By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
It’s been an incredible life journey for Kevin Brown the hockey player and Kevin Brown the person.
A journey that has taken him from his birthplace in Birmingham, England to Southwest Florida – with plenty of stops along the way.
Brown, 28, joined the East Coast Hockey League’s Florida Everblades two weeks ago after being traded by the Augusta Lynx. Now in his ninth year as a pro, this is his first stint in the ECHL, and a surprising one for a skilled forward who has 64 games of NHL experience.
“I was a little surprised to see him down here, but sometimes that’s just the way this business operates,” says Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming, who played against Brown when he was with the Montreal Canadiens organization. “As you get older, teams have to make room for the younger guys. He’s a good player and I’m just surprised that nobody in the American Hockey League – knock on wood – has picked him up.”
Brown, whose family moved to Toronto from England when he was an infant and still lives there, was a bit surprised himself, especially coming off a 2001-02 campaign in which he scored 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) in 70 games for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. But his veteran status caught up to him, as the AHL allows only five veterans on the roster.
At a bulky 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, Brown’s soft hands and keen vision on the ice are things his older brother Desmond says have gone unappreciated.
Brown always has been perceived as a physical player.
“I used to be more of a banger and I’d bang in goals. Now I’m more of a finesse guy,” Brown, who has scored 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in four games with the Blades, explains. “I like to make plays and I like to shoot the puck.
“If I got a chance to hit a guy I would. I don’t go out of my way to hit guys. I like to just get in front of guys and keep guys out of the play, but when it comes down to it I like to be the one to set up plays, make goals happen.”
Brown has put up solid numbers everywhere he’s been, including the NHL where he played alongside Wayne Gretzky as a rookie with the Los Angeles Kings in 1994-95. His second season (1996-97) was his least productive, but Desmond points out that was the year their father contracted colon cancer, which he eventually beat.
Brown also went to training camp in Pittsburgh with Jaromir Jagr and was on the ice with and against some of the best players in hockey, scoring 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists) with five different NHL teams.
Desmond, 31, remembers being in the old Montreal Forum during the 1992 NHL Entry Draft when the Kings selected Kevin in the fourth round with the 87th pick overall.
With the rest of their family, which is of Irish-English heritage, still back in England, Desmond, Kevin and their parents are as close knit as a family can be.
“I also can say I was in the rink when he got his first NHL goal (against the Chicago Blackhawks). That was one of the proudest moments if not the proudest moment in my life,” says Desmond, who is in sales for a Canadian car-rental company. “He’s had some pretty fantastic moments and I’ve shared most of them with him.
I’m his biggest fan and his biggest critic rolled into one.”
His pro hockey career has taken Brown to 13 cities with 15 teams in six leagues, including a trip back to his native England in 2000-01 with the Manchester Storm. That was merely months after playing in a Stanley Cup playoff game with the Edmonton Oilers against the Dallas Stars.
As thrilled as he was to be reunited this month with two of his good friends and former teammates – Everblades veteran forward and team captain Tom Buckley and veteran defenseman Duane Harmer – Brown says he feels he still is capable of playing at the higher levels. He’s not alone.
“I never thought that after having the year he had last year in Hamilton that he’d be at this level, but things happen like that. It’s a funny game,” says Harmer, who was in Detroit when Brown put up 135 points (54 goals, 81 assists) in 57 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Junior Red Wings in 1993-94.
Brown says that when he came into the NHL, first-round draft picks were getting between $225,000 and $250,000, and those were the top three or four picks overall.
Now he says he’s seen second-rounders bring in $650,000, and with teams tied into that type of an investment, older players like himself are being pushed to the side.
“I want to play until my legs give out, because when the game’s gone, you can’t put it back on and go again. I’m not Michael Jordan and I’m not Mario Lemieux,” Brown says.
“When you’re out of the game you’re out of the game, so I’m going to play until my age lets me play. I hope I’ve got a few good years left.”
As Desmond puts it, Brown is a journeyman through and through and wears his heart on his sleeve.
A unique trait for a Canadian/Irishman/ Englishman.