Flyers Heroes of the Past: Dave Brown (Part 2)
Thursday, 04.12.2007 / 12:00 AM ET / News
For Part 1 of Flyers Heroes of the Past: Dave Brown, click here.
Traveling the NHL Badlands
The 1985-86 season was bittersweet for Brown and the rest of the Flyers. The death of goaltender Pelle Lindbergh and the behind-the-scenes grumbling about Keenan's tyrannical coaching style weighed heavily on the players' minds. But on the ice, the Flyers remained a powerhouse during the regular season, cruising to another Patrick Division championship.
During the campaign, Brown realized his goal of skating more regular shifts with the team. Firmly entrenched in his enforcer role, he challenged himself to get better in other areas. Keenan noticed.
"Brown was a much better player than he got credit for. He developed into a good one. He could read the play well and played strong defensively," Keenan recounted in Greatest Players and Moments.
Brown's willingness to get his nose dirty around the net paid off in a goal output increase from three to 10 – a respectable total for a third or fourth line winger employed for his fighting ability. More than his own goals, however, Brown prided himself on not being out for opposition goals against.
"I never liked getting scored on and I realized if I wasn't going to score much, I had to play good positional hockey," said Brown, who pleased the coach with his plus-seven rating at even strength.
But, of course, Brownie never forgot what his primary job was with the team. He racked up a career-high 277 penalty minutes in 1985-86. The enforcer's busy fight card included bouts with the likes of Jimmy Mann, Dave Semenko, Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, Jay Wells, Dwight Schofield, Jim Kyte, Gord Dineen and Rod Buskas.
The Flyers and Brown were left with a hollow feeling after they lost to an underdog New York Rangers team in the first round of the 1986 playoffs. The Blueshirts soon became the club Brown got the most worked up to play against – sometimes with good outcomes for the club, sometimes with results Brown later regretted.
During the 1986-87 season, the Flyers once again posted a 100-point season and won the Patrick Division. In 62 regular season starts, Brown scored seven goals and nearly matched his penalty total of the previous season, compiling 274 minutes of penalty time. In the process, Brown gritted out the season by playing through a pulled back muscle and a cracked rib.
One of Brown's personal highlights was scoring the game-winning goal in a game against the Islanders. In six regular season games against the Rangers, Brown received 60 minutes worth of penalties, including five fights (three with Philadelphia native Jay Caufield, one with future Flyer Terry Carkner and another with George McPhee).
One of the most despised Rangers players among the Flyers was right wing Tomas SandstrÃ¶m. A skilled goal scorer and world-class pest, the Swedish forward had the reputation for jabbing and slashing opponents with his stick and then refusing to fight. He was also accused of embellishing hits to try to draw penalties against the opposition. Over the next two seasons, Brown would have two major run-ins with SandstrÃ¶m that resulted in suspensions by the league and national media condemnation.
On March 17, 1987, Brown was livid when SandstrÃ¶m high-sticked star defenseman Howe. The enforcer made a beeline for SandstrÃ¶m and felled him with nasty cross-check across the visor of the Swede's helmet. Brown, who in December avoided suspension after receiving a spearing major and game misconduct in a nasty tilt against the Islanders, got nailed this time around. The NHL banished Brown for five games.
In the 1987 playoffs, the Flyers met the Rangers for the seventh time in nine years. Despite having a better regular-season mark than Philly only once during that time, the Blueshirts had won four of the previous six meetings. Brown and company were determined not to let it become five of seven.
Brown had 35 penalty minutes during the Flyers' six-game conquest of the Rangers. After the tight Flyers dropped the first game at home by a 3-0 score, Tocchet, Brown and the other Flyers ratcheted up their physical game in a nasty Game Two. Brown got the better of George McPhee in a fight, got in the faces of both SandstrÃ¶m and goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck and mixed it up late in regulation as Philadelphia hammered the Rangers, 8-3.
Returning to Madison Square Garden, Brown was booed every time he touched the puck. He responded by lining up defenseman Ron Greschner for a bodycheck. The Flyers blitzed the Rangers for three goals in the middle period and with fiery rookie goaltender Ron Hextall stopping everything thrown his way, the Flyers prevailed 3-0 to grab a two-games-to-one series lead.
Much to the delight of the Garden crowd, the Rangers grabbed Game Four by a 6-3 score as a Brown tripping minor led to a power play goal, Hextall picked up a costly slashing major and Brown and Flyers rookie tough guy Craig Berube were slapped with misconducts in a late second-period altercation between McPhee and Berube where Brown got a game misconduct for interceding.
