When there are trade rumors about you, it’s hard not to hear the noise. You can try to spend more time with your wife and kids, watch less TV, keep your head down in the locker room — but you hear the noise.
In February of 2012, I heard the noise loud and clear. I was captain of the L.A. Kings and I knew the expectations that came with my role. It’s a winning town … and we weren’t winning. The front office had changed coaches in December and we’d hovered around 10th in conference for most of the year — it wasn’t good enough. I knew that.
But I also knew what we had in our room.
We had lost in the first round of the playoffs the previous two seasons. We were young. We didn’t really know what it took to have success in the playoffs. But losing is the best teacher — I really believe that.
Our team was capable of so much more than we had shown up to that point — I thought that every time I walked into the locker room on game day. I’d see Drew, Anže, Quickie and the rest of our group — talented players who could take us all the way — and I’d try to figure out how we could fix whatever was wrong.
One day late that month, I was sitting in the corner of our locker room a few hours before a game. We’d just lost four in a row and I’d only scored one goal that month. Our room wasn’t a great place to be. So when Tim Leiweke came in, it was a bit … concerning. Tim was the CEO of the Kings at the time, and it was pretty rare to see him down in that part of the arena.
He walked in and went right to the middle of the room — maybe 15 feet from me. And then he looked around for a few seconds until he found me.
“Brownie, we’re not f***ing trading you. Your job is to be the captain of this team and to lead us to the Stanley Cup.”
And he walked out.
That was it — after weeks of trade speculation and self-doubt. And just like that, I felt like a weight had been taken off my shoulders. I went out and scored a hat trick in a 4–0 win over the Blackhawks a few hours later.
You’re going to tell me that’s a coincidence?
Moments like those — when you can look back and see how someone, or something, affected your life — they’re really special to me. That’s why I’m writing this. As I’ve been closing in on 1,000 NHL games, I’ve had some time to reflect on what Los Angeles and the Kings have meant to me and my family.
And to do that properly, I need to start in Nashville.
I was sitting with my parents 10 rows up from the floor at the Gaylord Entertainment Center at the 2003 NHL draft when I saw Kevin Gilmore — Kings VP of hockey operations — point to me in the crowd and whisper something to the rest of his staff. A few picks after he pointed at me, the Kings went to the stage to make their first pick of the first round.
And then once I heard my name, the night became a whirlwind.
The walk to the stage, the photos, the handshakes … the next few hours I was just trying to catch my breath. The Kings had two other first-round picks that year, and to celebrate the team threw a party at a hotel in downtown Nashville.
I must have met 200 people before the night was over. Everyone would come up, shake my hand and tell me how excited they were that I was a part of the Kings. I didn’t know any of them … I just kept nodding and smiling.
Then I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned, and I was face-to-face with the greatest hockey player of all-time.
In a hotel lobby. In Nashville.
Wayne Gretzky shook my hand. Wayne Gretzky shook my hand.
I don’t know what I said to him, but I remember what he said to me.
“You’re going to love L.A., it’s a great hockey town — don’t forget that.”
I didn’t really have time to let that sink in. He walked away and I sort of just looked around like, Did … did anyone see that? I don’t remember anything else from that night. And I don’t think I saw Wayne again for the rest of the evening. But I promise you, I shook his hand that night.
And a month later, I was 5,000 feet in the air, descending into L.A., and looking at rows and rows and rows of palm trees. And I had the thought that everybody who’s played for the L.A. Kings has had at one point or another, Man, they play hockey here? It felt like I was going through some sort of Kings checklist. Gretzky handshake, check. Palm trees, check.
Losing is the best teacher — I really believe that.
I was an 18-year-old kid from Ithaca, New York, who had only played hockey on the East Coast — there was a learning curve for sure. I was the only teenager on the team, so looking back, having veterans like Luc Robitaille and Ian Laperriere on the roster really helped me. On road trips, they’d come check on me when we were at the hotel to see how I was doing and if I needed anything. It really had a huge impact on my rookie year.
I was on a line with Ziggy Pálffy and Jozef Stümpel and, man … they were so good. I remember I had one goal in 31 games that season and I really should have had 15. Ziggy and Jozef would dance around guys and feed me backdoor all the time and I just couldn’t put the puck in the net for whatever reason.
Luc and Lappy knew I was frustrated, but they kept telling me, “Don’t press, don’t press. It’ll come.”
It sounds simple. But in L.A. it was hard not to press — especially when we were struggling season after season. I think people see the success we’ve had recently and they forget what it took to get here. There were nights in my first few years when it just wasn’t clicking, and I would look around at our half-empty arena and wonder when, or if, things were ever going to turn around.
Look, L.A. is a Laker town — everyone knows that. But I wanted to believe that we could make an impact on the city. Wayne told me it was a great hockey town.
I knew it was going to take some time. Before the 2008 season started, Terry Murray called myself, Anže and Matt Greene into his office.
Terry said, “Brownie, you’re going to be the captain. Anže and Greeney, you’re going to be assistants. You know what we’ve got in that room. It’s up to you guys to take this team where we want to go.”
It was the first time any of us had been given a letter on our jerseys before. And I think that was when I began to feel the responsibility we had to this city. L.A. is a great hockey town — but it was up to our team to make it that way. Nothing was going to be given to us.
A few weeks later I reported to my first camp as captain. There was a new kid there that everybody was talking about: Drew Doughty. To be honest, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the draft. It comes and it goes, and you know some young guys are going to be at camp come the end of summer. I had heard a few things about Drew from the media.
“You’re not going to believe how good this kid is,” they’d say. Or, “You’ve never seen a defenseman like this.” It went on and on. I sort of just rolled my eyes every time like, O.K., let’s get him into camp.
