Following his one-man evisceration of the Vancouver Canucks, LA Kings captain Dustin Brown’s received the national media treatment courtesy a Sports Illustrated piece from Michael Farber.
In it, much is made of Brown’s physical play and his maturation from shy teenager to Kings captain. But that maturation didn’t come without some bumps along the way, many in the form of ex-L.A. teammate Sean Avery.
Brown lisps. He has lisped for as long as he can remember, although the speech therapy he went through as a fifth-grader helped him learn to control it. (The lisp tends to return when he is engaged in casual conversation or after, say, a puck has given him a fat lip.) But in dressing rooms where razzing is the lingua franca, the lisp made him an easy target early in his career. Sean Avery, an occasional linemate of Brown’s from 2003 to ’07, would insert the needle. “This was bullying, like you might see in high school,” says Ian Laperrière, the former Kings forward who now mentors young players in the Flyers organization.
The analogy is apt; Brown was still a teenager at the time. According to L.A. players and coaches from that era, Brown’s lisp was not Avery’s primary target. Avery also zeroed in on Brown’s girlfriend—now his wife—a slender, fresh-faced girl-next-door-type from their hometown of Ithaca, N.Y. Apparently Avery didn’t think she was glamorous enough to be the girlfriend of a hockey player in Hollywood. “I am not a trophy wife,” says Nicole Brown, who has been with her husband for almost a dozen years (and married to him for five). “By any means.”
Shy by disposition, Dustin coped by withdrawing. Nicole says he was the last one to arrive at the rink every day and the first one to leave. He disputes that the teasing bothered him—”I have a thick skin, and that was just Aves being Aves,” Brown says—but later adds, “Maybe it affected me in ways that I didn’t realize.”
Numbers suggest Avery’s presence was affecting Brown more than he thought. He scored 14 and 17 goals in his first two full seasons as a King, but after Lombardi traded Avery to the Rangers in 2007, Brown potted a career-high 33.
“He really did start to blossom once the stuff in the room dissipated,” former Kings teammate Rob Blake told SI.
Fast forward to today, where it seems Brown’s gotten the last laugh. He’s fresh off his first career playoff series win while Avery…is fresh off throwing his skates in the Hudson river.