Back on Spectrum ice for Game Five, the Flyers played a more disciplined game and prevailed in a 3-1 game that was finally sealed by a Tocchet empty net goal in the final half minute. Both Hextall (21 saves) and Vanbiesbrouck (37 saves) were outstanding. The Flyers then closed out the series convincingly, as Hextall shut out the Rangers for a second time and the offense generated five goals.
Brown was a warrior in the Flyers' gut-wrenching second-round series with the Islanders. In addition to answering a questionable New York hit by fighting Alan Kerr, the big right winger scored the first playoff goal of his career at a crucial time. With the match scoreless in game seven, Brown banged in a Brian Propp rebound. Shortly thereafter, shorthanded goals from likely (Propp) and unlikely sources (Brad Marsh) gave the Flyers a sudden 3-0 stranglehold on the game. Philadelphia romped 5-1.
In the semifinals, the Flyers took on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Canadiens. Once again, Brown dressed in every game. Sticking to more disciplined hockey when he got the call from Keenan, Brown stayed out of the box entirely through the first five games and picked up an assist.
But emotions boiled over before game six, as a brawl broke out at the end of the pregame warmups. Although he was not involved in the initial altercation, Brown emerged shirtless from the lockerroom to do battle with Chris Nilan, getting the better of the scrap as the situation escalated on the ice.
When the actual game started, Brown mixed it up regularly and took elbowing and high-sticking minors that did not figure in any goals. Trailing 3-1 midway through the second period, the Flyers rallied for goals by Illka Sinisalo and Scott Mellanby to tie the game. Rick Tocchet scored the game and series winner in the third period.
The Flyers were now four wins away from their first Stanley Cup in 12 years. Standing in their way were the mighty Edmonton Oilers, a host of key injuries and the growing exhaustion of a playoff marathon that ultimately saw Philly play 26 games in 53 days. Brown answered the call by dressing in all seven games in the finals, just as he had in the three previous rounds.
In Game One of the Finals, Wayne Gretzky got the Oilers on the board first late in the first period. Two shifts later, Brown found a willing fight partner in Edmonton's Kelly Buchberger, getting in several good shots early before Buchberger held on until the combatants were separated. The Flyers came back strong in the second period to tie the game on a Brian Propp marker, but the fearsome Edmonton attack was too much to handle in the final stanza, and Oilers won, 4-2.
After the Flyers lost a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime decision in game two, they seemed to be in deep trouble heading back to Philadelphia, especially when Philly fell behind 3-0 in Game Three. Summoning all of their resolve, the Flyers stormed back for three goals in the second period and then took the lead early in the third stanza on goals by Scott Mellanby and Brad McCrimmon spaced just 17 seconds apart.
The Spectrum crowd went bonkers and then roared again when Brown dished out a board-rattling body check to defenseman Charlie Huddy. Propp sealed the win with an empty net goal, and Brown and McSorley mixed it up as the final seconds ticked off the clock, but were separated by linesmen Kevin Collins and Ron Finn before it could develop into a fight.
The Flyers had to expend a lot of energy to rally in game three. Forty eight hours later, the Oilers outskated the Flyers to seize a commanding three games to one lead in the series after a 4-1 win at the Spectrum. The Edmonton newspapers printed the planned Stanley Cup victory parade route in the next day's edition, unwittingly giving the Flyers a rallying point to bring the series back to Philadelphia for a sixth game.
Things looked bleak early in game five when a Brown holding penalty resulted in a Jari Kurri power play goal just nine seconds into the man advantage. Brown skated slowly and dejectedly from the box. Edmonton then extended their lead to 2-0 on a McSorley goal before Tocchet gave the Flyers a badly-needed lift with a goal in the final minute of the opening period.
But Edmonton stormed out of the gates immediately in the second period, as McSorley scored his second of the game just 1:32 into the frame. Once again, the Flyers dug deeper than even they thought possible and responded with Doug Crossman and Pelle Eklund goals to tie the game before the end of the middle session.
Brown was one of the most vocal Flyers on the bench, screaming encouragement to his teammates, and skating short, hard shifts when called to the ice. In the third period, Tocchet scored his second of the game to give Philly the 4-3 lead and the rest of the club played stifling defense to protect the lead.
The Flyers had one final miracle comeback left in them. In game six at the Spectrum, Edmonton dominated the first 50 minutes of play, but the Flyers hung in tough, despite getting behind early on a controversial Kevin Lowe goal that appeared to be kicked in the net. The Oilers then got the Flyers back on the ropes yet again by taking a 2-0 lead after a rare misplay by Mark Howe.
