|Team USA's Dustin Brown believes his squad's future, as well as its present, are bright and is he relishing his opportunity at the 2008 World Championships in Halifax and Quebec City.
WATCH Dustin Brown highlights
Team USA's Dustin Brown
believes his squad's future, as well as its present, are bright and is he relishing his opportunity at the 2008 World Championships in Halifax and Quebec City.
Brown, who led the NHL with 311 hits this season, obviously plays a physical brand of hockey. But the left wing is a multi-dimensional player who has improved his scoring touch with the Los Angeles Kings. Brown, who had never scored 20 goals in any of his previous three NHL seasons, netted 33 goals in 78 games and had a career-high 60 points in 2007-08.
Brown had four points in nine games at his first World Championships in 2004 and seven points in seven games in the 2006 Worlds. In this year's tournament, he was tied for the team lead with five points through the three-game preliminary round and has six points total after Team USA defeated Germany on Thursday in the first game of the qualification round.
Even though the Canadians beat the Americans, 5-4, in the preliminary round Tuesday to win the Group B crown, Brown envisions future success for Team USA.
“National teams are always packed with talent,” Brown said. “This team has a young core for the future of USA Hockey. We have so many promising, young players like Zach Parise, Peter Mueller, Patrick O’Sullivan and Patrick Kane and that should make for a bright future for USA Hockey.”
The World Championships are not Brown’s only international experience. Brown also played for the United States in the 2002 and 2003 World Junior Championships, which is a showcase of future NHL players at the U-20 level. Brown admits that the World Championships are certainly a step up from the World Junior Championships, and not just because the players are older.
“Both tournaments are pretty exciting,” Brown said. “The later rounds during the elimination games are particularly exciting. Teams are much deeper in this tournament, as opposed to the World Junior Championships. The third- and fourth-line players are better. In the World Junior Championships, the teams are good, but they aren’t as deep because they are limited by age and the pool of players the countries can select from.”
Brown, who averaged 20:17 of ice time per game with the Kings this season, averaged four minutes less through Team USA’s first three games. Brown feels comfortable in his diminished role with the United States and was ready to play some meaningful games after a disappointing season that saw the Kings finish tied for last in the NHL with 71 points. Since he played his final NHL game April 5, Brown is rested and ready to go.
“I was prepared for this tournament,” Brown said. “I was feeling better physically after not playing for a couple weeks and resting after a long season. I jumped back into this tournament and I first started to play again after taking a couple weeks off. It’s important to keep my shifts short when I haven’t played for a while. I try to be better every shift that I take.”
While Brown has never played for a team that has won the gold medal at either the World Junior Championships or the World Championships, he knows that the road to gold goes through Canada.
“It’s always fun to be part of this rivalry,” Brown said. “Hockey Canada is probably the best hockey organization in the world, but Tuesday’s game was promising because it proved that we can play with the Canadians. With the young talent that Team USA has like Peter Mueller, Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane, in addition to all of the guys that couldn’t make it here, like Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, it’s inspiring to know that we stand a good chance to beat them in the future; not just in this tournament, but also in the Olympics.”
Even though Brown probably won’t be confused for a Selke candidate as the NHL’s best defensive forward, he has improved in his own zone. In the 2006-07 season, Brown had a minus-21 rating. This season, Brown improved to a minus-13 rating, which is a massive step up. He had a better plus-minus rating than any of the four other Kings who averaged at least 20 minutes of ice time per game.
“My game has transitioned the last couple years,” Brown said. “It has turned into a more even ratio and I have to pick my places for the hits. Earlier in my career, I would take myself out of position to make a hit, but now I’m picking my spots better.”
Who knows just how good Brown will get? After all, he is just 23.