The Lone Star Brahmas got off to a slow start last year and finally started to turn things around in the December time frame. A key component to the change in direction was the trade that brought Chicago area native and goalie TJ Black to the team.
Black’s first game action in a Brahmas sweater came in late November and his first three decisions were all 3 – 1 losses. He picked up a point in a shootout loss in game four before taking back-to-back wins against the defending Robertson Cup National Champion Amarillo Bulls. “For me there wasn’t a lot of huge adjustments I had to make last year by coming in halfway through the season,” said Black. “The game was just a little faster with more highly skilled players. It took a few games to adjust to the speed, but after that I felt like the game started to really slow down for me.” TJ is a confident netminder and was sure he had the ability to play in the NAHL. “I think I really found my groove when I got my first wins in the sweep against Amarillo.”
Along the way TJ proved to be one of the better young goalies in the league finishing among league leaders in Wins, Shutouts, Goals Against Average and Save Percentage. Down the stretch he grabbed 13 of a possible 16 points in his last eight starts. He was honored as the Easton South Division Star of the Week once and Second Star Twice.
Black had been preparing for his opportunity for many years. “I knew I wanted to become a goalie after watching Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche win the 2001 Stanley Cup,” he explained. “I was around 5 years old and quickly started copying everything he did on the ice. I love all of the pressure being a goalie has to bring. It’s a lot of fun when you can either pump up the home crowd with a big save, or completely silence the other team’s fans for a whole game.” While he was a Roy fan and looked to the Hall of Famer as a model to build his game around, Black’s real inspiration came from within his own home. “Growing up my greatest hockey inspiration was my parents because they always supported me. My dad started playing when I started so he could help me learn the game. He was the one who drove me to those 6:00 in the morning Sunday practices. My parents continue to be my biggest fans and have always believed in me.”
Asked to describe his style of play, TJ used words such as quick, athletic and smart. “Being a smaller goalie, I have to be really fast and athletic to move around the net. It’s important to read the play, battle through screens and have great rebound control.” There have been other goaltenders such as Carey Price and Jonathan Quick who have influenced different components of his game because of their technique and athleticism. “The style I play is very technical so I need to be smart about how I want to make saves. For example, stay up on high shots and don’t give up any rebounds.”
Because of his smaller size teams tried to disrupt his play setting screens and putting a lot of bodies in front. Black had to adjust on the fly and learn to compensate for the heavy traffic. “I learned how to look through the player’s legs that is screening me instead of trying to look over his shoulder. I found this to be more beneficial because most shots that I’m screened on are going low and that way I’m already down on the ice.”