Transcript: Getting to know J.T. Brown

Brown discusses his approach to games, balancing speed with physicality, and preparing for fatherhood.

The Lightning Power Play Podcast is a weekly show hosted by Matt Sammon (@SammonSez), Director of Radio Programming for the team. New episodes of the podcast are released every Tuesday and air multiple times throughout the day on the Lightning Radio Network (@TBLPowerPlay & SoundCloud).

Quick Note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases, “and,” “but,” “you know,” and “um.”

Intro: This week on Lightning Radio’s Power Play

Sammon: Every hockey team has its scorers, its play-makers, and its defensive stalwarts. But you also need players with speed and a bit of physical edge to their play.

Cut to radio broadcast of Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders on November 1, 2016.

Dave Mishkin: Palat rebound, carries it to center ice. JT Brown a short-handed break away. Brown in alone. SCORE! J.T. BROWN! A short-handed goal.

Sammon: On this week’s edition of the Power Play Podcast, we talk to the Lightning player who fits that role - J.T. Brown. From Frozen Four [NCAA ice hockey tournament] outstanding player to third-line winger and penalty killer in the NHL, Brown has seen his role shift considerably since his college days. The adjustment has helped him stay in the NHL for five seasons now.

We’ll talk about the preparation it takes to be ready when called upon, the balance of a speed game and a physical game, and how little XBox will be played when he and his wife welcome in their first child in a few months. Getting to know J.T. Brown.

Commercial break

Sammon: It’s not unusual to see hockey players who were scoring machines in college, or especially in junior hockey - now in junior hockey, the culprit is that defense isn’t necessarily the prime focus of many players, or teams for that matter, at that level.

Many of the players who were known for scoring at a young age, before becoming good two-way players in the NHL - well it’s just simply a role change. A necessary role change. If they want to play in the NHL, they have to abide by NHL team systems. If you try to do your own thing, you find yourself back in the minors or bouncing around from team to team.

Lightning forward J.T. Brown averaged a point-per-game in two seasons at Waterloo in the USHL (United States Hockey League) and again in two seasons at Minnesota-Duluth, helping the Bulldogs win the Frozen Four championship in his freshman season in 2011.

Signed as a free agent by the Lightning in March of 2012, the goals may not be racking up as frequently as they once did. So what’s the biggest change in his game over the past five years?

Brown: I didn’t fight much back then. [laughs] I feel like I always had a little bit of that tenacity, wanting to go into the corners. It’s a little bit different role. We’ve got a lot of skilled guys here and it’s - I would just say for myself, it was good to be able to transition into a new role. Because I want to be here, I want to play with this group. Sometimes you’ve got to do other things that maybe you weren’t used to doing. That’s just part of the game.

Sammon: Ah yes, necessity. What’s the old saying? Adapt or get passed by? Brown isn’t the first player to have to do this and he certainly won’t be the last. In fact, his admission that he had to change how he played from his college days to stick in the NHL - well that reminded me of a similar conversation I had with former Lightning captain Tim Taylor.

Taylor: Scotty Bowman, the first day of training camp. Noah Brown, my coach in the AHL said, “Listen, Scotty doesn’t have full trust in you. You have to prove to him during the training camp that you can play. You can put up points. But you have to be good defensively.”

So when the first day of training camp, he pulled me aside on the ice he [Bowman] said, “Oh. A lot of goals last year.”

I said, “Yes.”

“A lot assists?”


And he says, “MVP of the league?”

I said, “Yes.”

And he says, “Okay.” He says, “Can you beat up [Sergei] Federov?”


“[Steve] Yzerman?”


“[Keith] Primeau?”


He says, “How about checking left wing?”

I said, “Yes.”

He says, “Well, we’ll do that. We’ll make you into a checking left winger and a guy that can put some goals on board for us when you have the chance.” And he says, “I think that’s your way into the NHL.”

And sure enough Scotty gave me the opportunity. I got to play with some great players in an unbelievable organization [the Detroit Red Wings] and ultimately win a Stanley Cup with them. So that’s the time that really - and coach - that focused on defense-first orientated hockey and got me to where I was at checking center in the National Hockey League as my career progressed.

Sammon: What was good enough to give Tim Taylor 746 games and two Stanley Cups in the NHL is good enough for J.T. Brown who cleared the 200-game threshold on October 15th. He certainly wants to win a Cup on a talent-laden Lightning team.

Brown: Just playing throughout the AHL as well, you kind of get a little more of an aspect of pro hockey. Then once I got here, I had a few chances playing up on the second line.

It wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, but I knew I wanted to stay here so you just kind of had to adopt a new mindset just to make sure that - you want to play in this league, you have to do whatever it takes.

Sammon: Whatever it takes. That’s a testament to anyone who wants to continue to play in the best hockey league on the planet, rather than chase a series of one-year contracts with teams looking to get to the salary cap floor. Or suitcases of unmarked bills in Russia with the KHL [Kontinental Hockey League].

