There are dozens of life stories on the ice this week at Sabres development camp. You know the big names, plenty about their backgrounds and – in the case of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Justin Bailey – even a good deal about their families.
Then there is the tale of Christopher Brown.
Only a complete Sabres draftnik would know much about Brown, a 6-foot forward taken in the sixth round last year at Cranbrook School in Michigan. Any of these kids will tell you sports are their lives. But few of them can say it with the kind of gusto of Brown, who will play as a freshman at Boston College this fall.
Brown’s father, Doug, played 854 NHL games from 1986-2001 with New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Detroit, earning regular roles on the Red Wings’ 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup champions. His brother, Patrick, made his NHL debut last season by playing seven games for Carolina after a four-year career at BC. His uncle, Greg, is a BC assistant who was the Sabres’ No. 2 pick in 1986 and played 49 games for Buffalo from 1990-93 before finishing his career with Pittsburgh and Winnipeg.
His uncle and father were both BC All-Americans inducted into the school’s hall of fame. Brown’s mother, Maureen, played golf at BC and is the ultimate twist to the story, as one of 11 children from a prominent New York City sporting family.
That connection thus makes Christopher Brown one of 43 grandchildren of the late Wellington and Anne Mara, the legendary owners of the NFL’s New York Giants. Brown is the nephew of current Giants President John Mara.
Wellington Mara, who died in 2005 when Brown was 9, owned the Giants for 46 years and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
“He was a great guy. He liked to play board games a lot,” Brown, 19, said Wednesday in First Niagara Center. “We would play chess, watch TV, the kind of things you’d do with your grandfather. He was always so professional in everything he did in his life.
“When he was alive, I didn’t really know how big he was and what kind of impact he had in the NFL. You’re too young, you just don’t know at first. He’s your grandpa. As I got older, I learned more and more about him. It’s so incredible and such an honor to be part of that family.”
As you might expect, there are perks to being the grandson of Wellington Mara. Brown was on the field to see the postgame aftermath of the Giants’ most recent Super Bowl victories, the 2008 win over New England in Glendale, Ariz., that dashed the Patriots’ hopes of an unbeaten season, and the 2012 upset of the Pats in Indianapolis.
“It was incredible,” Brown said. “I’m lucky. I’ve been a part of a lot of big stages and hopefully I can use that to my advantage because I’ve seen a lot. I got to go on the field right after the Super Bowls. There’s confetti everywhere. You get to see how hard these guys have worked every day and how they got rewarded. You have to take from that.”
Brown landed in the United States Hockey League late in the 2013-14 season and returned to the same team for the first 43 games this season. So where did this die-hard Giants fan – a grandson of the franchise patriarch, no less – end up playing hockey? In all places, Green Bay.
Brown’s grandmother, who died in February, was known to be feisty later in life. In fact, she became a viral sensation for prodding Hall of Famer and Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw after the 2012 NFC Championship Game victory in San Francisco for picking against her team. So she had some pointed advice for her grandson before he headed to Wisconsin.
“When she heard about Green Bay, she was like, ‘As long as you don’t become a Cheesehead, I’m fine with it,’” Brown said with a laugh. “There were some good jokes there for sure.”
Five years earlier, Brown had experienced Green Bay in the flesh when he sat in the stands in minus-1 degree weather for the Giants’ NFC Championship Game victory over the Packers.
“The box was too full with the family so I sat outside,” he said sheepishly. “It was a crazy day. That’s the coldest I’ve ever been, ever.”
Brown had 13 goals and 19 assists this season for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers before a trade to the Tri-City Storm, where he did not score in the final 15 games for the club based in Kearney, Neb.
“It’s definitely a big difference, a big adjustment period,” he said. “I’ve never changed teams in midseason but I had a lot of fun with both teams, had some great coaches with each one. It happens at every level above here. You have to get used it, deal with it and do as best you can.”
Brown had double hip surgery last year and came to town for Sabres camp but wasn’t able to skate. So this is his first real chance to show the Sabres what he can do and where he needs to go when he lands at BC.
Brown is like most of the relative unknowns at this camp, trying to gauge where he is while sneaking a few looks at the likes of Eichel and Reinhart. His stall in the NHL visitors’ dressing room the prospects are using is right next to Eichel’s and he says they’ve even engaged in some minor Boston College-Boston University chatter.
“You want to see where the bar is, take notes from the guys who are here and compete every single day,” he said. “Those guys are so mature for their age and can skate so fast and so strong. Everything they do well on the ice, they are gentlemen off the ice. You learn from that.”
Brown can play center, his drafted position, and wing. He’s been lining up in this camp centered by Giorgio Estephan, Buffalo’s sixth-round pick this year, and free agent winger Ryan Verbeek, nephew of longtime NHLer Pat Verbeek.
You want more athletic connections? One of Brown’s Green Bay teammates was Orchard Park native R.J. Gicewicz and he’s been giving Brown the heads-up about what to look for during Friday night’s Blue & Gold scrimmage. Gicewicz’s father, Rich, started at tight end for Michigan State’s 1987 Big Ten championship and 1988 Rose Bowl-winning teams and had free-agent stints with five NFL teams, including the Bills.
“R.J. is a total hometown Buffalo boy,” Brown said. “He’s been telling me there should be a lot of people and this fan group is incredible here when it comes to the Bills and Sabres. They’re so big here, it’s going to be really interesting for me to see.”