He'll be the first to tell you he's neither the biggest nor the strongest guy in the NHL. His hometown of Ithaca, N.Y., certainly isn't a hockey hotbed churning out the prospects like Toronto, or even Thunder Bay. But you know what? Dustin Brown
is doing something right.
At 6-foot and 208 pounds, his size is pretty average, but Brown gets the most out of his package. For each of the last three seasons, the dynamo right wing for the Los Angeles Kings has placed in the top three in the NHL in hits. In 2007-08 Brown was tops in the League with a career-high 311. He was runner-up with 258 hits in 2006-07, and Brown placed third with 285 hits last season.
Since making his NHL debut on Oct. 9, 2003 in a game at Detroit, the hits haven't stopped coming for Brown.
"I was pretty physical coming into the NHL but I realized my very first year in the NHL as an 18-year-old that it would have to be a staple of my game to play and stick in the League at a very young age," Brown told NHL.com. "It's something I take pride in. It's one of those things, just like anything else, that you learn as you go, and those first couple of years I probably ran out of my way to make some hits. Now it's trying to find that even balance of having a physical impact on the game but not taking yourself out of it in other parts of the game, offensively and defensively. It's something you learn more about each year."
Well then, call Brown a master of lining up an opponent and punishing him. Not with the idea of separating said player from his head, but he hits just hard enough and frequent enough for them to take notice when Brown is on the ice. Of course, who would want to go anywhere near a player with that much spunk and energy? So when Brown has the puck he's also become quite adept at putting it in the net, scoring at least 24 goals in each of the last two seasons with a career-high of 33 in 2007-08.
"I play the game hard. I think everyone that I play against knows that I'm going to finish my checks no matter who they are. At least now they know what to expect from me. It's part of my game, being physical," Brown said. "Ultimately, if I'm making an impact on the game, a positive impact for my team whether it's scoring a goal or making a hit, it's really irrelevant what other people think or what I'm known for I guess. All that matters is I contribute in a positive way. I think that's the most important thing for me. Depending on the type of game or situation, a hit can have just as big an impact as a goal could."
Brown's hits also make a positive impact that not even his victims can find fault with. Last season, he donated $50 for every hit to KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that envisions a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America. With 285 hits, KaBOOM! pulled in $14,250 thanks to Brown's feistiness. One particular game saw Brown record a career-high 12 hits -- cha-ching, that's $600 -- against Edmonton on Feb. 14.
"It's more about the timing. I mean, that's all it is," Brown said. "T.J. Oshie (of St. Louis) is a good example -- he's not the biggest guy (5-11, 194), but he can hit pretty hard. There's guys that I've hit that are much heavier, much taller, much bigger, much stronger than me. It's really about timing your hits right, and it's not something that's easy to do. That's why I think that you see some guys that are pretty big, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, 230 pounds that don't really hit that very often or have those big impact-type hits very often."
Brown's impact comes on the ice and off it. On Oct. 8, 2008, he was named the 15th captain in franchise history, becoming the youngest to wear the "C," and was the first U.S.-born captain for the Kings.
From 2005-06, Brown's first full season (79 games) with Los Angeles, through 2008-09, he is the NHL hits leader with 1,029. Brooks Orpik of Pittsburgh is a very distant second with 937.
What also impresses about Brown's acumen for delivering a hit is that he doesn't go out on a shift in search of a hit. Rather, he understands that the pace and flow of the game itself dictates the hit. "Maybe the one exception to that is on the forecheck," Brown said. "You can pretty much get a pretty good hit on the forecheck pretty much every time you have good dumps or good puck placement, but the open ice hits, the big hits, putting a guy into the bench, stuff like that, it just kind of happens."
On top of that, the game-changing, momentum-shifting checks happen even far less, but Brown savors those moments.
"There's been times when you have a big hit and right away the whole mood or everything about the game is changed," Brown said. "Does that happen very often? No, but there are times when something like that can happen. I've seen it happen, I've been a part of it where one hit totally changed the momentum of a game."
That's when Brown's hits really leave a mark.Contact Rocky Bonanno at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer