Mike Altieri fondly reflects on the ‘down-to-earth’ Dustin Brown and the legacy he leaves on the LA Kings.
While his playing career has now come to a close, what will continue will be the memories of Dustin Brown and his illustrious tenure with the LA Kings. Among those to share their memories of the silver-and-black’s former captain is a gentleman whose tenure with the club is in its fourth decade.
Since joining the team in 1995, Mike Altieri has been a force of nature behind the scenes, beginning as a public relations representative to his current role as Senior VP of Marketing, Communications, and Content. Along the way, Altieri has come across hundreds of players to wear the Kings uniform, making many acquaintances and even a few friends.
Dustin Brown was, and is, one of those friends.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Altieri, who fondly reflected on Dustin Brown’s time with the Kings as well as his relationship with the 18-year veteran.
“I met Dustin the day we called his name when he was drafted,” Altieri said. “My job with PR at that time was to walk over to where the player is, and they walk down the stairs, and I take their coat so that they can go up on stage and put their jersey on. So, Dustin always likes to say I was the first official LA Kings employee that he met as a member of the LA Kings. He had met those other people before, but he was now officially an LA King. And he got to the bottom of the stairs, and I shook his hand and said, ‘Welcome to the LA Kings,’ and, ‘Can I take your jacket?’ He gave me his jacket, and then he went up on stage.”
Looking smaller and younger than most players selected on that June weekend in Nashville, some could have argued that Dustin Brown had no business being drafted that high. Of course, as the old adage goes, never judge a book by its cover.
Brown wasted little time in making a positive mark on his new team. In fact, he made his Kings debut that fall and never looked back. Yet, while his on-ice contributions were a breath of fresh air for the Kings, his off-ice ways made Brown a real winner.
“My first impression over that period of time, just that day, he was just a really down-to-earth 18-year-old kid who was thrilled to be drafted into the NHL,” Altieri recalled. “He was very talkative and very excited. Didn’t really get to interact with him too much until he got to the Kings because he spent some time in Manchester [with the Kings’ then-AHL affiliate, the Monarchs, during the 2004-05 lockout season], obviously, but in the early years with Dustin, he was always a very approachable, down-to-earth, just always open and conversational, and I really got to know him as a person more so than anything else because he was just such a talkative kid when you’re around him. And he liked talking about things other than hockey. I always enjoyed that about him.”
At his retirement press conference in late April, Brown had said that some of his first teammates in Los Angeles could attest to him being very quiet. Altieri agreed, although he did go on to say that it didn’t take the Ithaca, NY, native long to step out of his shell.
“In general, Dustin is a quiet guy,” he noted. “As he’s grown and matured, I’ve defined Dustin as someone who has always been one whose actions speak louder than his words. That being said, when you engage Dustin in a conversation, he’s all in. He’s with you, and he’s in the moment. He’s not looking to move on to another place. If you’re engaged with him, and you’re in a conversation, he’s right there with you, and I’ve always respected that about him. But that being said, he defines actions as speaking louder than words.”
The 56-year-old continued, touching on a subject that this writer can identify with.
“I think one of the things that prevented Dustin from maybe coming out of his shell at an early age was he spoke with a lisp,” Altieri elaborated. “I have a slight lisp myself, but I was always mindful of that with him, and I could tell it was something that, maybe, caused him to not speak so much because he was self-conscious about it.”
“But Dustin really stepped out of his shell when he became captain. I think he took that responsibility on in a way that really shaped who he has become as a man, and he shouldered that responsibility and embraced the opportunity to lead the LA Kings as the team captain when that was given to him.”
Of course, there’s much more that has made Brown’s presence in Los Angeles extraordinary.
“I’ve dealt with so many players, hundreds, and the way I have to deal with the players is in a working capacity,” Altieri added. “So, I’m always going from players to — or I was, my role’s different now — but when I was heading up PR, traveling with the team, with the team every day from 1997 until 2015, being around the players was a constant — you’re going to the players all the time going, ‘I need this; I need you to do this; I need you to do this interview, that interview; this appearance, that appearance; this marketing issue.’ You’re constantly going into them and taking their time from them to do what we need them to do to help sell the game, help the team, help promote the Kings, and help tell our story. So, that’s a tough dynamic for someone in my role because you’re always going and asking for things. So, that being said, hundreds of players I’ve worked with over the years, every single one of them I have enjoyed and had a good rapport and relationship with. Someone like Dustin, what makes him stand out above the rest, I think, is because he was the captain, I had to deal with him on so many other levels with so many other things. And he’s just such a down-to-earth person. He’s just a normal guy, and there’s no airs about him. All these hundreds of players I worked with, they’re all great people, and if I see any of them, it’s always a hug, “How are you? How’s your family?” — there’s that interface — but there [are] only a few players that I would say are my friends.”
Altieri went on to provide an example of Brown’s down-to-earth, generous nature – one that the longtime Kings executive will always be grateful for.
“I invited some of the players to come to a 50th birthday party I was having, and it was in the middle of the season, so I didn’t expect them to show up,” Altieri explained. “But Dustin did show up. I think he came because he was the captain, like, ‘I have to go do this. Mike’s been with the team, and the players respect my role,’ and I was so impressed that he came with his wife [Nicole] to my 50th birthday party. It just showed you the kind of person that he was. But not only that, I do consider him a friend — him and Nicole — just two wonderful, down-to-earth people. So, I think what makes him stand out is that he’s just been the same since 18 years old. The fact that he’s now a father of four kids, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, he’s still the same guy I met when he was 18 years old.”
Speaking of being a Stanley Cup winner, Altieri, like the rest of the Kings organization, became overcome with emotion when the Kings won hockey’s Holy Grail in 2012. Yet, for Altieri, it wasn’t his own journey came to mind. Instead, it was Brown who the South Bay native thought of initially.
“Here’s the honest-to-God truth: when we won the first Stanley Cup, the first thing I was thinking of was when Dustin Brown said when he first became captain that he wanted to be the first person for the LA Kings to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head,” Altieri admitted. “So, when that was happening in the moment, that’s what I was thinking.”
Already in the midst of trading away pieces from the 1993 Stanley Cup Final roster in addition to their ownership turmoil, the Los Angeles Kings had seen better days when Altieri came on board. For the Cal State-Long Beach alum, though, growing up as a Kings fan made working for the organization a dream come true regardless.
But Altieri wasn’t content with just having a dream job.
His tireless work over the years helped turn the Kings into a success on the ice and a first-class organization off the ice.
From Luc Robitaille and Ziggy Palffy to Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, Altieri has had the pleasure of getting to know some of the greatest players to ever don a Kings uniform. But there was something extra special about Dustin Brown, who brought the Kings to unprecedented heights while remaining loyal and professional through challenging times.
There may never be another like Dustin Brown in franchise history, but that only makes Mike Altieri and company all the more thankful to have known the longtime captain of the Los Angeles Kings.