JT Brown was just getting his feet wet in the National Hockey League.
In the final game of the 2011-12 regular season – his fifth game since the free agent collegian chose the Tampa Bay Lightning – the highly sought-after prospect registered an assist for his first professional point.
But more importantly, the short time in Tampa gave Brown a taste of the NHL lifestyle, the speed of the game, and the coaching systems.
“It was pretty brief, but it was great to get in there at the end of the year and see what it was like,” Brown said. “It was a really positive experience just to get a few games in.”
With the NHL in the midst of a lockout, Brown is focusing on bettering his game during his first full pro season with the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League.
“When you’re in the NHL, you get tabbed as an NHL guy, but on our ice he’s just a rookie trying to figure out the game,” Syracuse Crunch head coach Jon Cooper said. “Because he had that positive showing last year in Tampa, his expectations are high for us and he’s done nothing to disappoint so far.”
Before being sidelined recently with an injury, Brown recorded time on the power play and found the back of the net once over the first four games of the season.
“It’s tough whenever you get injured, especially this early in the season,” he said. “The whole summer you’ve been waiting to get on the ice and get back to playing games.”
The 22-year-old Minnesota-native has every reason to be anxious to jump back on the ice.
After winning the NCAA championship and being named the Frozen Four’s most outstanding player in 2011, Brown finished his last season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth with 47 points (24 goals and 23 assists) in 29 games. His leaps and bounds of progress prompted interest from numerous NHL clubs, all of which previously passed over the undrafted winger.
“Right away, you wish you would’ve gotten drafted,” Brown said. “But at the same time, going the route I did...I couldn’t complain.”
Although the Minnesota Vikings selected his father, former running back Ted Brown, in the first round, JT doesn’t have to look far for guidance in regards to being a professional athlete.
“Any situation that I was in, he’s already gone through it and was able to give me advice – what worked for him and what didn’t work for him,” Brown said. “It’s nice to have somebody who went through it – maybe in a different sport – but overall, it’s mainly the same.”
Although he played football when he was younger, Brown’s choice to play hockey was an easy one.
“Growing up I played just about everything, from soccer and baseball to football and hockey,” Brown said. “Once I got to high school, I decided I didn’t want to play football anymore and that hockey was the sport that I wanted to pursue.”
Now that he has shown he can play with the top athletes in the sport, Brown, who wears No. 23 like his father, needs to keep up that pace throughout a full professional season.
“The problem I find with players is if you want to be a good pro, you have to play consistent,” Cooper said. “You can’t be up one day and down the next. It has to be a solid, consistent play all the time. Those are the guys that make it.”
Pictured: Crunch forward JT Brown looks to make a move around Bears defenseman Steve Oleksy at the Onondaga County War Memorial Oct. 13.