It’s that day, Insiders.
Dustin Brown’s final exit interview as a member of the LA Kings. A great conversation, a longer conversation, one that you took a few things away from, as one always does when hearing from Brownie. A few of the standout storylines from the interview below –
Having Fun Again
“A couple of years ago, our team wasn’t a lot of fun and this year was a lot of fun.”
Brown stuck around with the organization through three consecutive losing seasons, understanding the plan and the process, hopeful to be a part of what was on the other side. This was the first season of being on the other side, and it included a return to the postseason.
At what point did he think that this team had the pieces to be a playoff team?
“I remember we had two, five-game losing streaks early in the year and I said something after the second one, that this can’t happen again if we want to get in the playoffs,” he said. “From that point on, we started winning games, finding ways not even to win games, but in years previous, we found ways to lose games. This team, I think with the young guys coming up and we added some experience that really helped this year through trades and signings. In early-December, when we went on that long road trip when we got beat up by COVID, we found ways to win games. I remember going into Christmas break and our team was there, we just had to keep pushing.”
Nothing is more fun than winning hockey games and from that point on, the Kings did a lot of that.
Brown’s been on teams when the writing was on the wall earlier than the math might say it is. This season, however, the Kings just kept banking points and banking points, leading to an opportunity at the end of the season. That’s what made this team fun for Brown to be a part of.
“I remember coming out of [COVID], it was January-ish and we were just collecting points, which was a good sign, because I’ve done it the other way and you just see points slipping away,” he said. “The season’s not over, but you can do the math pretty early. When we started collecting points, it started becoming fun. Winning is fun, winning cures everything at this level. It was probably around January that I thought we had the team to do it, to get to the playoffs, and it was a battle.”
For Brown, what was special about this LA Kings team?
“It was probably not anything with the actual hockey on the ice, it was more of the mentality of the team is what is special about special teams, at least the teams I’ve been a part of,” he said. “We had good teams from a hockey standpoint, but we had elite teams from a mental standpoint, how we approached the game, and I think we showed a lot of positive attributes as a group that lent itself to getting the pieces in place. If you have that mentality, I still think it’s the hardest thing to get for teams. Why do some teams find a way to win and other teams don’t? It’s the mentality. Group mentality is important, also individual mentality kind of permeates through the group.”
If anyone knows about mentality, it’s Brown.
He’s been through it before on both the winning side and the losing side and is one who is well-enough experienced to understand the importance of mentality. While the Kings did not win this year, while they did not reach the levels of the teams in 2012-14, some of that mentality began to shine through.
“When we got our asses kicked in back-to-back games and a lot of people were doubting, we came in with a business-like attitude and pushed it to seven games but fell short,” he said. “I remember my first playoff experiences, just learning how to do it, there are a lot of guys in there with no experience. The first game, I think we had the least amount of games experience-wise in the whole playoffs. To play and get a seven-game series in for those guys is good, and realize how hard it is to win.”
Relationship w/ Teammates
Brown’s departure brings the Stanley Cup core down to three guys remaining – Kopitar, Doughty and Quick.
Brown talked about the special bond you get with teammates you’ve won with and that bond extends to the entire groups from 2012 and 2014. In terms of current teammates, that’s the three mentioned before, and in the moment, Brown is the one leaving. When he was on the other side of it, as the guy staying when others left, he felt a void every time someone from one of those cup teams departed.
Good times, good memories, but still a sadness in ending what’s been a long-term bond.
“Me, Quickie and Drew, we’ve all won together,” Brown said. “You have a different bond with those guys, that’s just how it works and that’s very bittersweet for me. I know how it felt for me any time anybody from those Stanley Cup teams left, we won with that guy. Now there are three, then there will be two and eventually, it will be just one guy. I guess that’s the idea, hopefully they can redo all of that again and then they start the whole process all over again and in 20 years there’s one guy left and then they hopefully do that again.”
What about the younger guys in the room?
Brown talked about how he’s seen growth from everyone in the room, had conversations with everyone in the room and developed relationships with all of those younger players.
He highlighted the “soft spot” he has for Carl Grundstrom, though. The pair sat next to each other in the locker room and started the playoffs as linemates. There are some Brown-like traits in Grundstrom’s game and that’s something Brown picked up on. Grundstrom talked about a conversation the two had prior to the playoffs, helping the first-timer prepare for his moment. Brown was complementary of young number 91 in his exit interview.
“Grundy was sitting next to be in the room and I’ve always had a soft spot for Grundy, he’s the Tonka Truck and he played really well, I was happy for him,” Brown said. “He got put into a spot and he performed how I knew he would, I think he showed a lot of people that he’s ready to take that next step.”
Brown’s hope with this team, with the younger players in the room, are that the things he’s tried to instill and pass along won’t be forgotten.
He knows he won’t be there next year and he’s excited to see how younger players step in and try to fill some of the things that he brought to the Kings.
