OTTAWA — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will say one thing about his fighting ability.
"I've come a long way," he said, smiling.
Sure, Brown, 25, got in his share of childhood scraps with his siblings. And there's toughness in his genes. His father, Ted, was a running back for N.C. State and the Minnesota Vikings.
But few would expect Brown, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward, to be tied for the Lightning lead in fights the past two seasons, his five matching agitator Cedric Paquette. Brown is fearless, however, as can be seen in his play, and he has won bouts against the likes of 6-3, 200-pound Andrew Ladd and 6-1, 190-pound Nate Schmidt this season.
Brown has provided a needed physical element to the Lightning, which has won seven straight heading into tonight's game against the Senators.
"You talk to him, he's a big goof," center Tyler Johnson said. "But when he gets upset or is sticking up for a teammate, he's pretty impressive. He's a guy that I definitely wouldn't want to tangle up with if I was on the other team."
Brown doesn't consider himself a fighter, nor does he look for fights. He has skill along with his will, his eight goals and 20 points both career highs and his plus-15 tied for the team lead. But Brown has used his speed, tenacity and grit to work his way into the NHL while also getting under opponents' skins.
"Guys just eventually snap on him," defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "They just lose their top on him and go after him."
And Brown won't back down. "It's being willing to and not being scared to fight somebody," he said. "You're going up against somebody bigger and stronger. You might win, you might lose, but at the end of the day, you're going to help the team. It's going to give the guys on the bench a boost. You see everybody's excitement when two guys drop the gloves. Whether you win or lose the fight, there's momentum you can bring."
Brown had a few fights for the USHL Waterloo Blackhawks and four fights over two seasons with AHL Syracuse.
"I remember the first one (with Syracuse), early in the season," Johnson said. "He beat the guy up pretty good. After that, we kind of knew he was a tough guy."
But fighting can also be a skill, something Brown has had to work at. Brown said a former Waterloo assistant coach, Shane Fukushima, often sends him text messages with critiques and tips after each of his NHL fights. Brown said he has learned how to get leverage and throw punches to where he won't cut his hand on an opponent's helmet. He said his style is waiting out the other player then trying to "throw a few hard ones."
"He's just scrappy; he's quick," said Coburn, who is tied with Brown with three fights this season. "He's got good strength and leverage. It's kind of like he doesn't get hit too much."
Said Johnson: "He beats guys up. That's his style."
Brown said he has been on the "wrong end" of a few bouts. There was Oct. 21, 2014, in Calgary, when Brown saw Flames defenseman Mark Giordano (6 feet, 200 pounds) hit Nikita Kucherov from behind in the neutral zone. Brown went after Giordano and succumbed pretty quickly. "That one didn't go very well for me," Brown quipped.
But it made a difference in a 2-1 overtime victory.
"It was effective nonetheless," center Brian Boyle said. "We won that game in overtime when we had nothing going on. We couldn't get it going. (Brown) stood in there, and he did that. He's come a long way. He's scrappy. He plays with that edge."
That may add some stress to his wife, Lexi, a hockey player herself. "She's really cool at first, and then it's like, 'Wait, don't get hurt while you're fighting. Don't get any cuts on your face,' " Brown said. "But she knows."
So does the Lightning, ranked 20th in the league with 14 fights.
"I think that's an integral part of the team," Johnson said. "He's kind of that stereotypical Lightning player that we want. It's not necessarily you have to be the biggest guy or the toughest guy. You just have to be willing to do it, and he is."