Nicole Brown reflects on Dustin Brown’s captaincy with the LA Kings, the pride he took in it and the resilience he showed relinquishing it.
For nearly two decades, fans of the LA Kings have come to know Dustin Brown as many things: a fearless warrior, their team’s loyal leader, and an unwavering ambassador to the community. Along the way, Brown’s professional role evolved as did his personal role as a family man.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with the matriarch of the Brown family, Nicole, who has been with Dustin for the former captain’s entire journey with the LA Kings. Having met in their hometown of Ithaca, New York, the Browns relocated to Guelph, Ont., for Dustin’s major-junior career. Then, they headed west to Los Angeles.
Little did the Browns know just how integral a role the City of Angels would have on their lives. In fact, it all began on June 21, 2003 in Nashville. That evening, the Kings selected Dustin 13th overall at the NHL Draft.
“Honestly, when it happened, we had no idea what to expect,” Nicole recalled. “Neither one of us had ever been to California, so we knew nothing about it, really.”
While it is hard to imagine the latter thought in hindsight for them, the Browns, Dustin, in particular, was just thrilled to get drafted.
“You know, when you’re 18, I don’t think you really care so much about where you get drafted,” Nicole noted. “You’re just excited and happy to go to whatever team wants you.”
Of course, there was also an ulterior motive for going to Los Angeles.
“And all we really knew was it was going to be good weather,” Nicole added with a chuckle.
For some, they may have been quick to dismiss Dustin Brown when he first donned the Kings jersey on that stage in the Tennessee capital. After all, compared to some of the players taken before him – Eric Staal, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter – Brown may have seemed underwhelming given his smaller stature. The youngster’s babyface even added to the overall skepticism.
But as the old adage goes, never judge a book by its cover.
Dustin Brown made the team to begin the 2003-04 season and had an immediate impact.
While he played just 31 games in his rookie season, Brown forced opposing teams to take notice with his thundering hits. The former Guelph Storm would only continue this, leading a rebuilding Kings team physically – averaging just over 210 hits per season – while establishing himself as a solid leader.
But it was those leadership skills that helped the Kings’ Marquee No. 23 earn the club’s captaincy in 2008. It was a role Dustin did not take lightly.
“He definitely took it very seriously,” Nicole emphasized. “He had carried a lot of weight with that, so it definitely impacted him in a lot of ways. But mostly, he was incredibly proud. He did the best that he could and the best that he knew how. I think he was humbled by being honored with that because it’s such a huge thing.”
Like in any walk of life, there are going to times that are more challenging than others. The Kings’ captaincy was no exception to this. That, however, did not deter Dustin.
“There were definitely days where it weighed on him heavier than other days and days where the responsibility felt heavier,” Nicole admitted. “But overall, I think he handled it pretty well.”
For as much as he’s accomplished with the LA Kings, it’s Dustin Brown’s ability to persevere through the unpleasant times that has left fans relating to the 37-year-old on a more personal level.
While it is common to admire hockey players for their athletic prowess, many fans took even more of a liking to Dustin Brown for how he handled a difficult and for some, ego-deflating, situation in 2016.
That summer, the LA Kings named Anze Kopitar their new captain. Brown, as a result, found himself in an unenviable spot.
Having decided not to buy out his contract, the Kings entered a transitional season with Brown. With his captaincy relinquished, some wondered if Brown could continue as a King.
“I would say that out of his entire career, that was probably the most trying experience in L.A.,” Nicole remembered. “And a lot of what transpired and happened after is a testament to the type of guy that Dustin is.”
For some, losing their captaincy is enough to request – or demand – a trade or release. That, however, was not the case for Dustin Brown. After all, while the betterment of his team played a major factor, there was another reason for Brown staying put.
“Whether you’re upset or you’re not upset, at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your family,” Nicole explained. “You know, we felt that we wanted to still be in L.A. and not ask for a trade. Dustin is, luckily, the type of guy who can still show up and do his job after something like that happening. I almost feel like he was a bit of a different person – a little bit more loose, even. So, maybe that was a blessing in disguise. But definitely one of the hardest things he’s been through as a player in the 18 years he was there.”
The longtime leader also held a realistic perspective to help him and his family persevere.
“He always used to say, when we would talk about it, that the grass isn’t always on the other side,” Nicole reflected. “He could have walked in and asked for trade, but we could have ended up somewhere where the kids weren’t happy, we weren’t happy, and probably wouldn’t be living somewhere where it’s 75 [degrees] and sunny every day. So, Dustin was able to put all those things at the forefront. That was in terms of what was most important and put our family first. In L.A., he treated everybody with the same amount of respect that he always has. Like I said, that’s a testament to the type of person that he is. I give him a lot of credit for being able to do that because I don’t think I could have been that way in his shoes.”
To spend an 18-year playing career with one organization is rare, to say the least. Dustin Brown achieved this and what’s even more impressive, he didn’t do it simply by being idle. Far from it.
Wasting no time proving himself early in his career, Brown laid it all out on the line game-in and game-out. In doing so, he proved that he belonged in the NHL.
He did just that in 2012, captaining the club to their first-ever Stanley Cup victory – just months after putting trade rumors to sleep with his elevated play. And if 2012 wasn’t enough, Brown led the Kings to another Cup victory in 2014. He even won the Mark Messier Leadership Award that same year for his tireless work in the community.
Reflecting on the positive influence that Dustin Brown has had on the LA Kings will take some time. That is a testament to Mr. Brown both as a player and as a person. But it was the honor of wearing the ‘C’ and especially the willingness to adapt following that period that has really helped Dustin stand out as a strong, resilient human being. And with the unwavering support of his loving wife, Nicole, and their four children, Jake, Mason, Mackenzie, and Cooper, Dustin Brown will forever go down as one of the greatest LA Kings of all-time – even if he didn’t produce the same amount of points as Luc Robitaille, Marcel Dionne, or Dave Taylor.
With the ‘C’, without the ‘C’, it just didn’t matter. Dustin Brown was the same competitor and the same person, under any circumstances. That is precisely why the LA Kings, their fanbase, and his loving family will forever celebrate their Marquee No. 23. Then, now, and forever.