Full Disclosure: What I will embark on in this featurette is an ode to the leadership of Dustin Brown, the only Kings captain to hoist the Stanley Cup. This is in no way a slight to the current captain, the greatness of Wayne Gretzky, or any previous captains. This is column of appreciation. Don’t read anything else into it during the Jewels From The Crown Month of Thankfulness.
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Prior to the game against the Rangers on Sunday, the Kings had not been good. They had the NHL’s worst goal differential at minus-18 and had scored the league’s fewest goals with 18, standing at 2-7-1. In other words, terrible.
We were all pining for the return of Dustin Brown. We were craving his leadership by example. Surely, he would fix the power play. We needed that old time hockey that only Brownie delivers. The guy everyone wanted to be picked up in the expansion draft had regained his savior status. How? Simply by the Kings looking lost on the ice without him for ten games.
And just like that, he delivered, picking up the lose change off an Ilya Kovalchuk blast and depositing it past poor Hank Lundqvist. Hope was restored as the Kings came back from two down to win 4-3.
Even as they sit in the National Hockey League cellar and the cries go out to #LoseForHughes, things feel better with Brown mowing down opposing players and giving us fans back the never say die attitude. He delivers the magic that was missing with all the intangibles he delivers.
I really felt his absence during the six-game losing streak when John Stevens called out some of the players, asserting their lack of effort. At work, I never call out my officemates when they underperform. I figure out a way to show them how I would deliver results. Somehow it usually works itself out. Maybe I learned that from Brownie. During all those years in a Kings uniform, I never heard of him criticizing a teammate publicly or privately. Not once. Not during his entire career.
I mean, what was the point? Everyone already knew Brown is their best leader — why undermine his teammate’s confidence by making them doubt themselves, or even worse, making them wonder if he believed in them? How was that beneficial?
Brown believes that a hockey team only achieves its potential if everyone embraces their roles — you figure out what you have, split the responsibilities and you’re off. The less thinking, the better.
When Brown joined the team for his first full season in 2005-2006, I was already a thirty-year die hard, still dreaming about putting non-existent Stanley Cup patches on my Kings limited edition letterman’s jacket. I had stopped going to Kings games regularly. We were bad and the place was dead. I won three sets of tickets one day and was able to see him in his first full season. Brown came in and transformed everything.
He wasn’t just a wrecking ball; he changed the way his teammates played. He brought everyone to a higher place. Dustin Brown’s game and the emotion he created in Los Angeles was palpable, and it still is. Does that make him Superman?
Not close, but actually close in a sense.
He wasn’t saving lives or leaping tall buildings in a single bound. He didn’t make downtown safer or rescue kittens from trees. That being said, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without him. He eased me out of a mid-life crisis and our hair got grayer together over the years. He won two Stanley Cups and the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award. He helped save my love of hockey and rejuvenated a wobbling Kings franchise.
Ever since I was five years old, I loved hockey more than just about anything. Accidentally, enigmatically, luckily, the greatest ice team leader of my lifetime landed on my team in my jaded years. I had the privilege of watching him, day in and day out, since then. His work ethic and his competitiveness rubbed off on his teammates. He always rose to the occasion when it mattered. His sacrifice is contagious. When you watch him long enough, you start to see the angles he was seeing; instead of reacting to what just happened, you reacted to the play as it was happening.
Almost 13 years have passed since that first night I saw him – with tickets I won on the radio – and I still haven’t stopped marveling at how he makes people better. Maybe Dustin Brown isn’t Superman, but he sure as heck seems like it.
Some players transcend the ice and their humble quotes showcase why they are special. Here are five of my favorite Brownie quotes I have assembled from over his career:
“I think it’s important to be hard on the other team’s top player and I make an effort of finishing my checks. But those big, impact hits? They just happen.”
“LA is one of those towns where if you want to get noticed, you have to win.”
“I felt like we had a team that could do a lot if we got there and started playing together. We felt like we owed it to the fans here to take a shot.”
“If I’m going to take a penalty, I want it to be because I ran a guy through the boards.”
“We’re starting to see people get pretty excited about the Kings right now, and that’s nice from a player’s standpoint, but probably more important for those die-hard fans that have been here through the 45 years.”