By now, everyone is likely aware that the Canucks have sent away assistant coach Ryan Walter, and replaced him with Newell Brown, most recently a coach with the Anaheim Ducks. What does Brown’s background look like?
Brown’s playing career was short and relatively unexceptional, thanks in large part to his size. 5’9” centres have never been in great demand around the league, and despite posting some pretty good QMJHL numbers in his draft year (on a Memorial Cup-winning team featuring, among others, HHOF’er Dale Hawerchuk and future NHL coaches Marc Crawford and Scott Arniel) Brown went unselected. He left the QMJHL for NCAA hockey, where a stellar performance in his second season of college (he led MSU in scoring) prompted the Canucks to take a flyer on him late in the 1982 draft.
After four years of college (Brown studied animal science), Brown played just a single season of pro hockey, posting good numbers for Muskegon of the IHL and disappointing ones for Fredricton of the AHL (where he again played with Crawford and also Claude Julien). He then played one season under Dave King with Canada’s National Team in 1985-86, while also filling in part-time as an assistant coach. The coaching apparently appealed to Brown; he retired from playing hockey and went back to Michigan State, where he would spend the next four years as an assistant coach with a very successful program.
Brown then spent two years as head coach at Michigan Tech, where his team struggled but his coaching was apparently impressive: the Red Wings hired him on as their head coach in Adirondack of the AHL, where he spent four years. At the time, Brown highlighted what a difficult decision it was to leave Michigan Tech, but that his “ultimate goal” was “to be a head coach in the National Hockey League someday.” With Adirondack, Brown coached a lot of different players who would become key contributors in Detroit’s success of the late-90’s. One of his players described him as “businesslike and positive” and highlighted his calm, measured approach to coaching. He was also not above using the trap to keep his team in games against superior opponents.
In 1995, Brown was offered a job by Doug MacLean as an NHL assistant coach with the Florida Panthers, but he missed out on their Cinderella run because Detroit refused to let him out of his AHL contract to make the jump to the big leagues. Brown got his opportunity the following season, with Craig Hartsburg’s Chicago Blackhawks, a position he retained for two seasons. Like many assistants, Brown was terminated when the ‘Hawks fired head coach Hartsburg.
Brown wasn’t out of work long; Craig Hartsburg was hired to take over the Ducks in the off-season, and he brought Brown with him to Anaheim. Brown spent two more seasons on Hartsburg’s staff before finding a job in Columbus on the staff of Dave King (MacLean, who offered Brown the job in Florida, was G.M.). King was eventually dismissed, but Brown stayed with the team, even being promoted to Associate Coach after two seasons with the club. That came to an end midway through 2003-04, when the Jackets re-assigned Brown because of “differences” with MacLean. While those differences were never explicitly spelled out, it’s been suggested that Brown was upset at being passed over for the top job in favour of assistant coach Gerard Gallant, and that Gallant didn’t relish having Brown looking over his shoulder.
Brown went back to the Ducks, joining Randy Carlyle’s staff where he seems to have been primarily responsible for the power play. He was let go over the summer, which is why he was available for Vancouver to hire. Three times in Brown’s five post-lockout seasons with the Ducks, Anaheim’s power play ranked in the top five in the NHL.
Brown’s a very different hire than Ryan Walter was: where Walter was a motivational speaker without much coaching experience, Brown is a richly experienced career coach who seems to be more of a tactician than a motivator.