Over the summer, the Minnesota Wild moved its American Hockey League team from Houston to Des Moines, establishing a pipeline closer to home for the club’s prospects to reside. With the Wild’s prospects rooted in Iowa, this is not the first time there has been a connection between the State of Hockey and the Hawkeye State.
South Saint Paul native Rich Brown played one full season and parts of three others in the Iowa capital in a nine-year minor pro career that also saw him see service with other IHL teams in Windsor, Ontario, Toledo, Dayton, Fort Wayne, and even in his hometown.
“Des Moines was an interesting town, a nice city, so friendly and hospitable. The team was well supported and management and the fans treated us well,” recalled Brown, who is retired from a successful business career with his own caulking company after his life in hockey. “We lived out in West Des Moines and really enjoyed our time there.”
Brown’s best year with Des Moines, nicknamed the Oak Leafs, was in 1968-69 when he finished second in team scoring with 64 points (26g, 38a), but his most notable hockey memories there are a four assist game against Fort Wayne and ironically recording a hat trick against the Oak Leafs while playing for Dayton.
Hockey began for the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Brown as a member of the South Saint Paul Packers where he played on a line with former Gopher Head Coach Doug Woog, appearing in three state tournaments in 1958, 1959, and 1960. He was named to the All-Tournament Team in 1959 and 1960 and scored an overtime goal (2nd OT) to defeat Thief River Falls 3-2 in a 1960 quarterfinal game.
When college possibilities failed to materialize after high school, Brown played a year of, what would now be called, major junior hockey in Brandon, Manitoba. While with the Wheat Kings he finished second in goal scoring in the league and was named to the second All-Star Team. From there it was on to the IHL with the near hometown Saint Paul Saints in 1962-63, where he finished with 54 points (23- 31=54) and placed second in the rookie of the year balloting. The Saints were a New York Rangers’ farm team and that performance earned Brown a visit to Blueshirts’ training camp in Winnipeg. It was while playing for the Saint’s in a pre-season exhibition game against the Rangers that Brown had one of his greatest thrills.
“I scored two goals against Jacques Plante, a Hall of Famer,” said Brown proudly.
There would be other highlights for the finesse right-winger. His career year was with the 1964-65 Dayton Gems when finished with 82 points (31-51=82). In the 1970 IHL All-Star game he scored two goals for the losing North team.
Brown joined the U.S. National Team in mid-season in 1971 from Fort Wayne of the now defunct International Hockey League (IHL). At that time, it was unusual to keep the National Team together in a non-Olympic year, but it did in 1970-71, playing home games at the old Met Center in Bloomington.
While with the Nationals, he filled in for “Huffer” Christiansen on a line with Gary Gambucci and Craig Patrick as the Americans upset an All-Star Team from the Quebec Junior League 5-3 at the Montreal Forum. The All-Stars featured future Hall of Famer Guy LaFleuer.
Hockey runs deep in the Brown clan: sons Rick, Bill, David, and Mike have all played a role in the game. Most notably, Bill had a three year letter winning career at Ohio State and his son Willie will be returning for his senior year with Bill Lackner’s Hill-Murray Pioneers.
So when the Iowa Wild make their debut in Des Moines next October, just remember the Minnesota connection runs deep, as a State of Hockey native named Rich Brown scored some goals in the Hawkeye State back in the 1960’s.