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Bulldogs freshman builds identity

By Roman Augostoviz, Star Tribune, 03/25/11, 12:14PM CDT

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Former Rosemount standout J.T. Brown strong complement to UMD's prolific top line

When his Minnesota Duluth teammates dyed their hair blond for the WCHA playoffs, J.T. Brown was unsure whether to follow their lead.

"I didn't want to look like Dennis Rodman," said the freshman right winger from Burnsville. In the end Brown, who is black, dyed his hair, too.

"It's for team unity," Brown said. "It shows we are together. I don't care if we all look stupid."

On the ice, though, it's Brown who often makes opposing defensemen look silly. Aside from UMD's big three, Brown is one of team's other top forwards. He's somebody to watch when the Bulldogs play Union at 2 p.m. Friday in the opener of the NCAA East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.

UMD's top line of Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine gets most of the attention. Deservedly so. Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine both have more than 50 points while Mike Connolly has 49.

But behind them Brown is next in scoring with 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points. Brown, whose father Ted is a former Vikings running back, was named to the WCHA all-rookie team.

Halfway through this season, Brown was moved up from the second power-play unit to the first with the Connollys and Fontaine.

"When you put them on a 5-on-4, they basically move the puck at will," Brown said. "I stand in front of the net and wait for rebounds or wait for something to come out front."

That's the 5-10, 170-pound Brown being modest.

"He was always a pretty good offensive guy," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "We hoped it would continue, which he has done."

As a senior at Rosemount High School, Brown got a reputation as a hothead initially but became a finalist for Mr . Hockey in 2008. The next two seasons he played for Waterloo of the USHL, and his second season there he was the league's third-leading scorer with 77 points.

"He is always in the right spot," Sandelin said. "He creates things and has deceptive speed. He's not afraid to drive to the net and gets in the right areas a lot."

Brown wears No. 23, his father's number, but he dropped football in ninth grade. Hockey was always his passion.

"When I was 3, 4 years old, everybody I knew played hockey," Brown said. Bulldogs freshman defenseman Luke McManus was his next-door neighbor.

Brown's college choices came down to UMD, Nebraska Omaha and Bemidji State. He became a Bulldog because he liked the coaching staff, knew several players on the team and saw a chance to play this season if he proved himself.

"I like challenges," Brown said, "and I also thought Duluth would have a very good team this year, next year and years to come."

Brown started fast, slumped, then bounced back. He was the national rookie of the month in October. He had an eight-game pointless streak in the second half of season but has 10 goals and seven assists in his past 14 games.

"He's got a hunger for the puck and wants the puck," Sandelin said. "He's got a chance to make it at the next level [the NHL] if he continues to develop at our level and be consistent."

One of Brown's best supporters is Scott Macho, his high school coach.

"Every time he has gone to a higher level, his game has risen to the occasion," Macho said. "Down in Waterloo, they could not say enough good things about him. He was the front man for the team.

"I'd go watch him play, then after the game little kids would come up to him for hugs and for him to sign their shirts."

Tuesday at a restaurant in Two Harbors, Minn., Macho saw more Brown fans, all coming up to him and wishing him well.

"It's neat to see what type of person he has become," Macho said.

And player.

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