“My hope is that someone that I’ve played with here in the last couple of years, maybe I’ve rubbed off on them in a way that they can come into next year without me there and bring whatever it is that I brought, in some way, some capacity,” he said. “I think I’ve talked to a lot of the young guys, I’ve played with a lot of the older guys and ever some of the middle-range guys, I’ve played with for 4-5 years. I’m excited to see what the young guys do.”
When Brown was a younger player, he remembered being in that same position.
He had help from veterans at the time, who passed things along that helped him, but at the end of the day, he had to see the opening and squeeze his way in, eventually pushing the door wide open.
Now, Brown is moving on, which leaves opportunities both in the lineup, as a solid, contributing player, and in the locker room as a leader. Those are two different types of holes, but holes that need to be filled nonetheless for the Kings to continue to grow and succeed. With more young players pushing for spots than there are physical spots, Brown is interested to see who steps up and grabs what’s in front of them.
“There was a time when I was that young guy and I had a few people that helped me and then you have to step into those roles,” he recalled. “I’m excited to see who is going to do it, because it has to be somebody. I’m not sure what they’re doing from a roster standpoint, but that’s probably the thing I’m looking forward to most. When I come out, who is going to come in and figure out how to do it, because at this level, that’s all it comes down to for an individual. I had a lot of help along the way, but I had a little bit of an opportunity and you just squeeze your way in, push your way in eventually. A lot of good young players on the team this year and I’m excited for them to have that opportunity. With me being gone, I just feel like it’s a great opportunity for these young guys, so it’s exciting to see them battle for it. There are only so many spots and now there’s one spot open.”
Brown said he doesn’t think a ton in the present about his longer-term legacy.
He certainly has one – we saved this interview for last for a reason – as one of the all-time franchise greats hangs up his skates for the final time. While there are times when it’s brought up, such as this interview, Brown doesn’t really have a ton of time to think about the bigger picture, though he’s sure that he will as the summer hits.
“I have moments when I think about it, throughout the day, or when you’re talking with people or get asked questions directly, but it’s just not something that I think about a whole lot,” he said. “It’s probably something I’ll think about when things have really settled down, when I’m out of physicals, maybe out of LA in the summertime and see people I don’t see throughout the year. I’m sure we’ll reminisce a lot about it. It’s just not something I think about all that much.”
Can he pinpoint one moment that stands out above the rest?
For Brown, it’s the closing minutes of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. That was the moment, as he put it, when dreams started to become a reality for so many people. The stretch late in the period, after two late goals sealed the game, were moments that Brown will always remember as his fondest as a player.
“Probably the last three minutes on the bench in 2012, we were [smoking] them, the game was over, but it was just 20 guys, it was that moment when dreams were coming through for a lot of people,” he said. “That group of 20 guys on the bench, we had about 3-4 minutes where it was our dreams coming true for the first time as a group. It was a weird situation because you always picture Game 7, overtime heroics, but it was 6-1 and it was the best 3-4 minutes of a game I’ve ever played. It was 20 guys, the trainers, the coaches all on the bench, Darryl is telling us to calm down, the game’s not over. Then I think Greener scored and then he was like now you can celebrate. That moment was special.”
What’s To Come
Now, for Brown, it’s about the next chapter of his life as a person, as a husband, as a father.
Following the season, he said that the hardest part would be leaving the rink for the final time. After interviews, physicals and goodbyes, the hardest part would be actually leaving.
“Leaving the rink, that’s hard, once I get out of the rink, life is life, people move on,” he said. “But, there were some moments after the game, the plane ride, that felt a little long, but at that point you’re tired, you’re having fun, but what I’m moving into is exciting. The bitter part is leaving, the sweet part is going forward.”
From there, Brown is excited to “live life and see what it’s like.”
He said he already has an out-of-town trip to Pittsburgh for a youth hockey tournament with his daughter and envisions a lot of that over the next couple of months, with some travel throughout the summer.
In terms of what will follow that, he’s not in any rush to make a decision. From the conversation, it doesn’t sound as if he’s looking to jump headfirst into a non-playing role with the organization, or within the industry. In the immediate interim, it’s time to be a dad, be a family man, and from there, we’ll see where things go.
“I don’t want to do anything like that right away, I want to get away from the game a little bit,” he said. “Spend time with my family, just being a dad really. I’m sure I’ll still be around, it’s hard not to be around the rink when you have four kids who play hockey, but I’m kind of just letting it unfold how it unfolds. There’s not some roadmap, I want to do this or be here. Today is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to think about these things and I’ll just take my time, really.”
One thing is for sure though, and that’s what Brown won’t be doing. Come September, don’t expect to see some Tom Brady-esque reversal of fortunes from Brown, with a sudden itch to join up with the group for training camp.
“No, I think hard on my decisions, but I stick with them. That’s not a possibility, just not my style.”
One more story from exit interviews to follow, Insiders! Many of Brown’s teammates, in addition to coaches and members of management, weighed in one final time on number 23. We’ll share those thoughts on Monday to close out the week.