LOS ANGELES — Talk about feeling like you just got hit by the proverbial ton of bricks…
At about 1:00 PM PDT on April 28, 2022, the Los Angeles Kings announced that veteran forward and former team captain Dustin Brown will retire after the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
My first thought was, “this is the end of an era in Los Angeles Kings hockey,” and what an era it has been.
Before going further, let me state for the record that until this season, when I had to place my coverage of the Kings on hold, due to some important obligations, not to mention undergoing four separate eye surgeries (still recovering, but it’s going well), I have had the good fortune, the honor, and the privilege of covering Brown’s entire National Hockey League career. It’s extremely disappointing that I’ve had to miss his final NHL season, in person, anyway.
Of course, I then thought about the sight so many Kings fans had yearned so desparately to see…Brown hoisting the Stanley Cup on June 11, 2012, becoming the first player to do so while wearing a Kings jersey. He would repeat that feat in 2014.
Then I thought back to when he was drafted by the Kings in 2003. Unlike what many thought would happen, he wasn’t assigned to the minor leagues when their 2003 training camp ended. Instead, his career with the Kings began right away, and he never looked back.
Even though he was the quiet, maybe even shy, kid in the dressing room back then—his speech impediment had a lot to do with that, no doubt, he let his play do the talking. He showed some offensive skill, but perhaps more important, he had a gritty edge to his play. Physical play—his reputation for being a big hitter was earned very early in his NHL career.
But what wasn’t obvious, at least, not that early in his career, was how much of a sponge he was. Apparently, he was taking in everything, learning what the veterans did, both on the ice and off. He also learned what not to do or emulate from some of his former teammates, as well—he defintely had a few bad examples of what being a good teammate meant, and to his credt, he took notice in the right way.
As the seasons came and went, Brown established himself as a skilled NHL forward, usually playing on the team’s top line with star center Anze Kopitar.
Who can forget the breakaway goal that Brown scored on December 27, 2010, in San Jose, after Kopitar lifted a lob pass from the Kings blue line, over a Sharks defender, to Brown? What a breathtaking play that was.
Then there were the rumors swirling around the Kings about Brown being traded in the weeks just prior to the 2012 trade deadline. At the deadline, then-Kings Governor Tim Leiweke told Brown that he would not be traded. That night, Brown scored a hat trick, leading his team to a big win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center in Los Angeles, starting the Kings on their big push near the end of the 2011-12 season, just to qualify for post-season play that year. It was a clutch performance that helped put the Kings solidly on the road to their first Stanley Cup Championship.
In that 2012 run to the Stanley Cup Championship, Brown and Kopitar both scored eight goals and contributed twelve assists for twenty points during the playoffs, tying for the league lead in playoff scoring. Then there was Brown’s huge hit on Vancouver Canucks forward Henrik Sedin during Game 3 of the first round of the 2012 playoffs, a hit that had as much to do with the Kings going on to eliminate the Canucks and to winning their first Stanley Cup Championship as did anything else during that magical playoff run.
Watching Brown grow, from the quiet, fairly shy person off the ice, to become a fierce, yet still somewhat quiet, lead-by-example kind of team captain, has been remarkable. His high level of character has shined as bright as the North Star on a clear night. After all, he has been the kind of player who would take young players under his wing. He put in 100 percent in every game, even when banged up, and even though his brand of hockey was so physical. He gave his all, and that rubbed off on his teammates.
To be sure, most will remember Brown for his accomplishments on the ice, and rightly so. But for this reporter, what is just as memorable has been what I’ve witnessed of him off the ice.
In addition to being a tremendous leader in the dressing room, outside of the arena and the practice facility, Brown has devoted a lot of time and money to programs and projects in the local community, and he has encouraged his teammates to do the same. He has also taken the time to get to know everyone in the Kings organization—something a lot of captains don’t bother with—and not just the hockey operations staff. Indeed, he has taken the time to find out who everyone was, what they did, and what the Kings were doing in the community, so that he could figure out how he could best support those efforts.
Brown also took the time to learn the history of the franchise. Perhaps the most poignant example of that came after the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012‚ something else that you don’t often see from team captains. Brown sought out now-retired “Voice of the Kings,” Bob Miller, during the on-ice celebration. He wanted to make sure that Miller, their legendary broadcaster, got to hoist the Stanley Cup.
That was a clasic example of Brown’s class, and the respect he has for the game, the Kings, and for the fans. In fact, Brown often went out of his way to do these kinds of things, and they became routine for him—sometthing that a captain should do.
To be sure, Brown set a standard that a lot of NHL players should aspire to reach.
Considering what the player and person that he has become, Brown reminds a lot of older Kings fans (and media) of former Kings right wing Dave Taylor, who, as Kings general manager, selected Brown in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Taylor was not just a highly skilled player who could score. Indeed, he was the guy who did the dirty work in the corners. He played a physical game, took a great deal of punishment from opposing defensemen in front of the net—he let his play do the talking, usually choosing to lead by example. He would go on to become, arguably, the morning toKings’ greatest captain. Yes, greater than The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, who was the greatest player to play for the Kings…not to mention the greatest player in NHL history.
Off the ice, Taylor devoted time and money to several community service endeavors, including supporting efforts to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis, among other worthy causes.
Does all of that sound familiar? Indeed, Brown became a very similar player to Taylor, both on the ice and off. Very skilled, although Taylor had a better scoring touch. High character. A leader on the ice, in the dressing room, and in the community.
Indeed, one would be hard pressed to identify a lot of major differences between the two players. Both were stars in their own right. They played similar styles, similar roles. As captains, they led by example, choosing to let their play do the majority of their talking. They both displayed solid leadership off the ice and in the community, as well.
But the difference between the two is that Brown led his Kings team to two Stanley Cup Championships, which sets him apart. Indeed, as Brown has passed Taylor as the Kings’ all-time leader in games played, he has also surpassed Taylor in another category.
There is no doubt that Dustin Brown now wears the crown as the King of Kings.
LEAD PHOTO: Dustin Browm addresses the Staples Center crowd during the Los Angeles Kings 2012 Stanley Cup Championship celebration on June 14, 2012. Photo by David Sheehan/Frozenroyalty.net
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