Why’s that a major bummer? Well, name another big-league sport where guys are willing to get their bicuspids knocked into another time zone, all while defending a buddy’s honor, and then disappear down a tunnel for all of, say, 2 minutes to get their jaw wired shut, and then hop back over the bench to block a thick slab of vulcanized rubber traveling 100 mph—right in the shins—all while missing, like, one shift. The lockout deprived us of seeing more than 500 games of that this season—so we’re still a little peeved.
A little bit of hockey is better than no hockey, though, so we wanted to celebrate the long-awaited return of the NHL by chatting it up with one of the league’s bright stars, reigning champion Dustin Brown. The 28-year-old captain of the Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings gave us a ring on the eve of the season opener to talk about life during the lockout, getting back into hockey shape, and why he thinks the Kings are primed for a repeat.
Men’s Health: The lockout alienated and upset a lot of hardcore NHL fans. You can sense the anger when you check Facebook and Twitter. How hard do you think it’s going to be to win them back?
Dustin Brown: I think it varies from market to market. Here in Los Angeles there’s still a lot of excitement. We get our Stanley Cup rings on Saturday. It’ll be harder for some teams than others. But it comes down to the product on the ice. I think we’ll get the fans back, but it might take initiatives on the part of the clubs to do it. In Los Angeles, we have great fans, and there’s lots of excitement here. We’ve done some things to reach out to them, too. Ultimately it comes down to how you play. If you win, you’ll put people in the seats.
MH: Do you think the league should be doing more to win them back? Some suggested they offer Center Ice for free, for example, but that never happened.
Brown: I don’t have my finger on the pulse of what the league’s doing, but here in Los Angeles, they had a big press conference last Thursday, and announced we’re donating $1 million to four charities in the local community, so that’s a big step to help win fans back and end some of that frustration. For the league, I just think it’s so different from market to market and each team needs to find out what works best for them and appeals most to their fans.
MH: Catch us up on what you’ve been doing throughout the lockout negotiations.
Brown: I’ve just been keeping busy playing. I was over in Switzerland from November to January. From a day-to-day standpoint, it’s pretty similar. The amount of travel is different, but it’s less demanding. You go to the rink every day, and play 3 or 4 games a week, so there are some positives and negatives. The ice is bigger, so my legs feel great coming back. But there’s less space here, so it’ll take adjusting to get used to how much room you have. The physicality over there isn’t nearly what it is here, either, and the physical grind will take getting used to with such a short camp.
MH: Which young NHL players jump out at you as the most important for fans to watch?
Brown: You already hear a lot about the guys in the East. But in the West you’ve got young guys like [Gabriel] Landeskog in Colorado being named captain. He’s the heart and soul of that team, and he’s going to be impressive.
MH: Without much of a training camp to speak of, how prepared do you feel for the season to begin?
Brown: I think we’re ready to go. The only way to get there is by playing games. We’ll have to be quick learners this year. There’s not a lot of time to get comfortable. What goes a long way is that we’ve got all 20 guys coming back from last season, so hopefully that’ll help with the process.
MH: How does your workout routine and nutrition regimen change once you start playing?
Brown: During the offseason it’s quite easy to stay on top of things, nutritionally. You can plan ahead. You’re on a set schedule every day. It’s more difficult once we start playing. The workouts are generally after games—I keep them short, maybe 3 or 4 exercises, 2 sets each, 10 reps, to help maintain and flush out the legs. Eating well is hard with travel. A lot of times we’ll play in Colorado, get right on the plane to fly to Detroit and not get in until 2 AM. You just have to grab whatever you can at the rink. You try and eat as well as you can, but with the demands on your schedule, there’s a lot of times where you just do what you have to do. The teams do a good job of taking care of us, but eating as cleanly as possible is still one of the biggest challenges. (Check out how Blackhawks star Patrick Sharp kept in shape during the lockout.)
MH: What do you think the biggest challenge will be of playing in a shortened season?
Brown: For the team and individually, it’s staying healthy. I feel good after playing for 2 months, but lots of guys haven’t played since June 11. Then you’re looking at a team that missed the playoffs last year and some of those guys haven’t played since April. That’s a long time to go. Depending on your role—whether it’s 5 minutes or 25 minutes a night, jumping right in can be a shock to the system, and that’s when injuries happen. These 5 or 6 days we have in training camp will be very important.
MH: Lots of guys are talking up their fantasy leagues right now. Have you or any of your teammates ever tried it during the season?
Brown: Nah, we don’t do that, but we did have a fantasy football league going for a while.
MH: Humor us anyway. If you were in a draft and had to pick a forward besides Ovechkin and Crosby, who would it be?
Brown: Probably Claude Giroux. He’s a young guy, he’s still learning how to play the game, but the offensive side is there. And he had sort of a coming out party in the playoffs last season when he did really well playing against Sidney Crosby. (Click here to read the Men’s Health interview with Glaude Giroux.)
MH: Last season, you captained the Kings to a Stanley Cup championship. What was your most memorable day celebrating with the Cup?
Brown: Just taking it to my hometown in New York. That’s what everyone remembers. You get one day with the Cup, and I brought it around my hometown and shared it with my friends and family, which was really special. The night we won it was even more special—just being with those guys. We battled through a lot together, and we got to celebrate that.
MH: How confident do you feel about a repeat?
Brown: Well, with the shortened season, you have to be ready to go right away. We’re fortunate that we have the whole team coming back, and I don’t know if that’s happened since the cap was implemented. There’s already a familiarity there in training camp—we don’t have any new players to implement into the system. It’s literally all 20 guys we battled with last year, and I think that’ll go a long way.
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