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Side projects

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – On the ice, Mike Brown is a master at knocking his opponents down. Off it, however, he’s keen on building things up.

Brown, who joined the Canadiens at the trade deadline after being claimed off waivers from San Jose, developed an interest in woodworking and carpentry while plying his trade for the United States National Team Development Program in the early 2000’s. It’s a hobby the 30-year-old Chicago native has maintained ever since, steadily honing his skills by undertaking a bevy of new projects during the summer months.

“It all started when I was being billeted by [former NHLer] Moe Mantha Jr., who was coaching the U.S. program at the time. He took me in because there weren’t enough billet families available. We basically built the basement where I stayed. It was all concrete to start. We would come home from the rink, and I would follow him around and learn all about the different tools. We did the dry walling and all the studs. Then, as I soon as I turned pro, I finally had the money to buy the tools for myself,” said Brown, who has also suited up for the Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers over the years.

“I began with a coffee table with a handsaw and a couple of screws and nails. It turned out pretty good. I’d taken wood shop classes in high school, so I had some basic knowledge. That led to trying to build a bar in my house. I just kind of took things step by step. You can teach yourself to do just about anything on YouTube. It ended up turning into a really nice saloon. I’ve gone ahead and stepped up my game since then in my off-time, I guess,” added Brown, who boasts a long list of handcrafted items on his resume, including a back room in his house in San Jose, a loft bed with a headboard and built-in box springs, a kitchen table, end tables, and an automatic TV chest, just to name a few.

According to Brown, it’s a pastime that has also helped to sustain him over the years through the inevitable physical and mental wear and tear that comes with playing a hard-nosed brand of hockey in today’s NHL. The father of two – who played in his 400th career NHL game on March 16 in Buffalo – has dropped the gloves 95 times games since making his NHL debut in 2007-08, and amassed 800 hits and 778 penalty minutes along the way, too.

“I enjoy building. I enjoy the outcome. When I build, it keeps me active. I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries throughout my playing career, and building things has kept me working out and staying active through it. Throwing around a couple of hammers, bringing out the saw and holding some of the big pieces of plywood by yourself is a workout for the upper body and legs,” said Brown, who registered 56 hits in 14 games with the Canadiens. “When I get in the building zone, I tune everything out. It’s a good, refreshing time to just focus on creating something and forget everything else except for building.”

Long before Mantha taught Brown the basics of construction, though, his father, Barry, introduced him to a deep-rooted passion of his own – Harley-Davidson motorcycles – which also just happens to be the family business. A former Harley dealer, collector and restoration expert in the Windy City, Mr. Brown, his wife, Audree, and his eldest son, Danny, now specialize in motorcycle rentals and tours out of a dealership in Woodstock, IL, offering travellers the opportunity to experience, in most cases, the magic of U.S. Route 66 going from Chicago to Los Angeles. Their fleet of over 500 Harleys is the largest of its kind in the world for an authorized Harley rental dealer.

“I just grew up around it. We all did. It was something we loved, me, my brother and my sister, [Cindy]. We couldn’t wait to get on the four-wheeler Suzuki Quad Runner dirt bike when we were kids. We were riding and learning about it at the age of two. It’s something that’s always been around our family,” said Brown, who has his motorcycle license, but doesn’t ride these days for safety reasons. “I remember running around the store when I was a kid, probably just making a mess. But, as I got older, around high school and college, I’d work there in the summer. I was basically doing all the prepping for the bikes – uncrating and putting together all the final pieces, setting up some of the wiring, test driving it around the showroom. I’d handle all the final touches, fill it up with gas and get it ready.”

Brown appreciated many things about spending time at his parents’ dealership during his formative years, but a few in particular really stood out.

“I liked the crowds of people that came through the doors. It’s just such a wide variety of people. You might get your big biker dude one minute, and then a nice lawyer or doctor that wants to ride walks in the next minute. I’ll never forget the people. My parents always had good mechanics and good employees, too. We knew all of them our whole lives. It was fun being around everyone,” shared Brown, whose father also serviced the likes of former Chicago Blackhawks standouts Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios and Tony Amonte at his dealership, all of whom the future NHLer got to know as time marched on.

“We also had an open house once a year where maybe 1,000 bikes would be outside. We would just stand at the corner and wait for everyone to leave. We’d watch them screech out and go and have their drag pipes going. We would wait for that. It was always exciting with the noise. I’ve always been infatuated with the sounds of loud drag pipes,” continued Brown, who actually met his long-time agent, Neil Abbott, through Roenick earlier in his playing career.

That being said, Brown isn’t planning on riding again until his playing days are over. Parenthood and hockey are his top priorities right now, which suits him just fine.

“I’d probably say that I’m going to pick it back up after my career, but with all the moving around lately and my two boys at home, there isn’t much time for it. They’re four-and-a-half and two years old, and I like to spend all of my free time with my family,” said Brown. “But, I do have the Hot Wheels bikes for them to ride around in and play with when they’re ready.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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