Former Wings' BC ties run deep
Doug Brown is glad to cheer on his alma mater at Ford Field
So it’s only fitting for him that his alma mater advanced to Saturday’s NCAA championship game at Ford Field.
“It’s worked out well,” said Brown, who was a student-athlete at Boston College. “It’s nice to put on the maroon and gold and start cheering for BC, now that they’re out here in Detroit.”
Brown is still involved with the Eagles’ hockey program. He does whatever he can to contribute from his home in suburban Bloomfield, mostly helping the Massachusetts-based coaching staff with potential recruits in Michigan.
“Doug’s come in and helped us with recruiting, he’s pretty active in youth hockey here in Detroit,” BC coach Jerry York said. “He’s just a great supporter of BC hockey.”
Brown’s also been able to serve as a sort of tour guide for the Eagles’ coaching staff during their stay in Hockeytown this week.
“He recommends good restaurants for us here, you know,” York said with a laugh. “So we were kind of like, ‘Where do we eat?’ So Doug helped us with the whole metro area.”
Brown doesn’t cheer for the Eagles simply because he played there. His family has built a legacy at Boston College. His brother Greg played three years for the Eagles and is now in his sixth year as an Eagles assistant coach.
Now Brown’s son Patrick, a senior at Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Cranbrook-Kingswood High School, will play for York in the fall.
According to his father, Patrick is ecstatic that his future team is playing right in his backyard.
“He’s been down to a couple of the practices,” Doug Brown said during BC’s practice Friday morning. “He’s in class right now, but it’s been good for him to run around and say hello to his future teammates … He’s certainly very excited.”
Yord added, “An interesting family tree, when you look at it. Greg’s and Doug’s mother and father have really raised two outstanding people. Their sons are great role models for all of us connected with hockey. And now (Doug’s) son is becoming a very good player. It’s all very positive from our standpoint.”
Brown arrived on campus in 1982 at 18-years-old, choosing to go directly to college without stopping in the juniors. Patrick has decided to take the same route.
While Brown didn’t pressure his son into a quick transition into college hockey, he can’t say enough about the positive effect it had on him personally. He credits his success with the Wings and in the NHL to playing college hockey.
“I’m a big believer in college hockey over junior hockey,” Brown said. “I think when you’re in a school atmosphere and you’re part of a community and playing for your alma mater, you learn to be part of a larger group, a larger society. And then also the self-esteem you develop by going to school and getting your degree, gives you more self-confidence on the ice knowing that you have other skills, and you can go for broke and feel good about yourself.”
He’s glad Patrick has the strength and the speed to play at the college level right away.
“He was fortunate enough that BC thought he was ready now to come in, and a couple of the other colleges had also said that,” Brown said. “I look forward to watching him next year.”
While he will be a spectator on Saturday, Brown actually got to experience a Frozen Four in Detroit as a player. As a junior, he led the Eagles to the semifinals at Joe Louis Arena, the stadium where he later finish his NHL career.
“It brings back a lot of great memories,” he said. “The Frozen Four, every few years it comes around, and it’s nice to have it here again in Detroit.”
While the character and atmosphere of a hockey-only arena like JLA can’t be duplicated in a football stadium, Brown is still a fan of Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.
But he does miss Al Sobotka, the Red Wings’ ice guru and Zamboni driver.
“It’s harder to make the ice, and it’s harder to make the ice at a higher quality, then having Big Al down there at the Joe taking care of it day-in, day-out, when you know it’s pristine 360 days a year,” Brown said.
COMING TO GRIPS: Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves has come to terms with the offensive play of Wings’ prospect Brendan Smith.
Smith, a junior defenseman, had five assists in the Badgers’ 8-1 win over the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology at Ford Field on Thursday.
“Brendan is one of those young defensemen who is high-risk, high-reward,” Eaves said Friday. “You have to live with some of that.”
It’s been tough at times this season, fine-tuning Smith’s play without the puck. He had played a forward position in juniors before moving to the blue line, and it wasn’t always easy for Smith to balance his offensive instincts with his defensive duties.
It sometimes put him at odds with Eaves, but the Badgers coach is proud of how far Smith has come this season.
“I think our process with Brendan is trying to narrow down his decision-making so they’re high-end decisions, high-percentage decisions,” Eaves said. “But because he has a natural instinct, you don’t want to take that away, you want to fine tune it.
“The thing about Brendan that doesn’t get enough credit is that he takes great pride in the fact that he’s improved with his play without the puck. His gap, his stick, his presence in front of the net has grown immensely. That will make him a better, more well-rounded defenseman when he wants to make that next step.”
NO STAGE FRIGHT HERE: Saturday’s championship opponents are no strangers to crowds of record-breaking levels.
In February, Wisconsin hosted Michigan at the Badgers’ famed football facility, Camp Randall Stadium, in front of 55,031 fans.
Brendan Smith scored two goals, including the game-winner, to lift UW to a 3-2 victory on that frigid Saturday evening.
“I think the turning point for me and some people can attest on our team was at Camp Randall,” Smith said. “That game, in front of 55,000 fans … I think that was when some teams were in the middle and starting to slow down, but we were just getting amped up.”
Boston College faced their in-state rivals, Boston University, in January at Fenway Park in front of a slightly smaller crowd of 38,472. The legendary baseball park is home to the Boston Red Sox.
Despite losing 3-2, sophomore forward Jimmy Hayes thinks that game helped them adjust to this week’s atmosphere at Ford Field.
“There were 38,000 people there so I think some of our guys might have gotten a little caught up early in the game,” he said. “I think (Thursday) we were able to focus on the game and not be in awe of all the people there. So I think playing in Fenway really helped our mental preparation.”
BC senior forward Matt Price agreed, saying, “From the second we got out there for warm-ups, you didn’t see guys looking around and awestruck with how many people there were out there and how big the stadium was … Fenway was huge to get that off our chest.”
A WINGS’ DILEMMA: Who will Wings forward Patrick Eaves cheer for in Saturday’s championship?
Will it be his alma mater, Boston College? Or will it be Wisconsin, the team his dad coaches?
“(Patrick) said, in this situation they’re kind of in a win-win situation,” Mike Eaves said. “Either their alma mater is going to win or their dad is going to win. I think that’s a great answer.”
Patrick Eaves was a two-time All-America at BC, where he registered 107 career points in 84 games. His brother Ben also played for the Eagles.
York skillfully avoided the question about who his two former players would root for, only saying, “They were such great players for our team and for college hockey.”