J.T. Brown calls playing again in Minnesota 'special'
J.T. Brown has great memories of playing at the Xcel Energy Center. It was there his University of Minnesota-Duluth team clinched the 2010-11 national championship by beating Michigan 3-2 in overtime in the final of the Frozen Four. It was Minnesota-Duluth's first national title and Brown was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
So, it is understandable that Brown, a native of Rosemount, Minn., is excited to play for the Lightning tonight against the Wild, his first game back as a pro.
"It's special," Brown said. "I don't get to play in front of family and friends any more, so it's good to see people who haven't seen me play in a long time. Playing in this building will always be special."
Brown, 23, said he has received "countless" emalls, and Facebook, Twitter and text messages about his homecoming and figures about 40 family and friends will be in the stands, including his father, Ted, who played eight seasons as a running back for the NFL's Vikings.
What they will see is a player who Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said is "finding his niche," and who has four goals, 12 points in 36 games with an average 13:34 of ice time.
"He plays the game fast," Cooper said. "He's got speed but he's got that I-don't-give-a-you-know-what attitude when he goes all over the ice. He goes into corners, it doesn't matter the size of who he's going against. That's an element we need on this team. Now, he's starting to get into penalty killing for us. It's a pretty exciting time for him."
But not so exciting he won't treat the game like any other.
"You just try to limit the distractions like any big game you're going to play," Brown said, "just focus on yourself and make sure you do everything you can to make sure the team wins."
Steven Stamkos continued to work toward playing Saturday at home against the Red Wings by doing corner puck battle drills. That he came out of them smiling was a good sign everything is on track for his return from a broken right tibia sustained Nov. 11 in Boston.
"Once you do it once or twice you get more comfortable and that was the case today," Stamkos said. "You do it the first time against Marty (St. Louis) you're a little hesitant and you know you can keep up with him and you go to the next guy and the next guy and you get a lot more comfortable and confident. It's the best day it felt, which was pretty good considering (Monday) was probably the toughest practice."
Said Cooper: "You have to get over the hurdle of those twitch movements you don't know are coming. When he got through some of those today you can tell there was a little glitter in his eye. He was getting excited that, 'Hey, I'm not feeling the pain I thought I might feel.' It's still baby steps. It's way different battling one of your own teammates as opposed to having guys who are quote-unquote the enemy."
Stamkos did corner drills against St. Louis, Alex Killorn and finished against Ryan Malone, who said he held back on Stamkos "a tiny bit."
"But for the most part you want to make sure he's ready so you ant to lean on him well," Malone added. "You can still see the explosion he has in his legs."
Stamkos will have an X-ray when the team returns to Tampa after tonight's game with the Wild and confer with team doctors before being cleared to play. But the way Stamkos said he felt after Tuesday's workout, he sees no reason to believe his plan to play Saturday will change.
"I can't see anything being a problem," he said. "I just want to get the clearance and hear everything is okay. I'm just looking forward to hearing the good news and getting ready for a game."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Ben Bishop gets the start in net tonight against the Wild. ... Center Valtteri Filppula, who missed one game with what was believed a left hip/leg injury, is expected to play. ... It appears defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote and center Tom Pyatt will be scratched. ... The Lightning penalty kill is hitting its stride lately and is 12-for-12 in its past four games. It also has three shorthanded goals in its past five games. Overall, Tampa Bay has six shorthanded goals this season, one more than it had in the previous four seasons combined. "The players have the green light," said associate coach Rick Bowness, who handles the penalty kill. We get control of the puck, let's make something happen. They've had that from Day 1. Don't just get the puck and ice it. If you can make a play, make a play." Center Nate Thompson, who is tied with center Tyler Johnson for the team lead with two shorthanded goals, said of the other team, "When you're on the power play, guys aren't thinking defense sometimes and that's when you can catch them off guard."