The San Jose Sharks were just defeated by the Dallas Stars in an early November game. Inside the home team’s locker room, players, at least the ones who played, are shedding their gear and talking to the media.
Outside, those who didn’t suit up — “scratches” in hockey parlance — take note of the next day’s practice time on the locker room door and make their way towards the exit. Some of the night’s scratches were due to injury. Not Curtis Brown, however. He was healthy. And that just about sums up the type of season this veteran of more than 700 career games has endured.
This article isn’t an introduction to man teammates call “Doctor.” Sharks fans, you know his pedigree. Perhaps, though, it can serve as a re-introduction of a player who, despite the lack of playing time, remains an exemplary member of a Sharks roster built to be exemplary. And though Brown has watched more games than he’s played this season, his classy demeanor remains omnipresent, trumping what one would assume to be a frustrating situation for an NHL vet of his ilk.
Below is a recent Q&A with the veteran winger.
The expectations for this team have never been higher. Are those expectations warranted?
Being an organization that has played, I think, the most playoff games in the last three years of any other team, means the pressure to win a championship is growing. It’s a good kind of pressure, though, because there are teams in the League pressured to just compete and then there are teams that would just like to make the postseason. This organization is at the point where the high expectations are reasonable. When training camp broke, it was evident several of the team’s younger forwards were going to get their shot to contribute, at least in the early going, maybe leaving you out of the lineup.
As a veteran, I’ve been through numerous training camps with a few different teams and all you can do as a player is go out and do the best you can do day after day. When it’s all said and done, though, it’s not up to the player who plays. It’s the coach’s decision. I think this organization knows what I can do and knows what my role would be. As a veteran of more than 700 games, you’re certainly not accustomed to part-timing it.
How has it affected your attitude towards coming to work everyday?
My responsibility is to do everything I know how to do to be professional. Nothing changes for me. My job right now is to be fully prepared for when they call my number so I can help this team, that’s what it’s all about. I’m truly in a position — and it’s been this way for a couple of years now — where I could care less about personal accolades. I want to be part of a “team” because I know a squad needs a lot of different pieces to fulfill a championship puzzle.
How was that outlook forged?
When I was in Buffalo and we went to the Stanley Cup Finals (1999), we had guys who could’ve moved on to different teams and played bigger roles for themselves. Instead, they stayed and did whatever was asked of them. I learned a lot from those guys. I looked up to those guys. Every player would like to play more. That’s just the professional nature of what we do.
Do you think, because you have a decade of NHL service under your belt, that your experience has better prepared you to deal with what you’re going through this season?
No (laughing)…I think I need about three decades…It’s difficult for me because it’s something I’ve never had to face. Common sense tells me, like I said before, I need to be more prepared than ever and just work as hard as I can at practice or in the gym. When the time comes, I want to be ready. What I’ve learned in my career is that a player can either go about this situation the way I’m trying to do it, staying prepared and providing a good example for the younger guys, or not. There’s even more pressure on me now to do the right thing in a tough situation because I’m a father and a husband. I want my little ones to be following my footsteps and I can’t expect them to do something I didn’t do. I know life only gives you one shot at some things and I’m doing whatever I can to do it professionally.
The phrase “role player” is tossed about in hockey, almost without abandon, to classify guys who aren’t normally listed at the top of the scoresheets. You were brought here two times to fulfill a certain, vital role: that of a veteran presence. Is there a certain honor to being a role player?
I don’t know how you get that rep as a role player to start with, really. Whether it’s a good or bad thing to be called that depends on who you’re asking, I guess. When I broke into the League, they wouldn’t let me anywhere close to the penalty kill. Then there was a transition where I moved more towards a checking role against the other team’s top line. Now, they won’t let me out on the power play. For me, I feel I’ve been transformed into a pretty complete hockey player, in the sense that I feel comfortable in any situation, playing any position. Shifting to more serious matters away from hockey...In the aftermath of your daughter’s tragic death (four-month-old Aubri died of sudden infant death syndrome in 2005), you discovered a lack of support mechanisms for grieving families who have undergone such a tragedy. You’ve embarked on establishing a foundation to fill that void. How’s that going?
It (the work in starting the foundation) has taught me to be patient, that’s for sure. We’ve been fortunate to have a good group of people helping us through the process so we can accomplish our goals. With everything there is to take care of, paperwork and what not, we’re trying to be patient and not look too far ahead of ourselves. It’s just like starting a small business because you have to look at every little detail along the way. We want to create the foundation the right way. Right now, we’re hoping to be up and running around January. Ben Stephenson has written more than 40 features for Sharks Magazine since 1998. His “On the Fly” interviews appear in every issue.