LOS ANGELES –– Saturday’s celebration of Dustin Brown was less a moment in time than a stoppage of it where memories and emotions coalesced in a stirring tribute to the first King to ever lift the Stanley Cup.
Brown became the eighth individual in franchise history to have a banner commemorating his contributions hung from the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, and five of the other seven honorees were on hand alongside a cornucopia of family, former teammates and friends. He also became the third Kings player to have a statue erected in Star Plaza, joining Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille.
“Every number hanging up there has made a mark on this team’s history and DNA. It is my honor to join them,” Brown said.
From his billet family to his immediate family, Brown had his supporting cast on hand and made them the stars of his speech, along with the fans and figures that helped him elevate the Kings from also-ran to two-time Stanley Cup champion.
Foremost among them was his wife Nicole, who was both the president of his unofficial fan club and his harshest critic during his career.
“Through it all, my one constant was you. You kept me going and I love you very much,” Brown said.
He thanked fans for their patience, for their patronage and for sharing his dream to bring the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles. Former Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said only in Los Angeles could a vision like Brown’s come to fruition, one that Brown reified over nearly 1,400 total games but stated almost immediately upon his arrival to training camp as a teenager two decades ago.
Naturally, Brown’s bone-rattling hit on Henrik Sedin in Game 3 of the Kings’ 2012 first-round playoff series against the favored Vancouver Canucks was mentioned. It helped swing the series and garner momentum, but Brown also scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 affair that was emblematic of the low-scoring, high-character triumphs of the Kings during Brown’s captaincy.
The lovefest wasn’t without a few jokes at Brown’s expense –– he quaffed bubbly from the Stanley Cup two times but also twice drank from the wrong end of a water bottle on live television, for example –– and even a little self-deprecation. During a nod to former teammates Mattias Norstrom and Ian Laperriere for their tutelage and leadership by example, Brown revealed that for his NHL debut he paid for parking in a downtown lot.
He’d go from a shy, fuzz-faced prospect to one of the most feared hitters and respected leaders in perhaps the most onerous sport in terms of toughness and resilience.
Matt Greene, a player who provided roughly as much of the sandpaper in the Kings’ defense corps as Brown did among their forwards, recanted both their first interaction and their most impressive. A couple of teenagers sharing card tricks in an airport during a flight delay gave way to two stalwarts warding off sustained pressure from the Chicago Blackhawks’ own group of multiple-Cup winners and future hall-of-fame stars.
The fatigue began to return to Greene’s face as he told of withstanding the Blackhawks’ attack and twice icing the puck, leaving Greene, Brown and their cohorts gasping for air. Brown instructed his defensemen to rim the puck off the faceoff, lit up a Chicago defenseman and cleared the zone.
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“When he was tired and beat up and we needed a play, he called his own number and he got it done,” said Greene, who marveled at the torment Brown absorbed and delighted in the punishment he meted out in the process.
Earlier this week, former Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi appeared on “Kings of the Podcast,” where he spoke of the importance of a young Brown buying in and becoming a pillar of the Kings’ golden era. Though he said he did not initially imagine a sculpture of Brown’s would be erected near one of Gretzky, he understood early on that Brown, along with key acquisitions Greene and Jarret Stoll, brought the sort of substance and rectitude that was more likely to be critical to high-level success than a big-ticket scorer signed in free agency.
Brown also said the addition of Greene and Stoll, who came from Edmonton in exchange for prolific blue-liner Lubomir Visnovsky, was a pivotal move early in the Kings’ build. He said that their work in the dressing room allowed him to find his own voice and leadership style. Stoll requited, praising Brown’s fluid and flexible approach.
“If you’re the captain of the team, you have the final say in everything, right? With Brownie, that wasn’t the case,” Stoll said. “He wanted all of us to have a say, he wanted all of us to have a voice on what type of team and culture we wanted to have and to create here.”
Despite his reserved demeanor, quiet tone and early timidness, Brown had grand visions and high marks from the outset, setting designs on greatness for a team that had not experienced a great deal of it.
“When he got here, there was no culture here, there was no winning culture here. He built that, a lot of us built that all together as a group, and he was a huge part of that,” Stoll said.
During his podcast interview, Lombardi lamented some aspects of the transition that saw Brown relinquish his captaincy to his close friend Anze Kopitar, whose remarks closed the ceremony. But regardless of what letter he wore on his breast, if any, Brown’s commitment to the Kings and an enduring culture in the organization never faltered.
“‘C’ or no ‘C,’ I always wanted to be a King,” Brown said. “As I stand here today with my jersey being raised to the rafters, my only hope is that in the future, when you look up and see it hanging there, you think not of my achievements, but our achievements.”