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A Tale of Two Troys

by Anne E. Stein / Chicago Blackhawks

This story appeared in the 2010 playoff edition of Blackhawks Magazine, the official game program of the Chicago Blackhawks. You can get your copy of the playoff edition by calling the Blackhawks Store at 1-800-GO-HAWKS.

Welcome to the world of the two Troy Brouwers. There’s the 6’2”, 214-pound guy who works the boards, clears the ice for linemates, agitates goalies and fights when called on. Then there’s the easy-going, off-the-ice Troy who rarely gets worked up over anything and avoids conflict at all cost.

Either Troy is pretty entertaining.

“I’m not really one to like confrontation, to be honest with you,” says Brouwer. “I’d rather steer clear of it. Whether it’s having to return something at Target or arguing with someone, it’s just not me.”

Brouwer, 24, loves pregame naps cuddling with family beagle Ari (named after Jeremy Piven’s character on “Entourage”) and coming home to his wife and best friend, Carmen, whom he met when they were both 17. He keeps in close touch with his first coach and his friends going back to first grade. But ask this loyal team guy about playing physical and getting dirty and a big smile comes across his face.

Working the Net
Currently enjoying a breakout season as one of the league’s emerging power forwards, Brouwer was told in junior hockey that if he wasn’t going to stand in front of the net, he wasn’t going to play. So that’s where Brouwer often stations himself, screening the goalie and tipping pucks when he gets the chance. It’s not a coveted spot.

“You get cross-checked and slashed, plus you have to worry about 200-pound d-men trying to push you out of the way,” he says. Not to mention getting hit in the knees, stomach and hips by fast-flying pucks. “Sometimes it’s just no fun to be there, but it’s fun when you score goals,” Brouwer says with a grin.

Though known as a prodigious goal-scorer in junior and minor league hockey, the suburban Vancouver native has additional duties now that he’s a Blackhawk: to be as physical as possible. “All my better games are when I’m up in the five, six and seven-hit ratio. For me to be successful, I have to have hits.”

It’s a job that he loves. “It’s really fun. I like it when the crowd cheers after a huge hit. I’ve been hit pretty hard a few times though, so I can see how people don’t like it.” And though he’s not considered a fighter, he’ll stick up for teammates when needed. “I’m big enough and I’m strong enough that I can handle myself for the most part against anyone in the league. If it’s necessary, it’s necessary.”

“Obviously he can shoot the puck and score goals,” says longtime friend and teammate Brent Seabrook, whom he trains with each summer back home in Vancouver. “But what really makes him effective is that he’s a big, strong guy, he can fight, he can run guys over, and when he does that he creates a lot of space for himself, his linemates and his teammates.”

Brouwer especially enjoyed a recent hit on the Los Angeles Kings’ Ryan Smyth because of a personal connection. Relatives of Smyth’s wife  were Brouwer’s billets for a while in junior, so he and Smyth know one another. “He’s a great guy, don’t get me wrong, and I’m glad he wasn’t hurt. But I had a few texts after the game asking why I had to hit him.”

Putting up the Numbers
Drafted in the seventh round of the 2004 Entry Draft and now in his second full season with the Blackhawks, Brouwer scored 76 goals in his two seasons in the AHL (with the Norfolk Admirals in 2006-07 and the Rockford IceHogs in 2007-08), and this year he more than doubled his goals from last season. But it’s his physicality that’s most prized by coaches and teammates, who are freed up to score when Brouwer clears the ice.

The son of Don, a retired electrician, and Kathy Brouwer, a nurse, Troy got some early practice in front of the net when his dad would tape an old pair of shin pads onto his legs, put five year-old Troy in goal and shoot on him.

North Delta, B.C., was a hockey hotbed and in Troy’s first year there were 11 teams of six- and seven-year-olds mixing it up on the ice.

“Right from the start you could see that he was a really good pick,” says his first coach, Pete Harasymchuk, who drafted the tall, skinny six-year-old for his team. “If we were doing skills testing or skating relays, he was going to be the first to reach the other end if he could. He seemed to have a real drive to him, a real desire to play.”

The family took a lot of road trips to follow Troy’s hockey games and his sister Nicki’s figure skating career; tagging along with his older sister is how Troy first got on the ice for skating lessons.

But the thing he loved most about hockey, then and now, was being part of a team. “When he was in tyke and novice hockey he never wanted the day to end,” says Kathy Brouwer. The local restaurant even had a big booth in the back called the Brouwer booth, which hosted Troy and his teammates for breakfast or lunch.

“And then quite often we’d end up with half the team playing road hockey for hours in our driveway,” she says.

Despite splitting time between hockey and baseball (he was a catcher and pitcher until giving up baseball at age 14), his dad remembers Troy declaring at age 6 that playing in the NHL was his goal. Troy grew up a Canucks fan, of course, and he loved Pavel Bure, as well as Trevor Linden, whom he models his game after as much as he can.

