My story begins at age three in Ithaca, New York...
I started skating by pushing a metal chair, a folding chair, around the ice. When I got old enough to play hockey, I came from a small town but I was always like the best player in my town. So it came pretty easy at that age.
I loved the game right away. I couldn’t wait to get on the ice whether it was a 5 o’clock practice in the morning or going to skate and shoot after school. This really peaked around the time I was in middle school. Me and a couple other guys would use our Friday night to skate and shoot and not go to a movie with all the other kids from school.
At a young age, I got to meet an NHL star. I met Joe Nieuwendyk because he went to Cornell which is right in my hometown. That was probably the only NHLer I ever met when I was young. I went to one Sabres game in Buffalo but the details now are sort of fuzzy. My next NHL game in person was in 2003 with the NHL as part of the draft that I was selected in.
The hockey scene back home when I was a kid was pretty good. Hockey was a pretty popular sport. There was a rink that was an outdoor rink with a cover over it. It was pretty cold and it was always fun for the kids to go and play. I don’t know if the parents agree, though, and they had to sit out in the cold like that. We had a lot of good players, obviously not NHL-quality players, but some good college players who had come from a small town. We won a lot of state championships there throughout the years.
|Dustin Brown lays a hit on Matt Niskanen, formerly of the Dallas Stars. Brown began honing his checking skills as a pee wee in upstate New York. |
I am a forward now but in mite and squirt hockey I was a defenseman. I think I played ‘D’ purely because it’s an easy way to be on the ice a lot. Like I said, as a kid from a small town who is always the best player the coached will play you at defense so you can get more ice time from that position. Then around pee wee I switched to forward and I’ve been there ever sinse.
Pee wee is also when you can start hitting. I was pretty excited about that. I think every kid likes pee wee unless you are a small kid. And I was pretty big when I went to pee wee and it kind of evolved each year. The higher levels you get you have to find a way to make an impact on the game. I was physical coming into my NHL career but I remember my first year with the Kings I had gone from scoring 30-40 goals in junior hockey and I knew I wouldn’t do that here so I had to find a way to make an impact and that was something I was really good at before.
I think a lot of kids in my hometown, and to me some extent, really looked at Cornell University as a great place for hockey. They have a pretty good hockey program and for me I remember watching the NHL and that’s what I wanted to be. The closest thing we had to the NHL in my town was Cornell which has produced many NHLers. You could go there every Friday night for a game and that was pretty big back home. But my goal was the NHL, not Cornell.
That road for me began with the Select 15 festival which is like a national thing. I tried out for the New York team and I got cut from the New York state team. I didn’t even make it to the team that would go to the nationals and play the other regions. I then went for the select 16s. That was the summer I got drafted by Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Then I made the New York team and I was like the top pick for the national team. So I went from not making the New York team to making the national team in a year. That was the same year I got drafted into the OHL.
|Dustin Brown (right) with Jeff Tambellini (left) and Brian Boyle on draft day 2003. |
Going and playing in the OHL was a hard decision. My whole life all I thought about was going to college to play hockey. I didn’t even know what the OHL was honestly. Around 14 is also when I met Scott Norton, who is my agent. He gave me the options back then and tried to help me make a decision. It was an easy decision for me but hard for my parents to let me go when I was 15 and throw away my college eligibility.
The transition on ice was pretty easy compared to the move off the ice. Moving in with a family was awkward for the first month or two. I was moving in with complete strangers and it takes a while to open up and get to know them. On the ice you realize that each step of hockey that there are a lot of good players out there. I started in Ithaca where I was the best player. Then you go to Canada and it was a learning experience to realize how many players are out there trying to do the same thing you’re doing.
When I got drafted in the first round, you’re at the draft and you’re just excited to be drafted. You’re not thinking I want to go to this team or that team. You’re just happy. That day is kind of a big blur now that I think about it. I remember I then came out for the Kings development camp and I had never been west of Michigan. The first thought I had coming in on the plane was that there were palm trees and I couldn’t believe they played hockey here.
Then I got here and did my development camp and I ended up making the team that year and I remember coming into my first regular season game here. It was amazing to play in front of 18,000. Now I’ve been here eight years and I understand it a bit more, but I was nervous before my first game and even now I get nervous before each opening night.