March 5, 2014

Captain Clutch: Brown steers BC to fifth straight Beanpot

By Andrew Merritt

BC captain Patrick Brown scored two goals in the Eagles' 4-1 win over Northeastern in the Beanpot final. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

BOSTON — Some players earn the captain’s ‘C’ on their sweater by being the most visible member of a team — players such as Sidney Crosby, Zdeno Chara, Alexander Ovechkin, for whom the “C” might as well be a big, glittering star.

Then there are players like Boston College’s Patrick Brown.

Brown, a senior from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is the kind of captain who earned the letter on his shoulder through a less quantifiable quality than goals scored or hits thrown. He was voted this year’s captain by his teammates, who saw in him a sense of duty, loyalty and leadership that might not always earn Brown the headlines, but provides the glue that any team needs to be more than just a collection of talent.

And Boston College certainly has a vast collection, from Johnny Gaudreau in a season that’s almost sure to net him the Hobey Baker Award, to his linemates, Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) and Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.), who would be No. 1 and No. 2 on the Hockey East scoring chart if it weren’t for Gaudreau’s runaway year. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Eagles had six players with 20 or more points, and another 11 players with at least 10.

Brown’s is not a name that has traditionally been mentioned in that group. Entering his senior season, had had just 13 career points, 11 of which came during his junior year. He played only 13 games as a sophomore, and none of them were during the Eagles’ run to the 2012 national title.

That Brown name, though, is certainly a familiar one at Boston College. Patrick’s father, Doug, was a star at BC before going on to a 15-year career in the NHL with New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Detroit, including two Stanley Cups with the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Doug’s brother, Greg, is one of the all-time leading scorers at BC, having starred for the Eagles in the late 1980s before moving on to a professional and international career of his own. After he retired, he became an assistant under BC coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) in 2004.

Patrick Brown’s career at BC has been much quieter by comparison, and until Feb. 10, it looked like he would continue his role as a background player on the stat sheet, even if his presence as captain far outweighed his numbers. He had seven goals and nine assists through the first 28 games of the season — his best year by far, but still nothing compared to his more heralded teammates.

But special things tend to happen on the first two Mondays in February, when the Eagles join Boston University, Northeastern and Harvard for the Beanpot tournament. Established stars rise to the occasion, and new stars are made as the city’s four Division 1 programs battle for a humble but beloved trophy.

Through the first 54 minutes of the 62nd Beanpot Championship on Feb. 10, it seemed like this year’s new star might be wearing the red, white and black jersey of Northeastern. The Huskies had tied the Eagles on a John Stevens backhander late in the second period, and if they could find one more path past BC freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko, they just might have their first Beanpot title in 26 years, ending the tournament’s longest drought and a five-year stretch of domination by Boston College.

Brown had other ideas. With just over five and a half minutes to go, Northeastern goaltender Clay Witt — a potential hero for the haunted Huskies — made his 35th save, smothering a harmless Danny Linell wrister to stop play. Brown won the ensuing faceoff and skated to the net, where Stevens dragged him to the ice in front of Witt, just as BC defenseman Isaac MacLeod sent a shot in from inside the blue line.

Brown didn’t have time to get up. He didn’t have much time at all.

Just as he fell to the ice, Brown tipped MacLeod’s shot, which was headed just wide of the post behind Witt’s right shoulder. Witt reached out with his blocker to where he thought the shot was headed, but Brown’s deft deflection redirected the puck between Witt’s legs and into the net.

It would have been a goal to remember no matter who scored it, a highlight worthy of the No. 1 spot on that night’s “SportsCenter” Top 10 Plays. That it was Brown, the stalwart captain, made it even more special.

“It’s awesome. Guys are so happy for him,” said Hayes, who earned the tournament’s MVP award after scoring two goals, including the game-winner, in the semifinals against BU. “To see him score two goals in the Beanpot is unbelievable.”

Brown, who scored a goal in the 2013 final — also against Northeastern — added his third career Beanpot goal when he beat Witt again with 50 seconds to go, after Gaudreau already had put one in an empty net. Brown’s second goal made it 4-1 and cemented the Eagles’ fifth straight Beanpot title and its eighth straight win.

“As a coach I appreciate it because of all the time he puts in and all the extra work he does,” Greg Brown said. “As his uncle, it’s gratifying to see how far he’s come in four years. He’s worked so hard and improved so much. You’re happy for kids like that.”

In a program full of tradition, the Brown legacy is a big one at BC. That hasn’t always been easy for Patrick to live up to. Yet Greg said that growing up in Michigan, with his father a star in Detroit, made coming to Chestnut Hill kind of a breeze.

“I would say at BC it might even be a little easier than he had through all his youth hockey days and playing high school out in Detroit,” Greg said. “He’s weathered it very well.”

Still, having your uncle standing behind you on the bench is a unique situation in the college game, and Patrick said it took some time for uncle and nephew to get used to each other.

“We’ve gotten a lot closer as the years have gone on,” he said. “It was pretty hard freshman year. I wasn’t quite sure how to adjust to having my uncle watching over me. Now, he’s just ‘Coach.’ Inside the locker room he’s just Coach, and at Thanksgiving dinner, he’s Uncle Greg.”

The iconic coach who stands behind the bench with Greg, meanwhile, saw his captain earn some just rewards with his big night at the Beanpot.

“I think he’s so proud to be a part of the Brown legacy here, I don’t think he ever feels any pressure,” said York, who tied John “Snooks” Kelley for the most Beanpots won by a BC coach (8). “It’s a great feeling I think he has. But he’s just improved every year. He’s just gotten better and better and better. To wear that ‘C,’ it’s a terrific thing for him.”

The two-goal night in the Beanpot final also launched Brown on the hottest streak of his career. He added two more goals in the Eagles’ win over Vermont four nights later, and by the time BC welcomed Notre Dame to the Heights for the regular-season finale, he already had as many goals this year as he had points in his junior season.

His leadership, though, is what the Eagles have counted on the most.

“He’s an unbelievable leader,” Hayes said. “He just works hard, accepts his role, loves the role that he has, loves to prove people wrong. People call him a grinder, but he’s scored goals for us this year. He accepts his role, doesn’t really get away from it, and he gets rewarded with some goals.”

And one of those goals, the one that gave BC its first hardware of what York calls “Trophy Season,” was good enough to leave a lasting impression on everyone who saw it, York included.

“It was a special play,” York said, “and I will remember that for a long time.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @A_Merritt