With the Wichita Thunder in a do-or-die situation to earn a place in the ECHL playoffs, it is all hands on deck for the team, and no one characterizes that attitude better than defenseman Travis Brown. The Thunder defenseman has not only brought skill and grit to the ice, but has helped to keep the atmosphere light in the locker room when tension reduction is needed most.
Introducing Travis Brown
If you met Travis Brown at a shopping mall or he was sitting next to you at church, your first thoughts would be about how soft spoken the 24-year-old is, or what a pleasant smile he has. He has the qualities that make him the kind of person you would love to have as your neighbor or as part of your community group: welcoming, encouraging, and intelligent.
However, when Travis steps onto the ice, it is like a switch has been turned on. The jovial, soft-spoken young man turns into one of the most feared defenseman in the ECHL, and has been a pivotal part of a Wichita Thunder team that is battling to make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
The Genetics to Play Hockey
Raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, it was only logical that Travis Brown would play hockey. With the sport being almost a religion in Canada, every young boy wants to play and, with the encouragement of his father, the defenseman was no exception.
“I started skating before I could remember. My dad had me on skates when I was about four and it’s just kind of been in my DNA since I was a young kid.”
While playing soccer and football as well, the time arose when he had to make a decision on which sport he would dedicate himself to. To be honest, it wasn’t really much of a decision.
“Hockey was something that was a challenge for me. I wasn’t always the best growing up, but I was improving every year and it was always a lot of fun. All of my friends were always playing it. It’s like football is in America. I did enjoy football a lot, but I just enjoyed hockey more.”
Taking His Show on the Road
Travis Brown may have thought that he did not measure up to others, but he caught the attention of the junior leagues starting in 2010. He played in one game for the Winnipeg Blues (Manitoba Junior Hockey League) in the 2010-11 season, before moving onto the Moose Jaw Warriors (Western Hockey League – WHL) for the final three games of that season.
He would spend the next two seasons with Moose Jaw, scoring 7 goals and adding 24 assists in 66 games in the 2011-12 season, then improving to 9 goals and 30 assists in 70 games the following season. He helped the Warriors to reach the playoffs in his first full season with the team, posting a plus/minus rating of +19.
The following season, Travis started the year with Moose Jaw before moving to the Victoria Royals. He scored 5 goals and added 10 assists in 28 games for the Royals, and became a key piece to the team’s playoff run. The following season, the defenseman set single season marks, scoring 18 goals and adding 39 assists in 71 games.
The opportunity to play junior hockey had helped Travis to improve his skill set, but it also gave him the opportunity to improve as a person. He is not only appreciative for this opportunity, but also for the families that helped to make it possible.
“Moving away from home at about 17 years old is pretty nerve-racking but my parents prepared me well. My mom taught me how to cook early, so I could kind of fend for myself. You have a family that kind of takes care of you when you’re in juniors and looks out after you. I had two great billet families, so I was really blessed to have them in my junior career.”
Time to Go Pro
After four successful seasons in the WHL, it was time to move on. Travis Brown had been selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fifth round of the 2012 entry draft and, with his junior league eligibility completed, it was time to move onto the next chapter of his life.
In 2015-16, the defenseman was assigned to the Brampton Beast (ECHL). He would appear in 55 games there, scoring 8 goals and adding 14 assists. He also spent three games in the American Hockey League (AHL), adding a goal.
The next season, Travis moved onto the Allen Americans, where he appeared in 36 games, scoring 3 goals and adding 11 assists. He also posted an impressive +16 rating, and helped the team to make it to the Western Conference semi-finals. He would also spend one game in the AHL, appearing for the San Jose Barracuda.
Helping to Bring the Thunder
This past off-season, Wichita Thunder Head Coach Malcolm Cameron was looking to add a veteran defenseman to his team, who he could count on to fill many different roles. Travis Brown became the perfect choice.
