Photo by Daryl Marshke
To some, Missouri may seem like an unlikely market for ice hockey. Storied football and baseball programs like the Mizzou Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals have long satisfied Missouri sports fans’ desire for entertainment. But Caden Brown, a Chesterfield, Missouri native for whom hockey has always been a family affair, sees it differently.
Brown's relationships with his dad, 13-year NHL veteran Jeff Brown, and his brother, Logan, a forward for the Ottawa Senators, sparked an interest in the game at a young age. Growing up in Missouri, Brown said he saw the game growing throughout the state during his childhood.
Now, thanks to the development of St. Louis-area hockey programs like St. Louis AAA Blues, of which Brown is an alumnus, and a Stanley Cup in 2019 for the hometown St. Louis Blues, the first championship for the organization since its inception in 1967, business is booming in the heartland of America.
“Hockey’s been growing every year there,” said Brown. “And with the Blues winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, it’s just been getting bigger and bigger. You see a lot of ex-players stay and start their families in St. Louis too, so it’s a great spot for hockey.”
Beginning at age 2, Brown grew his game in the suburbs of St. Louis before moving to Ottawa for three years while his dad, 13-year NHL veteran Jeff Brown, was coaching in the Ontario Hockey League. He returned to Missouri for his first two years of high school, honing his skills with the AAA Blues, before earning an opportunity to represent USA Hockey at the National Team Development Program.
Brown settled into his new team nicely last season, notching seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 40 contests as a member of the U.S. National Under-17 Team.
Now in his second year at the NTDP, Brown, who describes himself as a two-way center that’s confident on both sides of the ice, is off to a stellar start, averaging a point per game with three goals and six assists through the first nine contests.
The 2020-21 season looks different than last year for Brown and the rest of the NTDP due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Games are more likely to be postponed or rescheduled, daily schedules change frequently and new protocols are being implemented weekly to ensure everyone’s safety. Despite this, Brown believes the team has handled this season’s setbacks well.
“We’re just taking it day-by-day,” said Brown. “Coach [Dan] Muse has been telling us that every day we don’t know what’s going to happen so we just have to kind of get the most we can out of every day and get better. If a game gets cancelled, obviously we’re going to be bummed, but we’re just going to have to work through it. We’re doing it as a team which is great."
In light of the challenges the team faces this season, Brown says team morale has never been higher and their goal is still the same: to win a gold medal at the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship.
“We had a great summer," said Brown. "We’re a super tight-knit group so we’ve stayed pretty positive. My personal goal and our team goal is to win a U18 gold medal, but right now it’s to win every single game and get better as a team so we can do that.”
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Photo by Daryl Marshke
The 2021 tournament is slated to take place at USA Hockey Arena next April and serves as the culmination of the two-year stint at the NTDP. But hockey won’t stop after the U18 Worlds for Brown, who will start school at the University of Wisconsin next fall as a member of the men’s hockey team.
“It’s just a great school,” said Brown. “They have a great coaching staff in Coach Granato and Coach Osiecki. There’s a lot of great history there and a lot of great players to come out of there, so I’m super excited for it.”
In addition to the start of his collegiate career, Brown hopes to hear his name called next year at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Naturally, Brown said he’d be happy to go anywhere, but that being selected by his hometown team would be especially exciting.
“It’d be an honor to go anywhere, but obviously playing in St. Louis, in my hometown at the Enterprise Center, it’d be a dream come true.”