Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Emerging Troy Brouwer Still Coming into his Own

By Larry Wigge

There are no promises. No guarantees with any of these late draft picks in the NHL Entry Draft.

Only hard work made them into NHL prospects.

Take Troy Brouwer for example. Never. I mean never would scouts watching the power forward with the Moose Jaw Warriors have considered him an NHL gem. He might have even doubted himself.

But ...

There was Brouwer sprinting behind the Florida Panthers defense, adeptly snaring a seeing-eye pass from Nicklas Backstrom and going in alone on goaltender Scott Clemmensen for a 6-5 triumph for the Washington Capitals on February 12. Clemmensen stopped Troy's first shot, but he couldn't recover in time to stop Brouwer's quick-reflex rebound attempt 32 seconds into into overtime.

A solo dash. A breakaway. Unheard of.

When Troy Brouwer was drafted with the 214th selection in the 2004 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks ... it was an afterthought. But, hey, someone on the Blackhawks had a vision ...

"I didn't know I had a chance to play in the NHL, even after I was drafted. It was just a dream that seemed so far away," Brouwer recalled. "They talk about obstacles you have to overcome. Mine was always skating."

In the years after the draft, Brouwer had lots of help.

"One year the Blackhawks sent me to Fargo, N.D., to a power skating camp. The next two years I worked with Dan Jansen (the former U.S. Olympic speed skater). The last couple of years I worked with a guy at home in Vancouver -- Derek Popke," he analyzed. "My work at skating is never finished."

It wasn't until 2006-07 that Brouwer turned pro and scored 41 goals at Rockford of the American Hockey League that suddenly a light went on for both player and team.

Said Brouwer, "It was like I was suddenly not under the radar. The Hawks started expecting offense from me."

No, he wasn't Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, but the Vancouver native could hold his own in the NHL. 

Brouwer's career-high in goals came in 2009-10, when he scored 22 times in the regular season and another four goals in the playoffs as the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup title since 1960-61.

This season, in his second campaign with the Washington Capitals, the 6-3, 213-pound right winger had opened with six goals in 13 games -- including the game-winning goals in two consecutive games, both against the Panthers.

"Two points is two points," Brouwer said. "We've had a few games we've given away two points, now it's our turn to battle back and get those two very important points. The way we did it is very encouraging, too, because we rely on our skill a lot of the time ... and that's how you get back in the games, guys working hard.

"Nick made a beautiful pass. It went in on the second chance, but it doesn't matter -- it went in."

As a youth, Troy Brouwer played on the same Pacific Vipers team with current Chicago teammates Brent Seabrook, Andrew Ladd and Colin Fraser. Coached by former Vancouver Canucks John Grisdale and Harold SnepSnepststs, the team was dominant. During one stretch they won 25 consecutive tournaments.

There was at least a pedigree of talent there by Brouwer at a young age. But ... 

Brouwer told the tale of a lesson his father, Don, a retired electrician in the North Delta area in Vancouver, taught him while he was in the Atom ranks as a nine-year-old. Seems young Troy had a lot to say to the refs. Although this was junior hockey, Troy racked up several 10-minute misconduct penalties.

"My dad used to pack my equipment bag for me," said Brouwer. "I could always count on him for that. One day, after another game when I got a 10-minute misconduct, I get to the rink for my team's next game and something's missing. Actually, a lot of things were missing."

That the penalty that a father gives to a too-smart-for-his-own-britches son.

Don Brouwer has always been on the mind of Troy -- in good times and bad.

Troy skipped the final four games of the regular season to be with his father, who underwent emergency surgery after a brain aneurysm that required emergency surgery the effects of the blood clot. 

After the first game of the Stanley Cup finals, Brouwer remembers getting a rah-rah text message from his sister Nicki with tips from their father.

During the Western Conference Final, the mandate from dad was, "You gotta take the puck to the net." 

"Oh, he finds a way to get word to me," Troy said with a wry smile. "He'll call my sister with his notes ... and she'll text me."

He'll never forget the message from father after scoring two goals in a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. 

Nicki sat with Don at the rehab center and her text message to Troy was: They both had tears in their eyes.

"It was a special moment, as you could imagine," said Brouwer. "Just because Dad couldn't be here, it doesn't change anything. He's one of the people I play for. He's always going to be my Dad."

Brouwer was not without supporters. His mother Kathy, a nurse at B.C. Women's Hospital, is in town along with the parents of Brouwer's wife, Carmen.

When Brouwer left the United Center on Sunday, he planned to phone his dad. That's something he tries to avoid on game days, even though his father is on his mind.

"I usually leave that alone because I want to focus on hockey," Brouwer said. "It's always difficult when I do talk to my dad because I'm not able to be with him."

It was at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft were Brouwer was acquired by Washington from Chicago for a first-round pick.

The 25-year-old might not have been the glitziest move that occurred over the past few days while the hockey world assembled in Minnesota. But it’s one that GM George McPhee believes will help Washington on and off the ice.

"We thought it was a really good move for our club at the right time," McPhee said. "I talked to and he was really excited and sounds like a great kid. It's amazing to feel that after a three-minute conversation, but he seems like the kind of leader that we're looking for."

Brouwer had never been traded before but is excited that he was dealt to a team searching for a championship, much like his Chicago Blackhawks squad that won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

"I think having those guys that have won is soothing for a team," said Brouwer. "In Chicago we had two guys, John Madden and Andrew Ladd, that had won the Stanley Cup. You get into a tight game and they just bring the insight into what it takes to get through it, they let you know that you can."

From long-range draft prospect to the NHL has given Troy Brouwer many insights. From power skating at Fargo, N.D., to working out with former U.S Dan Jansen and Derek Popke.

The transformation from also-ran prospect in the the NHL pro we see today didn't happen overnight. Brouwer, for one, has been a picture of perseverance. He's listened and learned along the way.

Troy Brouwer isn't one of those people who realizes what others have done for him. And he'll never forget that playing in the NHL is still a dream come true.

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