH (AHL)
Record: 12-3-2, first in East Division
Last week: Finished 2-1; Lost to Binghamton 2-1; Beat Albany 4-1; Beat Worcester 6-1
Leading scorers: Tyler Johnson (13 G, 7 A), Cory Conacher (9 G, 9 A), Richard Panik (8 G, 8 A), Ondrej Palat (2 G, 14 A), Brett Connolly (6 G, 10 A).
Goaltenders: Dustin Tokarski (8-2-1, 1.89 GAA, .917 save percentage), Riku Helenius (4-2, 3.08 GAA, .876 save percentage)
The week ahead: Friday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton; Saturday at Connecticut; Sunday at Binghamton
FLORIDA EVERBLADES (ECHL)
Record: 7-7-4, fourth in South Division
Last week: Finished 1-1-1; Beat Colorado 7-4; Lost to Colorado 6-5 in a shootout; Lost to Colorado 4-1
Lightning prospects: LW Alex Hutchings (8 G, 9 A), D Charles Landry (1 G, 5 A), D Dan Milan (1 G, 0 A), G Pat Nagle (4-4-1, 3.46 GAA, .885 save percentage)
The week ahead: Friday and Saturday vs. Greenville