The score remained 2-0 until near the midway mark of the middle period. In the biggest play of his career, Dave Brown threaded a perfect pass to linemate Lindsay Carson, who beat Grant Fuhr to cut the deficit to 2-1. Although Edmonton continued to control most of the play, the Flyers remained in striking distance. In the third period, a cacophony erupted in the Spectrum as Brian Propp tied the game on the power play and little-used defenseman J.J. Daigneault one-timed a shot through a Scott Mellanby screen to give Philly a 3-2 lead. Hanging on for dear life, the Flyers preserved the lead.
"Guess we had more left to show them than everyone thought," Brown said in the victorious locker room.
The miracle run came up just short in the seventh game. After scoring first, the Flyers had the will but not the legs to keep up with the deeper, more talented Oilers. Edmonton won the game and the Cup by a 3-1 score. After the bitter disappointment and sadness wore off, Brown realized he'd been part of a truly special team.
"Best group of guys I ever played with. One game can't change that," he said on the day everyone cleared out their lockers for the summer.
The 1987-88 season was simultaneously the best and worst season of Dave Brown's first stint with the Flyers. On the bright side, he scored a career-high 12 goals and put up a plus-12 rating in addition to his 114 penalty minutes. But that year also marked the unhappy end of the Flyers' magical mid-1980s run. The players feuded openly with Keenan, who was fired after a first round playoff loss in which the Flyers blew a three- games-to-one lead over Washington. Brown was limited to 47 regular games by a wrist injury and a lengthy suspension caused by the worst incident of his career. One again the situation involved Tomas SandstrÃ¶m of the Rangers.
On October 26, 1987, the Flyers tied the Rangers 2-2 at Madison Square Garden. Early in the third period, with the score deadlocked 1-1, Brown fought Larry Melnyk without a clear winner. At the 12:54 mark, there was a stoppage of play. A moment after the whistle sounded, Brown cross-checked SandstrÃ¶m in the head, blindsiding him. Brown received a match penalty for intent to injure. He was suspended for 15 games (13 consecutive games as well as the next two Flyers-Rangers tilts).
Brown and the Flyers received massive criticism from the national media after the incident, especially from outlets that rarely cover hockey. The incident was replayed time and again. Hoping to lighten the mood, Brown made an appearance at the Comedy Factory Outlet in Philadelphia, channeling famous comedian Steve Martin's "arrow through the head" bit with a hockey stick version of the prop.
"Now THAT'S a high stick," Brown told the audience.
The comedy club appearance drew condemnation from Sports Illustrated and other publications, some of which called for Brown's suspension to be increased because of his "callous lack of remorse." Brown apologized for the unsuccessful stab at humor and tried to put the incident behind him, although he was now public enemy number one in Manhattan.
When he finally returned to the ice, Brown played some of the best hockey of his career. Four of his 12 goals were game-winners, including an overtime winner against the Hartford Whalers. Among his nine fights, he took on titans Chris Nilan and, for the first time, Bob Probert. The latter fight was more of a wrestling match than anything else, but Brown landed a few shots at the start.
In the playoffs, Brown had 27 penalty minutes and scored to put the Flyers temporarily ahead in a game two loss. Later, he fought Bob Gould in the third period of the Game Six loss. Brown was a minus-four in the series.
The 1988-89 season also failed to meet Brown's expectations. Under new head coach Paul Holmgren, the injury-riddled Flyers hovered near .500 for most of the season. With numerous big players on the team and the club searching for combinations that worked, Brown gradually saw decreased ice time. In 50 games, Brown had 100 penalty minutes, three assists (his only points), and a minus-11 rating. He had nine fights, including tussles with old rivals Nilan and Jay Caufield.
On February 7, 1989, the Flyers traded Brown to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for speedy, agitating checking center Keith Acton and a 1991 sixth-round draft pick (used to select defenseman Dmitri Yushkevich). Ironically, Brown's first game as an Oiler came against the Flyers at the Spectrum two days later. The game passed uneventfully for Brown as his new club beat his old one, 3-1.
"This was one of the hardest games I ever had to play in my life," Brown said.
The 26-year-old Brown soon adjusted to life with his new team. In 22 games with the Oilers, he had 56 penalty minutes, including a pair of bouts with longtime fighting rival Jay Miller, who had moved from the Bruins to the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers lost to the Kings in seven games in the first round.
A Small Piece of Glory
Brown started 60 games for the Oilers in 1989-90, logging 17 fights (including a knockout of future Flyer Shawn Cronin and one-sided bout with Stu Grimson in which Grimson sustained a cheekbone fracture). Despite the landmark deal that sent Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles, the Oilers went on the win the Stanley Cup. Brown played in three playoff games and got his name on the Cup. He was thrilled to reach the pinnacle of hockey, even if his direct role in the glory was relatively limited due to injury.
