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Brown Having The Time Of His Life

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The sun hadn't come up yet, but Flower Mound youngster Chris Brown and his best friend couldn't resist hopping onto the Valley Ranch Dr Pepper StarCenter ice for an open hockey session just before dawn. Little did they know they'd soon be skating side-by-side with the greatest player in Dallas Stars history.

Brown playing for Michigan on Dec. 11, 2010
While the boys were working on their skating and stickhandling, Mike Modano laced up his skates and entered the rink. After getting his work in, he suddenly began passing the puck to Brown, and in turn the 8-year-old began feeding one-timers to the franchise's all-time leading scorer.

"This was when he was in his prime, and he started messing around with us," Brown, 19, said Wednesday during the United States' off-day at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. "It was 5 in the morning, and it was pretty nuts. I remember him moving the net with his shot, and it was just like, 'Wow, this is Mike Modano.' Our eyes just lit up. This never happens. Looking back at it, the effect that he and the Stars organization all had on Dallas hockey has been tremendous."

Hockey's always been in Brown's blood. His father, a native Pennsylvanian, played Division II hockey at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, while his mother watched her husband play all through high school. Chris, meanwhile, was born in Houston, then moved to Erie, Pa for a brief stint before the family settled in Dallas when he was 4-years-old.

Brown began skating when he was 3-years-old, ironically, for the same reason Modano took up hockey as a youth-- both of their mothers thought their young one was a bit hyper and needed something to do to release the energy.

"It was mostly to keep me active," Brown chuckled.

Brown began his hockey life playing in the Junior Stars program before moving to Michigan to play Midget hockey with Detroit Honeybaked in 2006. He then became a member of the U.S. National Development Program, and played on the Under-17 and Under-18 teams from 2007-09.

He was drafted in the second round (36th overall) in 2009 by the Phoenix Coyotes after deciding to play hockey at Michigan. Now in his sophomore year with the Wolverines, his rights belong to the Coyotes until he either graduates or decides to leave early to become a professional.

"As of right now, I'm loving school and loving everything about it," he said. "I love the University of Michigan and everything it has to offer. Coach (Red) Berenson and the rest of the coaches have really helped me out, and I love the players, and the school. It's been a passion of mine to go to Michigan ever since I was little. So to have that opportunity to go to the great University that Michigan is, and to play a varsity sport like hockey there, it's second to none. You don't want to give up that opportunity if you've been blessed to play there."

Back when Brown was born in 1991, a United States national hockey team would feature players mostly from northern hockey hotbeds such as Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, and Massachusetts. Not anymore. Brown is one of four players on the current Under-20 U.S. team to have hometowns in non-traditional hockey areas.

Mitch Callahan and Emerson Etem are both from California, while Jason Zucker's home is in Las Vegas.

"USA Hockey has come a long, long way," U.S. coach Keith Allain said. "There's a much deeper talent pool in the country to draw from, and a much wider area. You have to give credit to the youth coaches in areas. Organizationally, it's really well run. Hopefully that will lead to more success in tournaments like this."

So far, Brown and his U.S. teammates are having plenty of success in their title defense at this year's World Junior Championships. They've won each of their first two games heading into Thursday's matchup with Germany and Friday's encounter with Switzerland.

Brown, meanwhile, scored his first goal of the tournament in Tuesday's 6-1 win over Slovakia, and his strong forecheck forced a turnover in the Finland zone that helped Zucker score in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Finns on Sunday.

"I think the team's playing really well, especially in a tournament like this where there are top-tier players from each country," Brown said. "We knew that the Finns and the Slovakians were going to be tough teams and that we needed to come out and play hard, and we did. I think we're now starting to jell. It's hard to become a team when everyone is on separate teams during the season. But a lot of us have played together, or played against each other, so we know each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"I'm doing my best to keep playing my role, be physical, and be a presence on the ice. I think I'm doing that pretty well so far."

"He's a guy that you want on your side and not on the other team," forward Jerry D'Amigo said about Brown. "He's physical, gets in the dirty areas, and has a great shot. It's guys like that that you need. He plays that role so well."

Brown fondly remembers watching Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals when Brett Hull scored the winner in triple-overtime against the Buffalo Sabres, though he admitted he hadn't thought about now playing on the very same sheet of ice that he saw Modano and Co. capture the organization's first championship.

But there's good reason for him not to be reminiscing too much this week.

"I didn't really look at it when I got there," he said of the end where Hull swatted the puck in past Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. "This tournament is all about focus and stuff like that. But now that I think about it, yeah, it's clicking in."

And clicking is exactly what Brown's career is doing, thanks in large part to his hockey start in North Texas.

"I had really good coaches right from the beginning," he said. "Jouni Lehtola really worked on us as young kids, getting us skating properly, doing edgework, and doing all different kinds of stuff for development reasons, and my dad coached my up through pee-wees. I give a lot of credit to him and the rest of the people in Dallas and the Stars organization for bringing me up."

United States' schedule:
Dec. 30 vs. Germany: 6 pm CT HSBC Arena, Buffalo N.Y.
Dec. 31 vs. Switzerland: 7 pm CT at HSBC Arena, Buffalo N.Y.

IIHF-U20 World Junior Championship Schedule

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