J.T. Brown likely won’t put up the number Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos will, but evidenced in last season’s stats - the role he plays in setting up some of those stars with a speedy entrance into the offensive zone is plain to see. In 78 games played, a career-high eight goals and 14 assists were recorded.

More importantly, a career best +16 rating shows you Brown is also a guy who won’t be out there when the puck goes into the Lightning net. Given the edict to play with a 1-0 mentality, that statistic is probably held up to a higher light.

Oh yeah, somebody has to stand up for those star players if the other team starts to take liberties with them.

Brown: Of course. Any time. I mean, for the most part, a lot of fights are for defending hits that you may or may not have liked, whether it was a hit I threw or the other team. Those ones - that’s part of the game. That’s part of - we would expect nothing else from the rest of the guys on our team. So can’t really complain with that. Like you said, I’m not really one to shy away from anything.

Brown: There’s just something about the adrenaline when you get going. Even if it’s against one of your good buddies, you still have that adrenaline going and you don’t really care about it until afterwards.

Sammon: Do you discuss it afterwards? Do you bump into them in the hallway and go, “Yeah, that was a pretty good one.”

Brown: Yeah, I mean especially with Gudy [Philadelphia Flyers defenseman and former Lightning player Radko Gudas]. That was a fun one. Obviously we were texting right after. I saw him after the game. The wife wasn’t very happy about it, but it’s still part of hockey. Gudy and I know that as well so there’s no hard feelings.

Sammon: What’s been the toughest fight that you’ve had so far?

Brown: This year?

Sammon: Well I mean, just the first one that comes to mind.

Brown: Probably the [Scott] Mayfield one was pretty tough, because he’s just really big. He’s like 6’4” or whatever. I think probably the first one would be [Brendan] Smith last year, when he threw some lefts. Where I wasn’t really - I hadn’t been going against anybody who threw lefts before, so that one caught me by surprise. Hopefully now after having one or two of those, I’ll be a little bit more used to it in case someone switches.

Sammon: Now when you’re going up against a guy like Mayfield and there’s a slight advantage in the tale of the tape. At that moment, are you thinking, “What have I got myself into?” Or is just adrenaline - you just go.

Brown: Adrenaline. You’re just going. I mean you pick and read your spots of when you’re going to throw, when you’re going to hang back. On that one, I pretty much remember as soon as I tried to throw one right over top - I knew at that point there was no chance for me to get him. He was too long - too long of a reach. Then I just came with the jabs and just tried to stay in tight.

Brown: There’s different things you can read during the game, so it’s not all just a crazy wild throwing fest. For the most part, the adrenaline just takes over. You don’t feel really getting hit until the next day. Jaw is a little bit sore or whatnot, but it’s definitely an adrenaline rush.

Sammon: The throwing of hands with a Scott Mayfield or Radko Gudas actually isn’t the toughest part of the routine for Brown. The downside of playing on a team loaded with offensive talent, with more coming up from the farm club in Syracuse, is you may find yourself sitting a game or two out as a healthy scratch. It’s part of the territory, but something you can’t let get to you if you want to stay in this league.

Brown: Yeah, I mean you just have to stay focused. Regardless if you’re in or not, you have to prepare like you’re going to play. Because you don’t know if you’re going to be in or not, so you can’t just go in with a mindset of, “Am I going to play today? Am I not?” You just plan and you prepare like you’re playing every game and try not to deviate from that.

Sammon: You mentioned focus. So a lot of the time preparing for the game - it’s not skating, it’s not keeping up on X’s and O’s - just mentally staying sharp?

Brown: Yeah, I mean some guys - everybody has their own different routine, things they do before the game to make sure they’re prepared. For myself, it’s just keeping - not to stress. Try not to be too focused on what happened last game or you weren’t in this game. Just focusing on here and now, and what I can do in this game to help our team be victorious.

Sammon: Brown offers a unique skill set that can help the Lightning in a couple of different situations. His speed along the wing not only allows for easy entry into the offensive zone, but defensemen have to commit to him in the zone. That typically opens up the ice for teammates.

As discussed, Brown brings a physical edge to certain situations. While he’s not a goon, he knows when the time comes to drop the gloves. There’s no hesitation when that happens. A “speed and setting up the offense” game seems to be at the other end of the spectrum from the “stand up for your teammates, then sit in the penalty box for five minutes” game plan. How does he balance the two?

Brown: Going into the game, you try to play both. I don’t think there’s - you go into a game saying, “I’m just going to be physical today,” or “I just want to fight somebody today,” or “I”m just going to play speed and try to  play that sort of a game.” You try to stay in the middle, but maybe things aren’t going your way, then you bring more of the physical aspect.

So your legs aren’t - you aren’t feeling as fast one day, you’re bringing more of the physical aspect then trying to be the speed and beating guys one-on-one bringing it behind the net. For the most part, I try to stick in the middle.

You kind of get a read of the game and how things are going or maybe what the team needs. We’re not playing very well and we need a fight or we need a big hit to spark the energy. You never really know. You just try to wait and see and feel it out on how. I mean that’s a good thing about having, I guess, more than one style of play.

