When professional athletes sign contracts, many say it’s not about the money. In the case of center Curtis Brown, that truly was the case this summer. Thanks in part to a buyout from the Chicago Blackhawks, money was not the overriding factor in where Brown pointed his career as a free agent this summer.
Brown was acquired by the Sharks in the spring of 2004 to help with the playoff push and through the Western Conference Finals. Team Teal and Brown had a mutual interest in his return, but with the lockout looming and financial certainty in question for players and teams alike, Brown jumped when Chicago offered a large contract.
“We were headed to the lockout and the Sharks were not able to commit the way the Blackhawks were, so I made the best decision at the time for my family’s security,” said Brown. “It appeared to be a good professional situation since no one knew what would be happening after the lockout.”
Their time in Chicago was difficult as the Blackhawks on ice struggles continued and the couple suffered the loss of a child to SIDS. That was then. When the Blackhawks set him free this summer, Brown and his wife were free agents once again and they wanted to do what was best for them as a family and that included their professional and personal lives.
Professionally, Brown returned to the club that has advanced at least to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three of the last four seasons. Not a bad option considering the Blackhawks current playoff drought.
“Professionally, this is where I wanted to be,” said Brown. “I loved it here the first time even though it was short.”
Plus many times when a free agent signs, they think they know what the general manager and coach want from them, but they can later find out a different answer. Thanks to his previous experience, that was not an issue in Silicon Valley.
Personally, the Sharks presented an easy option even though Brown’s wife Ami was not in town for the regular season during his first San Jose stint.
“She was back in Buffalo where (Brown’s son) Garrett was born between the regular season and the playoffs,” said Brown. “The Sharks sent me back when he was born. She is an Orange County girl, so she knew enough about the area. Through friends in Orange County, we hooked up with a lot of people out here. It was huge to come back west. The family was the number one option and everything pointed to San Jose.”
Brown knows that he is lucky to be able to return to San Jose.
“Sometimes, the player may want to come back and the team doesn’t want them and sometimes, the team wants the player, but the player doesn’t want to return,” said Brown.
And being in San Jose has as much to do with friends and family as it does hockey.
“The most important thing is meeting good people,” said Brown. “The Sharks have great ownership and it goes all the way down.”
Back on the ice, Brown was brought in to improve the Sharks penalty killing and he has brought back, along with Mike Grier and others, to a high level.
The Sharks currently rank eighth in the league with an 85.6 penalty killing success rate, but they rank first in the NHL at home with a 95.7 success rate. Not a bad stat considering the Sharks lead the NHL with 17 road games played and are about to embark on a stretch where nine of the next 10 are at HP Pavilion. And stopping those critical goals while down a man is a prime reason the Sharks lead the NHL with a 2.10 goals-against-average.
“As a pro hockey player, you can never be satisfied,” said Brown. “The last trip, we allowed a couple of goals we didn’t want to.”
Brown has no problem not being part of the limelight on a team loaded with stars. He simply wants to do what is asked of him, but there is one bit of him that wants to go toe-to-toe with the Sharks headline players
“I think a key thing here is everybody knows their roles,” said Brown. “Everyone buys in. Our power play is number one in the league and the penalty killers want to be number one too. It is not as glamorous as the power play, but when we shut down the other team’s power play, it is a huge advantage. You can’t win without a good power play.”
And back to the personal side, the happy Brown family is about to become happier.
“We have another boy on the way in the beginning of March,” said Brown.
From the gender standpoint, Brown and his two sons will have Ami outmatched, but from a location standpoint, he is not outnumbered as his family will definitely have a California slant.
“We’ll have two Californians, two New Yorkers and one Canadian,” said Brown.
Sharks fans can help those in need during the holiday season by donating a new, unwrapped toy when entering HP Pavilion on Dec. 7 and 9.
The Sharks will play host to Colorado Thursday night at HP Pavilion and limited tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Box Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be aired on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.