The NHL's Viking Son
In honor of Father's Day, JT Brown credits his dad, Ted, a former Minnesota Viking, for helping him reach the NHL
In honor of Father's Day, Lightning forward JT Brown credits his dad for helping him reach the next level
The lights hanging from the rafters of Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota were shining brightly onto the ice during an early April night in 2011.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs had made it to just their second NCAA Championship Game in school history, and had done it in true dark-horse fashion, having defeating the top seeded, heavily-favored Yale squad in the East Regional Final.
After nudging out Notre Dame in the National Semifinal, the Bulldogs now faced the University of Michigan Wolverines. Michigan was a historically storied hockey school, making its 16th appearance in the Championship Game, but the past didn't matter that night, as the UMD Bulldogs captured their first NCAA Division I National Title in Men's Hockey.
However, nobody cherished the moment that night quite like Brown's family, and specifically, his father, Ted Brown.
"It was one of the most exciting times of my life," the elder Brown recalled. "It was amazing to see all the people there, and for him to do it in his hometown was really special."
The younger Brown grew up in Burnsville, Minnesota, just a short 20 miles outside of St. Paul.
The Brown family took up residence there while Ted was in the midst of playing eight seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings. Ted was a star running back at NC State during the late 1970s before being selected in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft by Minnesota. He would finish with 4,546 rushing yards and 53 total touchdowns. Ted retired from the game in 1986, four years before JT was born.
Although JT never got to actually go to any of his father's games, he still remembers how his father's NFL experience affected his development both as an athlete and as a person.
"I really enjoyed seeing that he was able to play his sport at the highest level," JT said. "Growing up, it really gave me something to strive for."
JT grew up playing football all the way through middle school, and of course, as is customary for almost all children growing up in Minnesota, he also played hockey.
Minnesota is commonly known as "The State of Hockey." To put it in perspective, most youngsters are born with skates on their feet. In fact, JT's home state has produced almost a quarter of all American-born players in the NHL today, leading all other states.
Upon enrolling at Rosemont High School, JT had a big decision to make. He wanted to commit to a single sport and excel in it as his father did. He could choose to stick with the skates, or follow in his father's footsteps on the gridiron.
"I honestly didn't care," Ted said of what sport he wanted his son to choose. "I wouldn't have even cared if he didn't want to play sports at all. I wanted him to do what he had a passion for. That's all I truly cared about."
Ted also said of his son, "he was always an athletic kid, but he showed really early on that he could play hockey and I could tell that he really liked that."
As is obvious now, JT followed his passion onto the ice.
He thrived at the right wing position for two years with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL, then given All-USHL Second Team honors in his second year and also was extended an offer to play at University of Minnesota Duluth in 2010.
Brown enjoyed great success at UMD, scoring 40 goals and tallying 84 points in 81 games played during his two seasons there. He then proved to be an integral part of the Bulldogs' 2011 National Championship team. Even in retrospect, JT always credits his father for having played a vital role in being able to push his game to new heights.
"He has always been there as someone to lean on," JT said of his dad. "He and the rest of my family have always really supported me. I can't thank them enough."
JT's time with the Bulldogs ended in March of 2012 after UMD lost to Boston College in the Northeast Regional Final. As heartbreaking as it was, he still had much to look forward to as he was one of the top free agents coming out of college.
Lightning general manager Steven Yzerman quickly took note and signed Brown to a two-year contract this past April. Brown joined the Lightning for the team's final five games of the regular season, averaging about 14 minutes a game. He also added an assist and concluded his NHL debut season with a plus-2 rating.
Today, however, JT is spending Father's Day with Ted and the rest of his family by grilling out in the family's backyard, creating even more memories for both to cherish.