"That's something a lot of great players never get to do, so it's pretty special to be part of a team that wins it. Edmonton still had [Mark] Messier and [Jari] Kurri and [Glen] Anderson. [Goaltender Bill] Ranford was great in the playoffs, so it was still a really strong club," Brown said years later.
The following season, Brown played in 58 games, registering three goals, seven points and 160 penalty minutes. He started 16 playoff games, as Edmonton reached the semifinals before being upset by Bob Clarke's Minnesota North Stars. Brownie's 1990-91 slate of fights including several four bouts with Vancouver's Gino Odjick, a loss to Bob Probert, two more fights with Cronin, and a decisive victory over Jim Kyte in the playoffs.
Brown was happy playing with the Oilers but his heart was still in the Philadelphia area. In fact, even though nearly two-and-a-half years had passed since the trade, Brown opted not to sell his South Jersey home. That proved to be a wise decision, because the Flyers brought Brownie back in the 1991 offseason as part of a three-way trade with the Kings that sent Scott Mellanby and Craig Berube to Edmonton and brought offensive defenseman Steve Duchesne and Brown to the Flyers.
Although the Flyers were in the midst of a transitional period that saw the team miss the playoffs five straight years, Brown was thrilled to be back. Now a 29-year-old NHL veteran, he adopted more of a leadership role on an increasingly young team. Although he now picked his spots to fight more selectively, he could still drop the gloves with the best of them. What he eliminated were the extra penalties – the misconducts and minors that sometimes backfired. In 1991-92, he had just 81 penalty minutes but 14 fighting majors. Many think Brown didn't lose a single fight that season, and he registered decisive wins over the likes of Randy McKay, John Kordic, Jay Miller, Jay Caufield and Lyle Odelein.
The following season, Brown had 78 penalty minutes in 70 games, totaling eight fights. Twice he got the better of the smaller Tie Domi, had a lengthy fight with Buffalo's Rob Ray and sustained a rare loss to Randy McKay.
Now 31 years of age, Brown played his last season as an NHL regular with the Flyers during the 1993-94 season. He avenged his loss to McKay from the previous season in a pair of bouts, briefly got to Claude Lemieux (who was more of an agitator than a fighter) and took on Washington's Enrico Ciccone three times in the span of a couple weeks. Still ornery when he needed to be, Brown's 137 penalty minutes in 1993-94 were the highest total of his second Flyers stint.
The first half of the 1994-95 NHL season was wiped out by a lockout. When the labor dispute was finally settled, an all intraconference schedule was created. Brown, now a part time player but still an important locker room presence, started 28 games of 48 games, logging 53 penalty minutes. Led by the Legion of Doom line and the return of Ron Hextall, the Flyers won the division and made it to the Stanley Cup semifinals. Brown dressed in three playoff games. During the regular season, he had eight bouts, easily defeating future Flyer Scott Daniels, having a harder time in two bouts with former Flyer draftee Chris Simon and fought Buffalo's Rob Ray evenly.
There was no longer a role for Brown on the Flyers after the lockout season, but he hooked on as a part-time player with the San Jose Sharks as a part-time player in 1995-96. In 37 games, he had three goals and 46 penalty minutes. He fought Edmonton's Louie DeBrusk, and both Todd Ewen and Ken Baumgartner in a March 31 tilt against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. They proved to be the last fights of his Brownie's career.
Brown retired after the 1995-96 season with 729 NHL regular season games, 97 points (45 goals), and 1,789 penalty minutes to his credit. He also suited up in 80 playoff tilts, with five points (two goals) and 209 minutes in penalties.
In 1996-97, Brown returned to the Flyers to work as an assistant coach to Terry Murray as the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the 1986-87 squad. He remained in the post until the following season. Brown then accepted a job with the New York Rangers to become a pro scout.
The hard-working Brown was a fixture at both NHL and AHL games in Philadelphia, rarely missing even the games that other scouts opted to skip. Wearing glasses and a well-tailored suit, typing notes on his laptop computer, Brown looked more like a young executive (albeit a 6'5'', 205-pound executive) than a grizzled veteran of 13 years of hockey wars. Before the 2006-07 season, Brown was hired as the Flyers new Director of Player Personnel, replacing former teammate Ron Hextall, who took an assistant general manager post with the Los Angeles Kings. Brown's duties still heavily consist of scouting, but he now has input on internal roster moves.
"It's an exciting opportunity; things like this don't come around very often," said Brown. "For me to have more of an expanded role, than just being a pro scout, was exciting. Being back with my original organization is very exciting as well."
Twenty three years after first setting foot in Philadelphia, Flyers hockey and the Philadelphia area are still central to Dave Brown's life. And he wouldn't want it any other way.