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JT Brown’s life is one every Minnesota hockey player dreams of living. Brown is currently a right winger for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the National Hockey League. His path to the NHL lifestyle is filled with championship games, personal accolades, and tight friendships.
Brown’s hockey career erupted when he decided to stay for his senior year at Rosemount High School instead of leaving early for the USHL. He holds the school record for career goals after depositing 75 pucks into the back of the net and recording 65 assists over his three-year career with the Irish. He attributes the majority of his athletic background to his father, Ted Brown, who was a first round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 1975. Ted went on to play eight seasons for the Vikings.
At Rosemount, Brown was on track to play multiple sports: football, baseball and hockey. It was during his sophomore year that he decided to focus solely on hockey. Ironically, Ted’s professional football career is what brought JT to the State of Hockey, which is what started this lifelong journey. “I’ve leaned on my dad a lot during this process,” Brown said. “He’s helped me so much along the way.”
After high school, Brown played two seasons for the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL, but was not selected in the NHL Entry Draft.
“I wasn’t surprised. I feel like you would know if that type of talk was happening,” Brown said about not being drafted. “For me, it just made me focus on getting to the next level. Once I made it to Waterloo, my next goal was to play Division I hockey.”
Brown tallied 113 points in 96 games in Waterloo, an atmosphere that every hockey fan should experience.
“It’s definitely the best home barn in the USHL,” Brown said.
After Waterloo, Brown achieved his Division I goal when he moved on to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for a hockey scholarship; that’s where the lights really started to shine bright for the humble Bulldog freshman.
In 2011, UMD made it to the National Championship game, hosted in his home state at the Xcel Energy Center. Over 19,000 fans packed the building to see Brown’s Bulldogs defeat the Michigan Wolverines 3-2, and Brown was named Most Outstanding Player. “It’s something special,” Brown said. “You always remember the boys.”
Brown has played a different role at almost every level of hockey since leaving Rosemount HS, which has helped him become a selfless hockey player.
“You have to know your role that is going to help the team,” Brown said about his championship team. “We all knew our roles and stuck together.”
Following his sophomore season at UMD, Brown signed an entry-level two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Three days later, he made his NHL debut in a 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets, however his first game was overshadowed by NHL superstar and teammate Steven Stamkos.
Brown’s NHL debut ended with Stamkos’ 56th goal of the season, an overtime winner.
“He’s amazing,” Brown said of his all-star teammate. “The way he works on his game, his shot, everything. Unreal.”
The next season, the NHL entered a partial lockout and Brown spent the year playing for the Syracuse Crunch—the Lightning’s top affiliate in the AHL. He was vital in the Crunch’s run to the Calder Cup Finals, but they ultimately fell to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
After his first full season as a professional hockey player in Syracuse, he received his second call up to the Lightning in a season that ended in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Brown knows his role with the Lightning, and sometimes that role means he has to drop the gloves. He has been in 11 professional fights.
“It’s a part of the game,” Brown said. “It’s something I can bring to the team whenever we need some energy.”
While Brown’s career is young, he has established an impressive resume; not many players can say they played in the National Championship, Calder Cup Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals in a four-year span. The big moments continued for Brown, who then married his wife, Lexi, whom he met in Syracuse while playing for the Crunch.
“When you look back at it, it's pretty special to have played on some great teams to have chance to win each league,” Brown said. “Obviously wish we could have won at the professional level. It's still an accomplishment to make it that far. I think losing in both the Calder and Stanley Cup makes you realize how hard it is to make it there and it's not something that will just happen every year.”
Brown is currently living the life he once dreamed of, but he knows that it comes at a cost.
“It’s all about the work ethic, the effort you have to put in,” Brown said. “Hard work pays off.”
His summer days begin at 7:30 a.m. when his alarm goes off and he drives to his 9 a.m. workout, followed by an 11:30 a.m. skate. He puts in his time training with the familiar faces of former teammates who also play professional hockey.
“Justin Faulk is probably my biggest competition,” Brown said about his former UMD teammate, friend, and current NHL opponent. “When we play against each other, we like to yap at each other because we know how to get into each other’s heads.”
After his training, he gets to enjoy his offseason days. Typically around 2 p.m. he decides on a nap, a Call of Duty session, or a round of golf.
“I probably have to consider myself the best Call of Duty player I know,” Brown said.
The video game is his favorite way to get away from the mental grind during the hockey season.
JT Brown knows what it takes to be successful in all levels of hockey, and he strives to get better every day to help his team. The life, work ethic, and selflessness Brown represents is what makes him an UNRL athlete.
“If you don’t have goals that are higher than where you’re at now, then somebody else will catch you.” - Joshua Thomas Brown.