ITHACA, N.Y. -- Dustin Brown was the 13th pick by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2003 NHL Draft that will likely go down as one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- in League history.
He played in 31 games that following season and has lived in and played for Los Angeles ever since, save for the 2004-05 campaign when he lived in Manchester while playing for the Kings' minor-league affiliate in New Hampshire during the work stoppage.
SUMMER WITH STANLEY
Dustin Brown's day with the CupBy Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
A rainy day in Ithaca, N.Y. couldn't put a damper on Dustin Brown's day with the Stanley Cup, as he brought the greatest trophy in sports to his hometown for family and friends to enjoy.
READ MORE ›
That's nearly a decade in Southern California that culminated with the Kings winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in June with Brown as the team's captain. It would be pretty easy for the 27-year-old to have "gone Hollywood" with all that success, but during his time with the Stanley Cup in his hometown of Ithaca, N.Y., this weekend, it seems he hasn't changed all that much or lost sight of what's important.
Brown is now a husband and father of three boys -- Jake, 4, Mason, 3, and Cooper, 1 -- and he and his wife, Nicole, purchased a home in Ithaca last year. The couple felt it was important to have a summer home here to show their boys there's more to their lives than just hockey and Los Angeles.
"A lot of that was my wife and I still had family here," said Brown, who has been with Nicole since the two were in high school together. "With three young boys, we thought it was important they know who we grew up with. It's tough when you're in L.A. We get visitors -- my family, her family. But it's a little different scenario. I don't have as much free time there.
"You get used to L.A. weather, I'll tell you that much. That's what I told her when she was buying the house -- air conditioner and make sure there's a pool or make sure we have room to put a pool in. Those were my only requirements for coming back here."
Brown's three sons will probably have a hard time remembering their dad's weekend with the Cup when they get older -- especially Cooper, who was unable to take part in the wild tour of Ithaca because he was sick Saturday and sporting a cast on his tiny left foot after hurting himself while playing a few weeks ago.
"They don't understand yet," Brown said, "but it will be cool when they grow up."
The Cup arrived at Brown's home at about 8 a.m. with heavy rains following right behind it. It was Cooper's big chance to play with the Cup in the dry garage, but he was more interested in playing with the toy cars.
Jake and Mason, who gained fame for drinking chocolate milk out of the Cup when Brown had it for a stretch in Los Angeles, placed their miniature replica Stanley Cups inside the real one while clad in their Star Wars pajamas.
Jake tried to climb into the Cup, something that was allowed in California but not allowed in Ithaca. Jake didn’t quite understand the change in protocol, but Brown explained the situation quite succinctly.
"Daddy didn't know all the rules then," he told his disappointed son.
With the rain showing no signs of slowing, Cup keeper Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame backed his SUV into the garage, loaded the Cup into the back, and a small group of Brown's family and friends headed to Ithaca High School, where Brown won a hockey state championship as a ninth grader.
But instead of the morning appearance being a stroll down memory lane, it was about giving fans a chance to take a picture with the Cup on the football field and raise money for Nicole's cousin, Christopher Bordoni, a Marine who lost his life this year due to injuries suffered in Afghanistan.
About 1,000 fans showed with the rain still pouring for the three-hour event on the football field that started at 9 a.m., with some arriving as early as 4 a.m. to get a spot in line. The picture with the Cup was free, but the Brown family asked those attending to donate what they could and purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win an autographed miniature Stanley Cup from Brown and a photo with the returning hero.
The Browns raised about $15,000, with all of the money going to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit set up to provide immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
"It was all in an effort to raise money for Semper Fi," Brown said. "It was a big help to my wife's side of the family. Semper Fi really helped out the family and supported the family in a time of need. We thought this was a good opportunity to raise some money for that organization."
Brown played just two seasons of ice hockey at Ithaca High before embarking on his hockey career by joining the Guelph Storm of the OHL for the 2000-01 season, but he had about as much success as a ninth grader could have before departing.
As a 14-year-old eighth grader, Brown's team came up one win short of a state title, losing to Saratoga in the final. Brown exacted revenge the following the season, as Ithaca defeated Saratoga 4-0 in the final. Brown scored 33 goals in 24 games as a ninth grader, using his massive frame to create space and strike fear into the opposition.
According to those who knew Brown growing up, when he was also a star lacrosse player, he was about the same size then as he is now -- 6-foot, 204 pounds.
"As an eighth grader, he was a man amongst boys from an athletic standpoint," said Bill Bryant, who was the high school director of athletics when Brown was there. "He was just an outstanding individual. Even as an eighth grader, he was very much a part of that upper-class group. He was a leader on the ice. He was just a great young man."
"Lacrosse is a sport with his kind of size, he can protect the stick so much better," said Brandon Brown, Dustin's older brother by two years. "He was so big that you couldn't really get around him. In ninth grade, he's backing senior guys into the goal. He just had complete control of the ball. He was able to dominate."
Dustin credits his big brother for helping him become the player he is today. Dustin said if Brandon was playing a sport, then he was going to play it with him. The two were never teammates in ice hockey at Ithaca, but they played lacrosse together when Brandon was a senior and Dustin was a freshman.
