REGINA — Having played in parts of five Western Hockey League seasons and for four teams, Tanner Brown knows a lot of his opponents – but that does not mean they are friends on the ice.
Once the puck drops, Brown is focused is on doing whatever he can to help the Regina Pats succeed. He is OK being a bit of a “villain.”
“It’s good to get under their skin, you know, and kind of push their buttons a bit … You get under their skin and kind of boil their blood a little bit,” he said. “I think that gives us an advantage.”
However, the 20-year-old defenceman certainly appreciates the camaraderie hockey teams can have. He has several friends on his former squads. Brown said he is in touch with some of them daily. Camaraderie is one aspect of the Pats Brown has appreciated since joining the team last October via trade. When asked what he has enjoyed about playing for the Regina squad, Brown said:
“We got a great group of guys. Getting used to the city. Meeting new people. Met lots of people in the organization. … Just really bonding together. It is my last year, so I think that team camaraderie is huge. I think maybe when I was younger, I think I took that for granted a bit, and am kicking myself now. So, I’m trying to get my time in.”
Brown is also having an impact on the blue line. As of Feb. 21, he has four goals and 16 assists for 20 points in 43 games. Those numbers only partially show the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder’s value to the team. He brings experience and physical play. Brown has 41 penalty minutes in his time with the Pats.
“Definitely, I’m not shy of the physical play,” he said. “That is something I actually enjoy. In games, I think it keeps things fast and I think it keeps guys honest. You can’t be toe-dragging to the middle all the time if you think someone is going to come and blow you up. It keeps the game honest, and it keeps it fast and fun.”
Over the years, Brown has played for several coaches. When he was younger, he said he found it challenging at times to play for a new coach whose ideas might be different from what he previously learned.
“I think I came to realize that the game really is so simple – don’t get scored on, score goals. That’s the biggest thing, but there are so many little intangibles.”
He noted over time he has learned how to adapt to the way a new coach wants a team to play and its strengths.
“Here we are obviously are a fast team, a puck-moving team,” he said of the Pats. “I think our offence is through the roof. One thing I came to realize quite quickly once I got here was get the puck in the forwards’ hands as quick as possible.”
This season the talented Pats team featuring Connor Bedard, the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, among others with pro potential has drawn large crowds for road games – selling out some visiting arenas. For Brown, it is a bit of déjà vu in a way.
“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “When I was younger, I played with Bowen Byram (currently a Colorado Avalanche defenceman and the fourth pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft while playing for the Vancouver Giants). … Everywhere we went was sold out to see him … It is obviously the same here with Connor. So, I’m used to it, and I’ve played lots of big playoff games where it was sold out. I like it. It’s fun.”
Brown’s hockey journey began in Vernon. He later developed his game in Kelowna. Around Grades 7-8, he started attending Kelowna Rocket games. He enjoyed watching the WHL action, but it was not exactly a league he was aspiring to play in.
“I was just playing because I loved it and it was so much fun. … I think once I got drafted, I realized this was something I can really do – this is what I want to pursue.”
The Giants grabbed Brown in the second round of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. Due to a late birthday, he recalls he was only 14 when he saw his first WHL action. He was an affiliate player with the team in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. He said it was a “crazy and cool” experience. Brown joined the team full time in 2019-2020. He praised the veterans the Giants had in his early days with the team, such as 2017-2018 captain Tyler Benson (who has played for the Edmonton Oilers) for showing him “what it takes and how to lead.” Brown appreciated their willingness to include him.
“Being so young … you feel like an oddball out a little bit, but I think what those guys taught me and preached was so huge and crucial. Whether it was including me in a game on the bus or texting me what I’m doing at the hotel. Stuff that really made me feel included.”
Brown appeared in games in five different seasons for the Giants. At the 2021-2022 trade deadline, the Winnipeg Ice picked up the veteran to bolster its roster for a playoff run.
“The first time (I was traded), it didn’t really feel real,” Brown said, noting that it was tough to leave “some of these guys I saw every day for five years or whatever.”
Brown helped the Ice make it to the Eastern Conference finals. The Red Deer Rebels acquired him in the summer. Brown played five games for Red Deer before being traded to Regina.
As where his hockey journey will lead next, Brown is unsure. His goal is to play in the professional ranks. He has received some interest from schools where he could use the WHL Scholarship package to play hockey and pursue an education. For now, Brown is focused on doing whatever he can to help the Pats win – even if that means being a bit of a villain.