“He was known as a tough grinder, someone who worked hard every game, led by example and did what was best for his team, whether it was blocking a shot, scoring a goal or getting in a fight,” says Troy of the illustrious retired Canuck.

Respecting the Game
Like most hockey parents, the Brouwers spent a huge amount of time at the rink, and one of Troy’s best lessons in life came from his dad when he was just 12.

 “When I was younger I had a couple of incidents where I yelled at the ref and got a penalty for it and didn’t think I deserved one and got more penalties,” says Troy. “I was at an age where I liked to think that I was better than other people.” He was also at an age where his parents still packed his gear.

One day before practice, dad packed just one skate, one shin pad, one glove and one elbow pad. Troy got to the rink, grabbed his bag out of the car and went in. A few minutes later, he emerged from the dressing room in a panic and told his dad that some gear was missing.

That’s when Don Brouwer broke the news: He’d taken the gear and not only would Troy miss that day’s practice, he’d be sitting out the next three as well. “I was really upset because all you want to do at that age is play hockey with your friends, but that’s what really made it stick that I couldn’t always do what I wanted to do. It really taught me a good lesson: to respect the game and respect people in general.”

Moose Jaw to Chicago
Troy made his way up in the North Delta hockey association until age 16, when he was drafted by the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. In the summers, from ages 9-15, he played with the Pacific Vipers, an all-star team that included future Hawks teammates Brent Seabrook, Andrew Ladd and Colin Fraser, plus a number of guys still playing hockey today. “I think we lost two tournaments in six years,” Brouwer recalls. “We were the team to beat and we always had fun because winning’s fun, obviously.”

He played four seasons for Moose Jaw and, in his final season, was named team captain and led Moose Jaw with 49 goals, 53 assists and a league-leading 102 points, earning the Bob Clarke Trophy for being the league’s top scorer.

Troy joined the Blackhawks in 2006, playing 10 games in the NHL and 66 in Norfolk. In 2007-08, he played just two games with the Blackhawks and 75 in Rockford. It was frustrating in those years to be called up and sent back and not earn a spot on the roster, but he knew what to work on to make it to Chicago.

Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland coached Brouwer in the minors the first year he joined the Hawks. “He came in and had an unbelievable season, scoring 41 goals for us,” Haviland says. “We knew right away what his potential was scoring-wise, but he was a big power forward-type of player and that was something we needed to get across to him. We knew he could score and that he was willing to go into those traffic areas. He was going to make it into the NHL being a power forward.”

For Brouwer that meant finishing his checks, getting in the corners, retrieving pucks, standing in front of the net and scoring when he could, but also being that safety net for his linemates – who this year have included Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland.

“Everyone says the power forward is kind of a hot commodity because it’s tough to find players who are big who still have skill,” observes Brouwer. “I like to think I’m that kind of player. It’s a little bit of everything, including shooting the puck and making sure there’s room on the ice for my linemates to do what they need to do.”

This season has been an absolute breakout year for him. Entering the final week of the season, he was first on the team in shooting percentage (.190, third in the NHL) and game-winning goals (seven), fifth on the team in goals (22), fourth in penalty minutes (66), third in power-play goals (seven) and sixth in points (40). The past few seasons and summers spent working on skills and confidence have obviously paid off.

“Last year I had a good season but not nearly as good as I feel I should have,” he admits. “I think I was content with being here, rather than pushing myself to do more. This year I’ve been able to do quite a bit more, doubling my goals, playing well, knowing that last year wasn’t good enough. I came in with a lot of confidence knowing I can be a better player.”

He especially worked on his skating speed (quicker feet, more powerful stride and generally getting faster) and his shot. “You have to have a quick release to try and fool goalies or even have time to get the shot off, especially when you’re in tough areas releasing your shot and getting it in a position where you’re able to score.”

Belief in himself has also been a huge factor in Brouwer’s success. “I talk with my dad, coaches and agent and the expectations they have for me are much higher than what I showed last year, and it makes you think about what you really can do.”

Brouwer’s progress has been rewarded with more ice time by head coach Joel Quenneville.
“I like the progress he’s made,” said Quenneville after a recent practice. “He’s hard to play against. He gets in front of the net, scores the tough goals, fights, finishes checks and is strong in the puck area. He’s the type of winger you look for and his development is continuing.”

Team captain Jonathan Toews is especially appreciative of Brouwer’s play this year. “He’s been a big part of our team, no matter what line he’s playing on. He’s had a couple of big fights for us that gave us a lot of energy and he’s scored some big goals for us, too. He’s a big body so he frees up a lot of space and keeps plays alive.”

In turn, Brouwer is enjoying every moment on the ice with the Blackhawks.

“It’s so much fun to play in front of everyone here,” he says, adding that the other night a fan paid for his supper when he was recognized at a restaurant. “There’s so much passion and enthusiasm about what’s going on right now. Hopefully we won’t disappoint the fans and we’ll go far into the playoffs for them."

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