But that didn't mean they didn't have their fair share of brotherly moments on the ice growing up that helped Dustin develop faster than most.
"We were always looking for the more people the better, so he was always allowed to play," Brandon said of his little brother. "That was a decade when video games weren't quite video games yet, so we were outside pretty much all the time. We got along well, but it was super competitive between us. There were some fisticuffs."
So at what age did Brandon begin to realize he couldn't push around his kid brother any longer?
"I still can take him," Brandon said jokingly. "He's bigger and stronger, but I'm crafty. He goes for a lot wrestling moves. You can just squirm out of them and drop the hammer on him."
Before Dustin became a man amongst boys, he was actually a boy amongst men.
Brandon said he and Dustin got their start in hockey when their dad signed them up for their first hockey league. Only it wasn't a youth league -- it was a beginner league for adults.
"I was 5, so he was 3 -- we both signed up together and my dad didn't know what he was signing us up for," Brandon said. "It was an adult league starter league, for adults who want to learn how to play. We had these two neighbor kids who were in between us (in age), and the four of us signed up and we were out with these men. So he started at 2-and-a-half. Luckily (the adults) didn't know what they were doing either."
Despite the clear shift in the hockey power dynamic between younger and older brother, Brandon looks on the bright side of the current state of the relationship.
"My dad says I have better hands than he does," Brandon said. "He got everything else."
After the three-hour session at the high school football field, the Brown caravan's next stop was only about 100 feet away. His stretch limousine pulled to the side of the road so he could quickly run the Cup over to its next photo opportunity -- Fall Creek Falls.
For those not initiated in the natural beauty of Ithaca, the scene was something out of a painting. With a waterfall in the background and a stream gently trickling past his feet, Brown took a photo of himself hoisting the Cup with each of his friends and family members in the entourage.
What made Brown pick that spot? It's an inside joke that goes back to his wedding.
"I guess the best way to explain is when we had our wedding, the people that didn't go off our registry just got us a picture of the Fall Creek Falls," Brown said. "We have 15 of them."
After navigating the slippery terrain and returning to the limousine on what was now turning into a clear and sunny day, the next stop was the Ithaca Ice Co., which is owned by his uncle, Chuck. Brown took photos with the employees, which he used to be there when he was in high school.
It was then time for a lunch break at Glenwood Pines, which Brown called "Ithaca famous." It was also the first of many times that Brown and his group consumed a beverage from the Cup on this day. Friends lined up one by one for a sip of light beer, but Nicole, who calmly kept the frantic day running like a well-oiled machine, opted not to drink and instead organize.
After an hour-break to refuel and recharge, the Cup made its next stop with the Ithaca police, fire and ambulance corps. Brown posed for pictures with all three safety branches and signed autographs for anyone who wanted one.
"He's amazingly humble," Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said. "The fact he called me and said if he could do one thing with his day with the Cup, he wanted to bring it to the police department and firefighters and thank them for the service they give. It's an amazing thing for a man of his age too."
Brown played two years at Ithaca High, but he played at two separate rinks -- an outdoor one at Cass Park and another at The Rink.
He made a brief stop at the Cass Park rink but took more time at The Rink, the one he called home when he won a state title. That final appearance was yet another example of how Brown may have left Ithaca as a teenager, but nearly 15 years later, he hasn't forgotten his roots and he's still willing to celebrate them.
Mike Tallman, who coached Brown for two years, was there to greet his former player. Tallman, who made the five-hour drive from Monmouth Beach, N.J., to say hello, lost the use of his legs after an accident nine years ago when he lost an edge and went headfirst into the boards during an open hockey game.
"I always knew he was going to do big things," Tallman said. "I know he has a lot of talent, but more importantly, he's a good person. He worked hard at what he did. We watch the L.A. Kings on TV with the hockey packages, so when they're playing on the East Coast, we watch them. I wanted my kids to meet him so they know it doesn't matter where you're from, you can do things."
After Brown took pictures with his sons, friends and former teammates beneath the Ithaca state championship banners and headed back home for a private party, Tallman spoke of another Stanley Cup champion with ties to Ithaca who made an impact on the community -- Joe Nieuwendyk.
The Hall of Famer played alongside Tallman as a member of Cornell's hockey team. After Nieuwendyk won his third Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003, he brought the Cup to Ithaca. Just like Brown, Nieuwendyk used the Cup to do some good for someone close to him.
"He brought the Cup to Ithaca when I was injured and did a fundraiser and raised a lot of money for myself, my family, when I had to renovate my house," Tallman said. "I saw the Cup then after some pretty traumatic experiences and now to see it and be with my kids, it's great."
Nine years later, Brown did everything he could in a 14-hour day with hockey's most coveted prize to make a positive impact on the community that shaped him into the person he is today. If Brown or anyone thought he lost touch with his hometown roots during his nine years with the Los Angeles Kings, he did everything he could to give back.
"Ithaca is a small town. It's just 30,000 people," Brown said. "You don't know everybody, but it sure feels like it when you come back. I'm being biased, I'm sure, but if you want to bring a trophy to a town, that's the trophy you want to bring."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo