| Dustin Brown spoke with the media after the Kings 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars despite taking a stick to the face.
"I think the important thing for our leadership group, and myself, is making sure we're focused every night," Brown said. "You wind the clocks back a year, and we were focusing on playing good games but ultimately the games were meaningless.
"Right now, it's just about trying to get everyone to focus in, because in the next couple weeks it's going to get really tough. In the playoffs, you can't have one of those games where we don't come out and play well, or a period even. That's maybe the transition for the leadership group, to making sure we're focusing in."
Six years ago, few would have thought Brown would even have been in this position.
Brown joined the Kings as a baby-faced 18-year-old rookie, the youngest member of a fairly veteran team, and mostly was content to sit quietly, the speak-only-when-spoken-to type, content to let his play speak for itself.
On the ice, Brown certainly showed leadership abilities. His ability and willingness, from his first NHL games, to deliver big hits to anyone and everyone in his path earned him immediate respect. But the question with Brown – and it was a significant one -- was whether he would ever be vocal enough to be a team leader.
As Brown got older and more experienced, and the Kings’ roster got younger, Brown seemed to get a bit more comfortable each year, and he had two big moments that opened the eyes of coaches and management.
In the summer of 2008, after then-captain Rob Blake left and signed with San Jose, Brown appeared at the Kings’ developmental camp and spoke to the team’s prospects about what it took to make, and stay in, the NHL as a player.
The kid who once rarely made a peep in the locker room now felt comfortable enough to walk into a full locker room and give a speech. Less than two months later, training camp opened, and Brown was named the youngest captain in franchise history, at age 23.
Brown solidified his standing last summer when, in partnership with alternate captain Matt Greene, he organized an informal three-month "mini-camp" for Kings players.
In the past, few Kings spent their summers in Los Angeles, preferring to scatter to their native lands. Last summer, for the first time, approximately 15 players attended at least part of the mini-camp. Eight months later, coaches are still raving about it.
"To me, that was huge," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "For those guys to pick up the phone and call their teammates, and to bring it together for three weeks in July, that is true leadership in my mind. When you listened to Brownie talk at that hockey event we had at LA Live, talking about, `Now, these are my teammates,' after that summer, that is a huge step toward bringing it all together.
"In the leadership, captaincy, role, it's to keep that attitude together now. If there are any issues in the locker room, the captain is usually the guy who identifies it and addresses it with the team or, if it's a small group of guys and something is going on, a conflict. The on-ice performance has to be consistent with leading the way, doing the right thing. The reason for Brownie getting the `C,' when that decision was there for us, was that. His hard play, his intensity. He shows that he cares tremendously about this team, about winning every night. I just want him to follow through with that, and he will because that's his personality. Just keep blazing that trail, and players on the team will follow."
If the pressure of having that responsibility on his shoulders is getting to Brown, he’s certainly not showing it. He is known to stew a bit after losses, to sit quietly at his locker with his hockey gear half removed with all of his teammates have hit the showers.
But ask Brown about the pressure, and inevitably the conversation comes around to how much fun Brown is having, trying to become a playoff player for the first time.
"It's hard to really balance it, but when you're working hard, that's where the fun aspect comes in," Brown said. "If we go out there and have, not necessarily a good game but a game when we're all working hard for each other, that's where the fun is in the game. At the same time, that's kind of where the pressure gets alleviated, if we're all together.
"When things maybe aren't going our way, that's when I think we need to come together and pull together. That's the fun part of being a part of a team sport. There's going to be pressure no matter what. If everyone is working together, that's where the fun is."