Here’s the first part of a long interview I did with Dustin Brown a few days ago. You’ll note the question, “What would it mean to you to be team captain?” I did the interview before he was announced as captain, so that’s why it’s worded the way it is. Anyway, there will be a big story on Brown in tomorrow’s Daily News, but this is the first part of the long-form interview that I did for the story.
I consider Brown to be a really interesting story on the Kings. He arrived at age 18 and basically sat in the corner and didn’t say anything. Over the last five years he has really evolved, not only as a player but as a man and a teammate. It’s no coincidence that his emergence, in both areas, coincided with the departure of Sean Avery, who really was a miserable teammate to Brown in particular. So I hope you enjoy the first half of the interview with Dustin Brown…
Question: It’s a little startling to think that you were a rookie in 2003. It doesn’t seem possible. Do you remember your first training camp?
BROWN: “A little bit. I remember being overwhelmed at first and then kind of feeling more comfortable as the camp went along. The team then was…it’s so hard to remember the team then. It’s just so different now, but once I made the team…It was a difficult year my first year, in general. I look at this team now, and you’ve got Doughty coming in at (age) 18, and pretty much all our players are under 25. That makes it a little easier, I think, but when I came in, it was (Frolov) and Gleason, and they were both 21 I think, and I was 18, 19, and besides that, everyone was 25 or older, so it was a little different. But we had Luc (Robitaille) and (Ian Laperriere), and especially Lappy, he was a really big help for me my first year.”
Question: I don’t know how deep you want to go into this, but I’ve heard that in your first year, the guys hardly ever invited you to hang out and feel involved. How difficult was that year on you?
BROWN: “It was really difficult, my first year especially. It was a change of lifestyle, really. I was 18. It was just a very unusual situation for me. I would go home after practice and do whatever. The age thing was a big thing for me in my first couple years. One, I wasn’t old enough to do most of the things that the guys were probably doing on nights off. Two, on that team I think the majority of the people were married and had kids, so they had responsibilities elsewhere. You just try to fit in. Maybe you don’t fit in socially, but on the ice you try to fit in. Hockey was the easy part, really.”
Question: I can’t recall, were you living on your own then?
BROWN: “It was a mixture. I started living with a family and then, by November, I started living by myself. December, maybe. Then I lived the rest of the year by myself.”
Question: That must have been quite a transition.
BROWN: “It was different. I lived in Guelph with a billet family, and they were a great family and took care of me, but at the same time I had to fend for myself a lot of the time. But being completely by myself, for one, and then being in this town, that was a little overwhelming. How everything works here is just so different, especially coming from the East Coast. Just how big it is, how many people are here, it’s just a little overwhelming. I had a hard time figuring out where I needed to go for certain things. Stuff that simple was really difficult that year.”
Question: When you look at yourself, can you see how you’ve evolved and how you’ve become maybe more social and more vocal?
BROWN: “Yeah, I definitely do. The same thing happened in junior. I’m one of those people that, until I get to know you really well, I probably won’t come out of my shell. I don’t know how or why I’m that way, but I’m just not that guy who is immediately going to be opening myself up to people who I’m either not comfortable with or don’t know very well. Over the course of the five years I’ve been here, it’s been difficult because every year that I come back, there’s new people. Now it’s a little bit different, because we have a core group of guys that are here and that I’ve known for years, and obviously I’m a little older, which is a big help. To be honest, it’s intimidating to come in when you’re an 18- or 19-year-old and you have guys who are 30, 35 years old. It’s intimidating. So just being around guys who I’ve known for years here has obviously allowed me to open up a little more.”
Question: I don’t think this applies to anyone still here, because it’s just Armstrong and Frolov, but did certain guys on that team make it more difficult for you than it needed to be?
BROWN: “Yeah, definitely. That’s just, I guess, the dynamics of the team during that time. It was difficult, whether I was 18 or 19 and maybe not as social as I could have been. That made it even more difficult, I guess. There’s always — and I shouldn’t say on every team — but there are always teams that have people that are going to make it difficult for other teammates.”
Question: Looking from the outside, that doesn’t make sense to me. Is there any point to it, or was it completely counter-productive to you developing?
BROWN: “I try to take the positives out of everything. Having gone through that experience as an 18-, 19-year-old, I know what it’s like, so if I see that happening around here now, it’s not going to be OK for whoever is doing it, because I know what it feels like to be that 19-year-old and 18-year-old. It’s hard as it is, because you’re so nervous, day in and day out, and then to have someone be on you all the time, it doesn’t help. From that experience, I just take what I felt during that time and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Question: Was there any point for you where it “clicked” on the ice, or was it just a slow process?
BROWN: “Probably a mixture. It was a slow process for the first couple years, and then maybe the first year with (Marc Crawford) I started just not worrying as much, and just playing. Then obviously last year, confidence does wonders in this league. If you believe in yourself, it’s amazing what you can do. The experience thing helps, because you learn every day and every game that you play, you learn something that you didn’t know before. When confidence starts building, it can be scary.”
Question: Looking back, all things considered, did this work out the best way possible for you? You had to go through some things — a tough rookie year, spending the lockout in Manchester — but did it work out for the best in the long term?
BROWN: “I think my first year here was a good learning experience for me personally. It was a tough year. I was injured for a lot of the year, 40 games or whatever. It definitely wasn’t a fun year but it was, I think, a good learning experience for me, maybe to open my eyes a bit about what it takes to stay here and be a team player. Then as bad as the lockout was for a lot of players, I think it was a blessing in disguise for me, because it gave me that year, at the pro level, not to worry about impressing anybody and just focusing on learning the game at this level. It was the AHL, but that year it was a pretty good league, and it gave me that one solid year of playing, day in and day out, at the pro level and on a top line.”
Question: Do you think about what it would mean to be a team captain?
BROWN: “It’s something that I would be thrilled about. It’s a challenge, with such a young team, and I feel I would do good in that role. I think I have the respect of everyone in the room, which wasn’t maybe the case last year. I think that’s just one of those things that comes with time. I had conversations with (Scott Thornton) about it last year. He was at the other end of the spectrum. He had all the respect in the world, from all the players, but not a lot of ice time. I was at the other end of the spectrum, where I had tons of ice time but I kind of had to gain the respect of everyone in the room. I think I did that last year. I think it’s something that obviously is an honor, if it does happen, and something that I’d be real excited about, especially with this team we have here. I think being a leader of this team would be not only fun but also, at the same time, challenging.”
Question: Everybody has different leadership styles and thoughts about what it means to be a leader. What do your see as your philosophy on that?
BROWN: “I’ve never played with these guys, but from what I hear… You look at guys like Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla, I’m sure they say stuff when it needs to be said, but when you look at the way they play, they lead by example. That’s kind of what I pride myself on. Even last year, whether it was the first game of the year or the last game of the year, it was about going out there and showing that you wanted to play. For me, that’s the most important thing, whether there’s a letter on my jersey or not. It’s about showing up every night and showing my teammates that I’m going to be there to battle with them.”