Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Troy Brouwer takes on his second journey for the Cup

By Larry Wigge

When it comes to Troy Brouwer terms like versatility and dependability are the first words mentioned.

Good words.

He plays a gritty game. Sandpaper or a compete-level beyond compare. He had to be willing to go to the hard areas. Brouwer is a winner, having won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.

"If I try and play like T.J. Oshie or try and come in and win the fans over with skill or something like that, I'm not going to be as effective of a player," Brouwer explained. "I've got to stick to what I know. Something that's kind of stuck to me for a long time is when I was younger, I had a coach that told me, 'Dance with the broad that you brought to the dance,' and that just means be the player that you are. Don't try and be something else. It's a funny little saying, but it's always one that stuck with me."

The trade of T.J. Oshie for Brouwer and minor league goaltender Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in July raised more than a few eyebrows around the NHL.

"Brouwer gives us a little bit of a different look," explained Blues GM Doug Armstrong. "I think in today's game, you can see the teams that can come with a different look are hard to play against.

"I just think it fits into what I think you need to have success. That size (6-foot-3, 213 pounds) is something you can't teach, and the ability to play a heavy game. You look at our conference, you have to play with size and you have to play with weight. I think this certainly makes us a more difficult team to play against."

The 30-year-old veteran said, "I'm an honest player. I'm a guy that works hard. I've got some skill to me. I can make some plays, been able to score some goals, but I'm a big body, big power forward. I like to play in front of the net, in the corners, play a hard-nosed game, I'll fight when I need to.

"We've got to find a way to be able to get past this little hump of losing in the first or second round ... and it starts with closing teams out and not being afraid to succeed."

Asked to explain, Brouwer added, "When guys haven't been past a certain point, mentally it can be fairly tough. You want to win, and all you want to do is win. But you can't be afraid to not move on."

Brouwer wound up scoring 18 goals and 21 assists -- his high 10 seasons in the NHL has been 25 with Washington in 2013-14. He was third on the Blues in hits.

To win the Stanley Cup, there's a roll for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions, having won it all in 2010, '13 and '15.

For Brouwer, it never has been an easy road. 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, 2010. 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 NHL Entry Draft by the 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.

As a youth, Troy Brouwer played on the same Pacific Vipers team with current Chicago teammates 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 2010 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 that Sunday in 2010, 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."

All that was left for the Brouwer family was a visit by Lord Stanley. On July 15, 2010, the Cup was in North Delta, British Columbia, for a day with Troy and his dad.

"Somebody brings it right to your front door," Brouwer said. "They'll come as early as you want. You get a full day to do what you want."

How cool is that?

They don't talk about it as if it is an inanimate object. It isn't. It lives.

"That's how guys see it," Brouwer said. "It's not just a trophy that you win. I don't know, it's like a figurehead. It's like an ultimate goal that you want to be with and not just hold it once. You want to be with it as many times as you can."

Brouwer got the absolute maximum out of his day in 2010.

It started at 8 a.m., so Brouwer could have breakfast with the Cup.

From there, it was on to a very special moment for the Brouwer family. Troy's father Don had a stroke not long before the playoffs began and he was still in the hospital.

"He was up walking again," said Brouwer, who noted his dad is fine now. "He did a lot of good rehab to be able to be in shape to be up all day, to walk around, to be able to hold it, drink from it."

From there, the Cup got a tour of a fire station and a police station. Many of Brouwer's childhood friends are policemen and firefighters. Then came a parade and "about 10,000 people showed up," Brouwer said. "In a town of 30,000, that's pretty good."

Then it was on to the grand finale.

"We went to my parents' house. They have a big backyard," he said, "and we had a nice little party, about 200 people, late into the night."

Good news. Don attended the Washington-Chicago outdoor game on December 31,2014. His vision was affected. He lost a fair bit of movement on his left side. But he was there.

In terms of his nonhockey life, Brouwer’s marriage, the health of his dad, the birth of his daughter Kylie Marie in October 2012 are among the things that rank a bit higher. In hockey, nothing else comes close.

"I think the best moment other than that is when they bring the Cup out onto the ice," Brouwer said. "And you realize you get to hoist it, your name is going to be on it and you get to party with it."

Troy Brouwer vs, the Blackhawks.

For Brouwer this would be like the same long journey that he undertook in 2010. This time, however, it would be with this St. Louis Blues.

Shall we say, Stanley Cup or bust.

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