When Connor Brickley joined the Portland Pirates last week, they had lost five games in a row and sat in the cellar of the American Hockey League’s Atlantic Division.

Head coach Tom Rowe inserted Brickley on the top forward line alongside center Rob Schremp and right wing John McFarland. The Pirates embarked on a three-game winning streak, climbed past three teams and now sit fifth in the eight-team division.

Of course, a lot more went into the team’s turnaround – several players returned from injury (Greg McKegg, Brett Olson) and illness (Dylan Olsen) – but Brickley clearly has played a role in the upswing.

“The guys really like him,” Rowe said. “He keeps things relaxed and that’s what you need. I told him to come in here, have some fun, get your game back in shape and help us win.”

Brickley, 23, and a relative of Boston Bruins NESN color commentator Andy Brickley, was one of the surprises of NHL training camp when he made the Florida Panthers’ roster after only one full AHL season following an often-frustrating four-year collegiate career at the University of Vermont marked by two freak injuries. As a sophomore taking part in the World Juniors tournament in Calgary, Alberta, Brickley collided with an opposing player at center ice. Both fell. When the opponent got up, he stepped over Brickley’s leg and accidentally cut it, severing a hamstring and causing Brickley to miss more than two months.

Then, early in his junior year, Brickley went down to block a shot against Boston University, “and a guy ended up falling and his skate just rode up on my wrist … and cut all my wrist tendons,” said Brickley, who required surgery and missed another nine weeks.

“Things just never took form,” he said of his time at Vermont, where he topped out at 15 points his senior year and managed a four-season total of 21 goals. “Still, it was fun to play there but it kind of stunk for me because I didn’t get to perform as best as I wanted to.”

The Panthers had drafted Brickley in the second round – 50th overall – in 2010, the year he enrolled at Vermont. After his college career ended they sent him to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio for eight games in 2014 and that set the stage for a breakout performance last winter that included 22 goals and 25 assists. He rose from the fourth line to a top-six forward and the team’s second-leading scorer.

“Tom here is really good about giving guys chances,” Brickley said of Rowe, who along with Scott Allen formed San Antonio’s coaching staff before coming to Portland. “Guys who are working hard and playing well, he rewards. There were some injuries early on and I was given more opportunity and I was playing well and I just kind of stuck with it.”

In September, Brickley made the most of an invitation to rookie camp, scoring in all three rookie tournament games and continuing to impress in Florida’s main training camp. The Panthers added him to their opening-day roster and he played in the first 10 games as a fourth-line energy guy. His first (and only) NHL goal turned out to be the game-winner against Carolina. He picked up two assists against Pittsburgh. He played only six minutes against the Bruins, but that was enough to impress the visiting television analyst.

“I thought he played well,” Andy Brickley said. “I thought he was NHL material. I like his skill set. I like his toughness.”

Longtime fans of pro hockey in Portland may remember Andy Brickley starring for the Maine Mariners before carving out a 10-year NHL career. Andy is a first cousin of Craig Brickley, Connor’s dad, and was the last player selected in the 1980 draft. Now 54, Andy Brickley earned All-America honors at the University of New Hampshire before turning pro and joining the Mariners in 1982. He went on to play for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Boston and Winnipeg but also returned to Maine to skate for the Mariners in 1985-86 and 1990-92.

Andy and his brother Quintin, who also played at UNH and enjoyed a brief pro career that included four games with the ’90-91 Mariners, grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts. Their cousin Craig, who played at the University of Pennsylvania and was good enough to be drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1974, grew up in nearby Everett.

“He was a great player at Penn when I was in high school,” said Andy, who once spoke at a banquet for Connor and his older brother Brendan’s youth hockey team. “We skated together in summers.”

As Andy was making the transition from playing to broadcasting, Connor was rising through the youth levels, so their paths rarely crossed. Connor played baseball and football for a time, and as a freshman at the Belmont Hill School was a starting linebacker before embarking on his junior hockey career in Des Moines, Iowa, the following year.

“The physicality of football definitely transfered to the ice,” Connor said. “I stayed away from (offense). I felt like you were a little bit more in control playing defense and actually doing the tackling.”

Brendan, 26, played hockey at the University of New England and is now a police officer in Harwich on Cape Cod. Until last week, the only time Connor had set foot inside Cross Insurance Arena – then known as the Cumberland County Civic Center – was for Brendan’s 2008 graduation ceremony.

“He was always playing up,” Brendan said of his younger brother. “My dad’s philosophy was, if you want to be the best, you have to play with the best. You’re always going to develop if you’re playing with bigger, faster, stronger guys.”

Brendan also revealed another side of his brother from when Connor was trying to gain admission to Belmont Hill, a highly selective prep school.

“There were plenty of kids with good grades and plenty who were good at athletics,” Brendan said. “At the time, Connor was an excellent violinist, and he played it during his interview.”

Kyle Rau, a native of Minnesota who is tied with Schremp for the team lead with six goals, was Brickley’s roommate when both played on the U-18 national team that played in a 2009 tournament in Eastern Europe.

“Portland fans will enjoy watching him,” Rau said. “He plays the game the right way.”