Sammon: Knowing when to rise to the occasion in any situation is not just in Brown’s game with his hockey experience. It’s quite literally in his blood. Brown’s father, Ted Brown, was a first round draft selection of the Minnesota Vikings in 1979. Starting a seven year career in the NFL [National Football League] as a running back. Amassing more than 4,500 yards rushing in 104 games.

Ted Brown’s career got off to a glorious start in college as an All-American and four-time All-ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] running back at North Carolina State [University]. He even set the school record for rushing yards in a game against the mighty Penn State Nittany Lions defense in 1977.

So it’s fitting that J.T. Brown has recently had some of his best games in Raleigh, when the Lightning visit the Carolina Hurricanes - a team that plays in the same arena that the [North Carolina State University] Wolfpack basketball team plays in.

Last season, Brown scored a goal in each visit to PNC Arena, including one during the team’s fathers trip with his dad in attendance. It was a great family moment for him, as well as another family.

Brown: Oh, it was awesome. It was just good - obviously that’s his old stomping grounds. He and I are both from North Carolina, not far from Raleigh, so it’s always nice too. You get to see family and whatnot. It’s always good to see him when he always - when he was a kid - when I was a kid, he would joke around about the things he did in N.C. State. I just thought it was, “Oh. That’s not true.” You didn’t believe it, but even when people outside were recognizing him and asking him for his autograph. It was kind of cool to see that.

Sammon: Then you had a goal in the game too, so even better.

Brown: And I got another family a puppy that day too. So that was good.

Sammon: How much in contact are you with that family. Is it all just kind of third party or do you actually stay in touch with them?

Brown: More third-party. Following on Twitter and whatnot. Definitely nice to see. It was pretty funny when I saw the sign. I was happy that I could get him a puppy.

Sammon: Are you sending any kibbles n’ bits for Christmas up there?

Brown: Maybe we’ll send a dog toy or something.

Sammon: But forgive J.T. if the dog toy gets sent a little late. After all, he’s a little busy now. He may be getting a little less sleep in the near future as he and his wife Lexi are expecting their first child in June. The lack of sleep the bouncing baby girl causes - well, that may be the least of JT’s worries.

Brown: Sleep I wasn’t really worried about. It was more the XBox - that’s what all the guys joked about as soon as they found out, saying like, “No more. I guess you’re not going to play XBox anymore.” I’ll have to find time. It’s going to be just a lot more playing the XBox on the road for me once the baby comes.

Sammon: And sharing your Cap’n Crunch too. That’s the tough part.

Brown: I don’t know about that. [chuckles] I’ve got to keep something to myself.

Sammon: [laughs] You’re kind of a kid at heart, so that’s got to be - I mean there is joy in bringing a child into the world, but now - it’s quite the responsibility, but there’s fun to it too.

Brown: Yeah, I mean I don’t think it’s officially really set in yet. I think finding out the gender was probably the first step after really realizing she was pregnant. Now there’s going to be one more before we actually get the baby - I don’t know if it’ll really set in, but we’re really excited. It’s something special. I’m just really looking forward to it.

Sammon: As someone who also has an infant daughter, trust me, it is a joy. Although you can bet little baby Brown will have dad wrapped around her finger. But will dad have the baby’s name wrapped around his finger? Or bicep? Or wrist? When you have as much ink as J.T. has, it’s hard to find space for that really special and personal tattoo.

Brown: We’ll have to work on that one. I mean maybe my back? I don’t know. [laughs]

Sammon: You can’t see it though. You gotta...

Brown: I know. That’s what - my arms [are] already gone. Maybe I’ll start my legs.

Sammon: What’s your favorite one that you have so far?

Brown: My favorite one is always the next one I get, to be honest with you. I like them all, but as soon as I get a new one, that one’s my favorite one until I get a new one. I can’t really say that I like one more than the other. I like them all. There’s a reason why I get each one. I think just in that moment, when I have a brand new one, that one turns into my favorite. When you don’t get one for a few months, they all are - I think they all are my favorite.

Sammon: So while dad searches for the right design and space for the child’s tattoo, he’s still going to have fun playing in the NHL. Even on those healthy scratch nights, he’s prepared to make sure his next insertion into the lineup is the first of many games back on the ice. Simply because it’s something he’s worked hard for.

Brown: I understand it’s a privilege to play in this league. It’s not something that everybody gets to do, like you said. Everyone’s childhood dream - and a lot of those dreams didn’t end up here. So I’m thankful [for] one that I did make it and was able to play as many games as I have so far.

At the same time, I still know I got more to give. I got a lot more left in the tank. I still - I haven’t really broke through yet. There’s still a lot of areas of my game that I can improve on and that I’m working towards. Hopefully it’ll be a long career.

Sammon: My thanks to J.T. Brown for his time and helping us share his story on this week’s Power Play Podcast. My thanks to you for listening. I’m your host Matt Sammon. Tune in next Tuesday for another Power Play Podcast from Lightning Radio.

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