First day of camp, Drew is there — big goofy smile on his face. We were doing a few line drills and I was on the bench the first time he got on the ice. And I remember, maybe three shifts into practice, I knew he was going to make the team.
I think I saw Anže on the bench and we both just sort of looked at each other like, Nice.
Drew sees the games three steps ahead of everybody else, that’s the best way I can put it. He’s been like that his whole career. The only difference between rookie Drew and Norris-winning Drew is that he knows how good he is now.
L.A. is a Laker town — everyone knows that. But I wanted to believe that we could make an impact on the city.
But back then he didn’t quite know. And that was sort of like our whole team. We started seeing some results when we made the playoffs the next season, but those two first-round losses — they hurt. And then in 2011–12 we came out of the trade deadline still outside the playoffs with just two months to go. It didn’t make sense, we had the talent and we knew we could get to the playoffs. It just wasn’t working.
Then we added Jeff Carter. Then Tim Leiweke spoke to me. And then we got hot, and we never cooled off.
We snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed. We had to play Vancouver — the Presidents’ Trophy winners – in the first round. I remember toward the end of Game 1, Mike Richards absolutely obliterated Alex Burrows in front of their bench. We were up 3–2 with under a minute to go and were holding on and Mike stepped up and made a huge play. And after that, it just felt like we had the edge on them.
We found a different way to win every series that year. Quickie was unbelievable, like out-of-this-world good. It was the best goaltending I had ever seen in my life. Darryl Sutter had taken over as coach in December and he really made a big difference in the playoffs. He pumped a lot of emotion into our game.
We got by St. Louis and Phoenix after Vancouver, and then next thing I knew we were up 4–1 going into the third period of Game 6 in the Cup finals against New Jersey.
Trevor Lewis made it 5–1 with less than four minutes to go— less than four minutes until we won a Stanley Cup. Guys were bouncin’ off each other on the bench and giving high fives, and then Darryl starts yelling, “Hey! Focus! Let’s go! This game isn’t over yet!”
And then 15 seconds later Greeney scored to make it 6-1 and Darryl finally smiled.
And those last few minutes … if I could bottle that feeling I would. I remember looking around at the Staples Center crowd and seeing people with tears in their eyes. It’s hard for me to put into words, even now, what that meant to me. I’ll never forget those few minutes. It felt like the entire city of L.A. was packed into Staples and it was perfect.
When I lifted the Cup, I just felt weightless. But I remember feeling proud more than anything else. Proud of our group, which had been together for so long, proud of our organization for building up to a run like this, and proud of the city for coming together like it did.
At the parade a few days later I met an elderly fan. He told me he had been waiting since 1967 for us to win a Stanley Cup. And as we traveled down Figueroa Street, I kept meeting more and more people like him. Fans who had been there for everything: The start of the club, the Triple Crown era, the Gretzky years, the Cup finals loss, the dark periods and everything in between. They stayed loyal after all those seasons, and it was a tremendous honor to be a part of the team that brought them a Cup.
The Cup run in 2014 is worthy of a whole other story. Three Game 7s, an OT victory to win the Cup — it’s a good one. Maybe if I write a book one day. What I remember most is how hard it was. The 2014 playoffs were how I thought 2012 was going to be. In 2012, we only lost four games and everything was just working for us. In 2014, it was a battle. It was exhausting every night and I’m not even sure how we did it.
My brother, Brandon, told me before the 2014 finals to try and soak everything in — to enjoy the moment. I tried to take his advice. And luckily, there was a moment at the end that I know I’ll never forget — I don’t know that any Kings fan will forget Alec Martinez’s overtime Cup-winner anytime soon.
My sons drank chocolate milk out of the Cup after we won it in 2012. And In 2014 we put our 10-month-old daughter in it.
The time I’ve spent with my wife, Nicole — who deserves a C on her chest, too – and our kids is just as valuable to me as those Cup memories. And the last few seasons, I’ve leaned on them quite a bit.
Our play the past three years hasn’t been what Kings fans have come to expect lately, I know that.
I’ll be honest, It was difficult for me to lose the captaincy in the summer of 2016. I took it personally. I felt I had earned it and I wanted to be the one to guide us through our troubles. But I know Anže well. He’s a great leader.
There have been some valleys for us to get through. It was tough on our team when coach got let go — we know some of that blame deserved to fall on us. I had a couple of seasons when my game wasn’t where it should be, and not having a letter on my chest last year put some things into perspective. I tried to come into camp like I did when I was a rookie.
There were more trade rumors last summer, and it felt like 2012 all over again.
But I knew that this time nobody would be coming down to the locker room to save me — it was on me. I went back to what I knew how to do: Work hard and get to the net. Everything else was just noise — there was nothing I could do about it. There were a lot of guys in our room who had the same attitude.
It feels like a new era in L.A. We have a new coach, new management, some new young players who bring energy to the lineup every night — it’s really exciting. This year every game is an opportunity to prove to ourselves, and to our fans, that we can be that team again.
And when I think of 1,000 NHL games, there’s one thing I keep coming back to — that, in the heat of the moment, hockey can make you feel like there’s no tomorrow. But I’ve been lucky enough to have 1,000 tomorrows. And I hope with every single one of them I’ve been able to make the people of L.A. proud.
To the fans who waited nearly 50 years for a Cup, to my wife and kids who have made L.A. their home, and to my parents — thank you. My mom was an E.R. nurse and my dad owned a bar and would take me to and from all of my hockey games. He wasn’t a huge fan, he never pressured me into playing or told me how to play — he just wanted me to have fun. As a father myself now, I see how important that attitude is.
And to my Kings teammates and to all the other members of the organization who have been by my side — thank you, and let’s keep going.
Because now when our team plane descends into LAX, and I see the HOLLYWOOD sign, the ocean and the palm trees, I think just one thing: hockey.