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Magazine > Athlete
As seen in the March/April 2012 issue.

The Family Guy
L.A. Kings captain Dustin Brown is teaching his sons how to win both on and off the ice.
By Dennis Bernstein | Photography by Gary Livingston

Most teams have two separate cliques in the locker room. One team is comprised of the young, single guys who can party till 3 a.m. and still pull off a perfect skate the next morning. The other side is made up of family guys, the ones who often end up marrying the girl they've known since their teens and whose kids come barreling into the room post-game with their daddy's jersey number stitched onto their sweaters.

In many ways, it's far more difficult to manage a hockey career with a family where the decision to choose the right pre-school holds considerably more weight than which club to hit on an off night.

Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown falls into the latter category. In the eight years since Brown transitioned from first round draft pick to core component of a Western Conference contender, Brown's maturity has been both normal and startling to observe. After a solid junior hockey career with the OHL's Guelph Storm, then-Kings GM Dave Taylor selected Brown as the not-so-unlucky 13th pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. To say that Brown would be in for a culture shock would be an understatement. "At the time I'd never been west of Detroit," he said in the straightforward manner that captures his style both on and off the ice.

The truth is, Brown couldn't be a flashy player if he tried. He always takes a direct path to the puck and figures among the league leaders in hits every season. His honest play on ice mirrors his post-game comments, during which he shows little emotion but emphasizes how both he and his teammates can do better. This solid, quietly confident persona looms over the memory of the young boy who showed up in Los Angeles eight seasons ago, failing to utter more than a couple of words throughout his entire rookie season. "His first year was really tough on us. He had two ankle injuries and was adjusting being away from home," recalls his wife, Nicole.

Brown's aggressive, hard hitting style made him a fan favorite, and after clocking in a season with the Kings AHL during the lockout, he returned to Los Angeles and became a vital part of a team that appears poised to bring the first Stanley Cup championship to Tinseltown. And while he'll never be the most vocal captain in NHL history, Brown only needs a few sentences to show how deeply he understands the collaborative effort needed to win. "I lead by example, not by words," he says. "I'm the captain and while there are three players in the room with letters on their jerseys, there are ten leaders in the room. With more leaders, there are less followers, and the better of a team you'll have."

Behind this strong but quiet leader is Brown's wife, Nicole. The couple's relationship stretches back to their teenage days and the thing that bonded them, not surprisingly, was hockey. It still does. Nicole will be the first to chirp that she, not her husband, is the only championship hockey player (from back when she used to play), while he'll tell you that she was a defenseman in name only and played more like a rover back in soccer than a shutdown defender. "There's a continuing dialogue, every night on the drive home," he says. "She gives me her two cents. Most nights she's right, but on other nights I really don't want to hear it. It's a double-edged sword: while it's nice to have a wife that understands the game, sometimes her opinion isn't what I want to hear at the moment. We've learned to leave the game in the car," he admits with a wry grin.

But amidst all the chirping, the look in their eyes says that there is mutual respect and love between the two, one that goes a long way during a nine-month season that has him away from home half the time. As for the legendary lifestyle on the road that unattached players relish, Nicole shows little concern. "Dustin isn't a drinker, so that's big and I know he'd never do anything stupid because he knows that if he ever screwed around on the road, I'd be living in his house with his kids and I'd own half his stuff," she cracks with a laugh.

Like most of his teammates, Brown resides on a quiet street in the tony beach town of Manhattan Beach, California. A trip to their home feels more like visiting the residence of a software company executive than a hockey Olympic silver medalist. There's a comfy couch that fits all five Browns (there's an ongoing debate about whether they're still in the baby business) and the requisite flat screen TV that constantly has video games or a movie running (Madagascar is a current favorite). But the most striking feature is what isn't there. You won't find a trace of any hockey memorabilia in the family room. "We recently bought a house in Ithaca that we could go back to in the summer. I'm sure that we'll set up a shrine there," Nicole cracks. She knows her husband isn't the sentimental type and in his quiet time, away from the rink, he'd much rather watch an NFL game or a Yankees baseball game. "The last thing I want to do is play NHL 12," he deadpans.

Management of a family with three boys under the age of four, and a golden doodle named Milo would be heavy lifting for any couple, but with her mother living close by, Nicole has an extra set of hands and eyes. And despite all the demands placed on him by the sport that he loves and makes his family comfortable, Brown is not an absentee father. In fact, you'll often see him helping with the not-so-glamorous tasks of changing diapers and the occasional 2 a.m. feeding. While they hang out with Brown's line mate, Anze Kopitar, and his girlfriend socially, the couple spends a large amount of their spare time in the community doing charity work. "Having three young children, our central focus is on charities that help kids," Brown reveals.

So while his other teammates roll around L.A. in Ferraris and Aston Martins during off days, Dustin gets in his SUV and visits underprivileged neighborhoods, builds playgrounds, makes regular appearances at local hospitals and has hosted kids through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "As a parent, we're so grateful to have three healthy children. It's so upsetting to see sick kids, so we try to do our part to take away the pain if only for a short time," says an emotional Nicole.

While he'd prefer to perform his community service without a spotlight, others have taken notice. Last May, Brown received his third consecutive nomination for the NHL Foundation Award, a continuous affirmation of the work that has impacted thousands in the greater Los Angeles area. A month later, at the 2011 NHL Awards in Las Vegas, Brown strode to the podium and picked up his hardware for "[applying] the core values of hockey -- commitment, perseverance and teamwork -- to enrich the lives of people in his community."

Ever deferential to his impact on others – either on or off the ice -- Brown summarized the importance of the award. "It's about giving back to those less fortunate. I'm in a position where I can give back and I'm obligated to do so. We have the support of Kings' ownership and to be part of an organization that does this work literally worldwide, it's pretty easy to tag along."

With values like these circulating around the Brown household, there are at least three future NHL superstars who are poised to keep that tradition alive.

For more stories from the Mar/Apr 2012 issue of The Fourth Period Magazine, pick up a copy or subscribe today.


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