Column: Dustin Brown caps his memorable career as the ‘poster child for the L.A. Kings’
Dustin Brown wasn’t the first person to arrive in Los Angeles with more hope than life experience, a shy teenager with a dream of becoming a star in a city that often humbles kids who were the best at whatever talent they’d developed in their hometown.
The twist on this classic Hollywood story is that Brown’s dream didn’t play out on a soundstage or in a recording studio. It unfolded on icy hockey rinks, where he became the top hitmaker in NHL history and set the tone for the two Stanley Cup championships that forever changed the Kings’ previously lamentable playoff saga.
The man who spoke confidently Friday about his decision to retire after the playoffs was light-years removed from the boy who was drafted by the Kings in 2003 and spoke with a mild speech impediment when he spoke at all.
Sitting beside his wife Nicole, his high school sweetheart in Ithaca, N.Y., and their four California-born kids, his teammates stood behind him wearing hoodies imprinted with his name and No. 23.
Dustin Brown, the first Kings player ever to hold the Stanley Cup and the franchise’s all-time games played leader, is retiring at the end of the season.
Brown was emotional but eloquent in saying he knew it was time to go after a club-record 18 seasons, 1,296 regular-season games, and a league-record 3,632 hits since the NHL began tracking them in the 2005-06 season.
The kids are 8 to 14 years old. He had missed too many birthdays, softball games and youth hockey games. He’s fortunate that he’s relatively healthy at 37, able to leave by choice and not by necessity.
“There was a lot of factors that had nothing to do with hockey to be honest with you,” he said at a news conference. “I was at a place where I’m proud of my accomplishments, I’m proud of this group here, too, and to just go to the playoffs helped. If we hadn’t made the playoffs this decision might have been a little more difficult for me to make.”
Brown will make his eighth playoff appearance when the Kings face the Oilers in a first-round series that’s expected to start Monday in Edmonton. His teammates, who learned of his decision Thursday, said they want to win for him. He encouraged that rallying point — to a degree.
“I’d tell them that they are playing for me, but they are playing not only for me but for the guy next to them. And that’s I guess I’m just the guy next to them,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve always looked at it.”
He was much more than just another guy as their captain from 2008 until 2016 and a force of nature in his early years.
He peaked at 33 goals in 2007-08 and scored 20 or more goals six other times, most recently 22 in 2018-19. His hard but clean hit on Henrik Sedin in Game 3 of the Kings’ first-round playoff series against the Canucks in 2012 launched them to their first Cup title.
“He was different. You could tell,” said Kings president Luc Robitaille, who was ending his Hall of Fame career as Brown was starting out. “He was almost built like a linebacker. He’d just run guys over. We’d never seen that. He could change the game at that time.”
Over the years, his physical play took a toll and his scoring declined. To continue their latest rebuild the Kings had to play their kids more. He had nine goals and 28 points in 64 games this season and missed a month after he severed the tip of a finger on March 12, an injury he feared might end his career before he’d planned. He returned in time for their playoff drive.
“What a career that was,” said Kopitar, who got the news from Brown in a group text with Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty and insisted that Brown wear the captain’s “C” for Thursday’s regular-season finale. “You think of a perfect teammate, that’s the guy you want to look up to. And you think of a poster child for the L.A. Kings, that’s what he is. He showed that on the ice, off the ice.”
Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick will remain from the core of those Cup teams. But Brown’s exit in some ways ends a wonderful era for hockey in Southern California.
Starting with the Ducks’ championship in 2007 and through the Kings’ second title in 2014, the Cup came to the Southland three times in eight seasons. Hockey had an unprecedented moment in the spotlight here, with Brown and Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf at the center of ferocious battles highlighted by the Kings winning the teams’ only playoff series in 2014.
“Every sport you need an equal, right? He was a great player, and I played against a lot of great players through the years,” Brown said.
Getzlaf played in his next-to-last game against the Kings on April 23. Brown told him afterward, “I’m right behind you but I haven’t told anybody yet.”
Now, we all know and wish we didn’t.
Ryan Getzlaf, who was a first-round pick for the Ducks in 2003 and has been a team captain since 2010, will retire at the end of the season.
“It’s been a pleasure playing against Dustin Brown. Despite being a Southern California rival, I have the utmost respect for what he brought as a leader both on and off the ice,” Getzlaf said. “I hope Dustin, Nicole and the Brown family enjoy their next chapter following retirement.”
Brown said he hasn’t discussed his long-term future with the Kings but he and Nicole — who runs the Jr. Kings program — plan to stay in the South Bay.
“Wherever the coming weeks take us I can end my career playing games that matter. I can walk away knowing I did my best and the Kings are in a better spot than when I first arrived,” he said.
Some dreams, as improbable as they seem, do come true.
Kings vs. Oilers: How to watch live, series schedule and start times
Here’s how to watch, stream and listen to the Los Angeles Kings vs. Edmonton Oilers NHL Stanley Cup playoff series.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.