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
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.
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
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.
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,"
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
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