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Tampa Bay Lightning

Newest Bolt brings passion, athletic pedigree

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:05 AM
BRANDON -

Trying to live up to his father's famous football cleats never really entered into the equation for J.T. Brown, even though he played the same position on the field.

By the time Brown reached high school, he had decided his route would include skates and ice instead of cleats and grass.

A few years later, Brown is the newest member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, signed on Wednesday as a college free agent and scheduled to make his NHL debut tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.

Growing up in Minnesota, where his father, Ted, played running back as a first-round draft pick for the Vikings from 1979-86, hockey was a natural. And Brown was a typical kid playing pickup on the frozen ponds and lakes near his hometown of Burnsville.

While sandlot and pee wee football games were the warm-weather norms in Minnesota, Brown never felt the same affinity for football as he did hockey. So, before entering high school, Brown punted on the idea of playing football.

"I just knew right away that hockey was a game that I loved playing,'' Brown said. "Football was something more that I liked to do, and I had fun doing it. I just always had more passion for hockey than football.''

That zeal for hockey in his son was evident to Ted at an early age when he noticed the difference between trying to wake J.T. up at 5 a.m. for 6 a.m. hockey practice compared to 8 a.m. for football practice.

"I tried not to wake him up one day, and whispered to him "Do you want to go to hockey'' and I didn't say it very loud and this kid was up, boom and out the door ready to go,'' Ted Brown said. "Right then, I said, "Well, we can forget about football'' and then when he wouldn't get up for football practice, I thought, hmmmm.''

That passion led him to Waterloo, Iowa, in the United States Hockey League, then the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he won a national championship and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2011 Frozen Four. On Wednesday, he signed his first professional contract after two years at UM-D.

Brown's father applied no pressure when it came time to decide between the sports.

"That's the great thing about this, he always made his own mind up on what he wanted to do, there never was any pressure,'' Ted Brown said. "And most of the kids in our neighborhood played hockey, so that was an easy transition for him just to play what the kids in the neighborhood were playing.''

At each step along the way, Brown showed steady and strong improvement. He was not recruited coming out of Rosemount High, but after leading Waterloo with 34 goals and 43 assists in 60 games his second season in the USHL, Minnesota-Duluth came calling.

Brown had a successful freshman season, finishing fourth on the team with 16 goals and 37 points and helping the Bulldogs win the school's first national championship in hockey. As a sophomore, Brown led UM-D with 24 goals before the Bulldogs were knocked out in the regional final last weekend by Boston College, denying him a trip to Tampa for the Frozen Four.

Instead, with his parents scheduled to be in attendance, Brown will be making his NHL debut on the same ice that will host the Frozen Four next week.

"This is a player we really need and are excited to have in our organization,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "Bringing him in now, we get the opportunity to get him to four or five games to get an idea of where he stands, and how does he stack up now and heading into next year, whether he can be a regular in our lineup. And this gives him an opportunity to get his bearings, try to figure things out and get a feel for how he should prepare himself during the summer.''

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