“Travis is an excellent skater that has the ability to be dangerous off the rush and on special teams,” explained the Head Coach at the time of the signing. “I coached against Travis for three years in the WHL and last season when he was in Allen. He is a true pro and will definitely make us a more dangerous team this season.”
Brown became an impact player right away. In the home opener, the defenseman showed that great skating ability, twice chasing down opposing players to breakup plays, once when it was a 2-0n-0 breakaway. While not wanting to find himself in that kind of situation, he relishes the opportunity to make plays for his team.
“I have always believed I could skate well, and that is part of being a good two-way defenseman. I don’t want to be in situations like that too often, but it is good to know that I have a second or third gear if I need it. It’s a chance to make a difference.”
Making a Difference
This season, Travis Brown has 10 goals and 25 points in 64 games. His 35 points ranks him 19th among defenseman in the ECHL, tied with teammate Jeremy Beaudry, and he is tied for 16th in goals scored among blue-liners. He has even proven to be an offensive threat when his team is at its most vulnerable point, ranking second in the league in short-handed goals by a defenseman. It’s the kind of performance that pleases, because he knows he is making a difference for his team.
“You want to help your team win. This is a team game like no other, and those 17 other guys in the locker room are expecting you to give your best each night. While it is good to have numbers, you understand that this is about the team first. If you are all working together as a unit, the numbers will come.”
It’s also about being a good teammate. When the stakes are so high, there is a tendency for players to put a lot of pressure on themselves. The Thunder defenseman wants to make sure that he does his part to be a good leader, a guy who can drive his team to perform while also not allowing them to tense up.
“I just try to stay positive. I’ve noticed that negativity really doesn’t work. Even if it does, it doesn’t get you any further, so every day I just try to be positive and, if I catch myself slipping a little bit, I just remind myself that you’re playing a game, having fun doing what you love, so enjoy it. Mistakes will be made, so just let them roll off your back and stay positive and make sure that you are helping out, especially the younger guys. You want the locker room to be a stress-free place, so being positive and building comradery is important for our success.”
Building on Success
Maybe Travis Brown was not the best kid on the ice growing up. However, one thing that has really made him stand out is that he has worked to improve his game every chance he gets. His focus has not only been on improving his hockey skills, but improving his performance in all aspects of his game.
“Each year, there’s a little more maturity, a little more patience, a little more poise, especially with the puck, just trying to stay calm, knowing you have a lot more time than you think sometimes. Just trying to stay poised and make the right decisions and just knowing when it’s time to make the right plays, like when it’s time to pinch, just trying to take a more mature approach to the game while still using my youth and my legs. You want to do all those little things to improve your play if you are going to take your game to another level.”
It’s also about being coachable. No player is perfect, and taking constructive criticism is a way to take one’s game to even greater heights. For Travis, that starts with the man who introduced him to the game.
“My dad and I talk about the game, the do’s and don’ts that he saw. There are things that I might disagree a little bit with, but it’s always good to have another person’s eyes, especially somebody who just wants you to do well. You know it’s coming from such a great place, it’s just nice to reflect on that game and hear the opinion of somebody that you trust.”
Expecting One’s Best
The Wichita Thunder have just three games left in the season and every point matters. They are currently in fourth in the Mountain Division, one point behind the Allen Americans and a point ahead of the Tulsa Oilers. They need the very best from every player, and no one understands this better than Travis Brown. That is why he ensuring that no one is letting the tension become too intense, including himself.
“I try to make sure I keep a pretty even head. I used to freak out at some things when I was younger but, over time, I realized that it’s not worth it. It’s a long game and a long season, so when things happen you just got to roll with them, and never let yourself get too high or too low.”
With each game meaning so much, the Wichita Thunder need someone who is going to help reduce the heat in the locker room. A person who can handle the pressure and help to take it off others. A person who can be a Doctor Jekyll-Mr. Hyde when it comes to playing the game. Right now they need Travis Brown, and there is no doubt that he will be at his best when they need him the most.
Travis Brown Images with Wichita Thunder Courtesy of Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier