J.T. Brown’s departure to the Anaheim Ducks represents the end of an era for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After winning a national championship with the University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey team in 2012, Brown was a sought-after free agent by Boston, Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia. Normally the Lightning would have been considered an afterthought in the Brown sweepstakes, as the franchise had struggled to attract free agents in the years prior. Typically, the only major names signed by the Lightning were those they drafted or previously traded for, like Eric Brewer before the 2010-11 playoffs.
Brown, however, believed in Yzerman’s vision for the franchise. When it was announced that he would bring his talents to Tampa Bay, fans were reminded that the franchise could and should be a destination for players.
During the years under OK Hockey ownership, hardcore Lightning fans became accustomed to players ignoring the Bolts, choosing other destinations like Philadelphia or Boston over the struggling franchise. Brown kicked off a run of talented free-agent signings by Yzerman, including fellow college free agent Andrej Sustr in 2013 and NHL veterans like Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle in 2014.
From Prospect to Lightning Regular
While Brown’s offensive contributions on the ice were minimal, he represented a steady presence with the Lightning for close to six years. As a minor-leaguer with the Syracuse Crunch, he earned the nickname ‘J.T. Brownov’ while playing alongside standout Lightning prospects Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov. When Steven Stamkos suffered his season-ending leg injury during the 2013-14, Brown was recalled to fill the open roster spot. While he didn’t score consistently during his call-up, he never looked back either, sticking with the Lightning until his departure on Jan. 15.
For your passion on the ice, your dedication to our community, and your love for our fans…
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) January 14, 2018
Knowing his role with the Lightning, Brown took on a heart-and-soul approach to his game. For over five years, whenever the Lightning needed a player to bring the energy, lay down a big hit or stand up to an opponent, they sent in Brown. He did his job well, earning tough minutes against some of the best in the NHL.
Leaving a Legacy Around Tampa Bay
With a hard-nosed playstyle, Brown endured himself to the Lightning fan base on the ice. Off the ice, he did his best to be a positive influence on the community. Despite controversy over his national anthem protest, Brown remained an active face within the Tampa community at large. Between spending time with the local police force, attending signings for a community struggling with a serial murder case or mentoring at-risk kids around Tampa, Brown found ways to interact with the community supporting the Lightning.
Brown Staying Connected in the Virtual Era
In the last year, Brown found a new way to connect with fans outside of hockey. As an avid gamer, he adopted video streaming services like Twitch to build an online community and interact with fans. Not only does Brown chat with fans and play games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, he also uses the time to raise money for various charities. As the first NHL player to be officially partnered with Twitch, Brown is able to take in donations and subscriptions to his channel, which he then donates to charities like ‘Hockey is for Everyone.’
As Brown said himself in an interview with Mark J. Burns of Sports Techie:
For me, it’s not even about the viewership. We started this as a cool and new way to interact with fans and give them another opportunity to see a different side of me that they don’t necessarily see.
By finding new and interesting ways to associate with the public, Brown endured himself to both hardcore Lightning fans and a non-sports crowd just interested in seeing the human side of professional athletes. For Brown, Twitch represents a way to keep a niche but passionate audience who will follow him regardless of the emblem on his jersey.
Brown’s Ready for Anaheim
While it is unclear how successful Brown will be in Anaheim, it does seem like the perfect team for him to end up with. Brown fits in well with Anaheim’s gritty playstyle that is meant to wear down opponents. With Anaheim, Brown will have a greater opportunity to play and contribute on a nightly basis compared to the time he was receiving in Tampa. The one thing you can guarantee, though, is that Brown will find a way to stay connected with the communities he has built, whether they are in California or Florida.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.