ST. PAUL, Minn. — J.T. Brown's past year has been nothing short of busy and filled with changes.
The Lightning placed him on waivers in January in the middle of his sixth season with the franchise after he signed as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth.
Brown spent the rest of the season with the Ducks. In the offseason as a free agent, he signed with the Wild, his hometown team.
He settled into a Minnesota home with his wife, Lexi, and young daughter, Lily, who will soon be an older sister. The Browns are expecting a boy in December.
Brown also became the first NHL player to peacefully protest during the national anthem when he raised his right fist on Oct. 7, 2017, before a game against the Panthers in order to "bring awareness to police brutality, racial injustice and inequalities." He announced he would no longer raise his fist during the national anthem on Oct. 18. Shortly after, he accepted an invitation from Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan to spend a day with officers.
Brown, 28, has continued to participate in a variety of programs and events to help the community, including a 24-hour Twitch.tv video game stream that he held to raise money for the NHL program Hockey is for Everyone, which promotes diversity in the game.
Ahead of Saturday's Wild game against the Lightning, the Tampa Bay Times caught up with Brown.
What has the past year been like for you?
"It's definitely been different. Obviously, a change of scenery. Spent a majority of my career with Tampa and their organization, but it's been a good change for me to come back home."
What will it be like playing against the Lightning?
"I'm sure it will be weird. That's really the only thing I can think of. Obviously, the first time playing against a lot of the guys I played with for the past four, five years. I'm sure once the game gets started, kind of all that goes away."
What are you taking away most from your time in Tampa as a hockey player?
"A lot of it comes from the culture that was around Tampa and the guys that were in the room. You take everything from the coaching staff on down, it was a good situation. We had a lot of good runs there. You've just got to try and use as much of that as possible. Obviously, I'm older and have a little more experience now."
It was about a year ago that you peacefully protested during the national anthem.
"(The time since has) been good. Me, myself and my family just trying to find our … I don't know how to exactly word it. Since then, just trying to find what outlet is going to be the best way for us to obviously not just sit back but at the same time focus on the things that really matter outside of hockey."
You made an effort to become involved with Tampa police officers, participating in the ride along. What did you take away from that experience, as well as other community events and programs?
"To be able to use some of the things I tried to do in the past and make an improvement, coming here to Minnesota. We had a little experience working with the Tampa police department. I think I gained a good friend out of it, too. … Chief Dugan, he has texted me since I left and went to Anaheim and since I left and went to Minnesota, he has still kept up and has sent some texts back and forth. That's one thing I wasn't really expecting out of it, but at the same time, I am very grateful for it. Going forward, I'm looking to not necessarily have the exact same thing but try to do something along those lines. Keep evolving it."
You worked alongside Lightning owner Jeff Vinik on some community-related programs and events. What was your experience like with him over the years?
"Jeff was very good. We had plenty of good talks and how were we going to get the message across in the best way possible. Also, what could he do to help me? That was kind of his main question. Me and him would go back and forth and talk. He would use his connections to get me in touch with the police officers as well as him being there. The biggest thing for me was him saying, 'What can I do to help? I want to be able to help you. This may not be a situation that I feel every day or see, but obviously, you care strongly enough about this, and I want to be able to help you. I want to make this go as easy as possible for you.' "
When you're a professional athlete hearing an owner say that, what is your reaction?
"I had already had good thoughts of Jeff and just being around him and around the team and knowing what he wants to do with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the surrounding area. Obviously, you know he's a good guy. That solidified it for me. I knew firsthand he was trying to do whatever he can. He didn't have to. He could have just sat on the sidelines. Just let it play out. Instead, he kind of stepped up and asked what ways he could help and how he could get involved to help me."
What message would you like to share with Lightning fans?
"I would just say thank you for your time. I loved the Lightning fan base. They were very good to me. A lot of great people down there."