GLENDALE – Prospect Chris Brown, who left the University of Michigan after his junior season last spring to sign with the Coyotes, is a student all over again in his first year as a pro.
So far, so good.
“He’s ahead of the curve and learning the pro game quicker than I anticipated,” said Ray Edwards, the head coach of the Portland Pirates – the Coyotes’ top affiliate in the American Hockey League. “He’s picking up the nuances of playing the pro game versus the college game very quickly and his professionalism has been great. He’s still got a lot of work to do, but he’s off to a really nice start as a pro. The key is that he continues to get better every day.”
Brown notched 12 goals and 17 assists – both career highs – in 38 games as a junior at Michigan. In 11 games as a pro, he already has four goals and four assists. He also leads the team with 30 penalty minutes.
“I’m really enjoying pro hockey,” Brown said. “It’s been a really good experience. I’m bonding very well with the team and I’m enjoying playing a pro-style game… It’s not like college hockey. I get to play more physical, and it’s fun.”
“It’s a privilege to get to play with Miele and ‘Conns,’” Brown said. “Chris has played numerous games in the NHL, so he has that experience. And playing with Miele, he’s a guy who has some of the best skill that I’ve ever played with. They’re helping me out a lot with little tips here and there on the ice and even off the ice, too. As far as my role on the line, it really doesn’t change. I’m a power forward, ‘Conns’ is a speedy guy and a good goal scorer, and Miele has great hands and can make a pass through anyone’s sticks, through feet, through anything. So I think we all kind of gel well together and we’re a threat every time we step on that ice.”
After scoring one goal in his first seven games as a pro, Brown recently scored a goal in three straight games.
“I have to give credit to my teammates, especially Miele and Conner,” Brown said. “They’re giving me room because they are such a threat to score every time. So, I kind of get looked at as maybe the third guy to shoot the puck, which is OK; I’ll take advantage of it everyday. But I’ve just been trying to work hard and play my role. If I just play my role opportunities will come.”
Edwards said Brown is playing with an edge, and the rookie hasn’t shied from dropping the gloves a few times in the young season.
“No one enjoys getting punched in the face, but I enjoy protecting my teammates,” Brown said. “I also enjoy playing scrappy and being physical and being a force out on the ice and a threat. Basically, I like to play as a power forward, and I think that the pro game lets me excel at that more than I did at the University of Michigan.”
In addition to his linemates, Brown credits Pirates defenseman Chris Summers – his former teammate at Michigan – with helping him adjust to pro hockey. Brown, 21, is living with Summers, 24, in Portland. Their relationship is a fun one with a big brother-little brother feel to it.
“I think having Chris here has probably been the biggest advantage for me as I make my adjustment to pro hockey,” Brown said. “I had a strong bond with him at Michigan and he showed me how to be a ‘Michigan Man’ when we were there together. Now he’s showing me how to be a professional hockey player, mostly off the ice. I admire his work ethic and how he goes about his day. I try to emulate that as much as I can.”
Brown and his teammates recently completed a hectic road trip in which they played three road games in three nights in three cities.
“It was definitely challenging,” Brown said, “but it’s nothing that the rest of the guys or myself can’t handle. It’s aht we signed up for, right? You’ve just got to learn how to get comfortable on a bus and you’ve got to learn to get your sleep and enjoy the time off that you have during the day. It’s all about getting into a routine so that when you do have three games in three nights in three different places you can handle it.”
The Pirates (5-4-1-1) next play Wednesday at Lewiston, Maine - their home away from home.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has missed the past five games because of an upper-body injury, is expected to return this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday vs. Worcester.
“He’s a guy that we’re going to be real careful with,” Edwards said. “He probably could have played Sunday at Hershey but we just wanted him to take a couple more days (to recover).”
Meanwhile, Forward Ethan Werek, who missed the past two games because of an upper-body injury, is considered day-to-day, Edwards said. And forward Darian Dziurzynski, who has missed all but three games because of injury, is on track to return in a few weeks.
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