CHICAGO — Troy Brouwer left a part of himself in Chicago. He still owns a house here, renting it to John Scott before the defenseman was traded at the deadline.
But for Brouwer, who blossomed into a full-time NHL player with the Blackhawks, Chicago still is a place that feels like home.
“Coming here, you kind of feel comfortable because I lived here for the better part of three years,” Brouwer said. “I know my way around the city, and I kind of know where I like to go. Also just getting on the ice this morning brings back a lot of memories.”
Sunday’s morning skate and game against the Blackhawks marked the big right wing’s first trip back to United Center since he was dealt to the Washington Capitals for a first-round pick at last summer’s draft. This weekend was an opportunity for him to spend another couple of nights in the Second City, but this season has been a chance for him to bring Stanley Cup-winning experience to the Capitals.
At 26, Brouwer doesn’t need to be the most vocal guy in the locker room, but that shiny championship ring from 2010 is a big part of his career resume.
“[Heck], he’s got a Cup. That says a lot right there,” right wing Joel Ward said. “He brings a lot to this team - physicality and overall good game. And a great guy off the ice. Obviously, guys respect what he’s done and what he’s been in the past here.”
Going into his first game against his former team, Brouwer had 18 goals, just four shy of his career high, set during the season he and the Blackhawks won it all.
Reminders of that fill the city and the arena, but Brouwer’s focus is on the present and a desire to hit the 20-goal mark.
“I’d like to be there already. It’s been a pretty decent season. I’ve bounced around from a bunch of different lines. Sometimes it’s tough to get used to,” said Brouwer, who became accustomed to that shuffling in Chicago under coach Joel Quenneville. “Hopefully, I can cap it off with getting to that number, but I’m just worried about getting into the playoffs right now.”
Brouwer said most of the teammates he was really close to with the Blackhawks have been traded, but he still keeps in touch with the training staff, referring to assistant equipment manager Clinton Reif, head athletic trainer Mike Gapski, equipment manager Troy Parchman and assistant athletic trainer Jeff Thomas as a few of the people he missed the most.
But the Caps are glad to have him because of what he has been able to do even when not putting up numbers. Brouwer has spent time on the power play and on the top line and despite a recent 13-game goal drought manufactures offense by screening opposing goaltenders.
“He does a lot behind the play that helps the team get goals with some screening in front of the net,” linemate Jay Beagle said. “A lot of people don’t see that because it’s not on the score sheet. But it’s a lot of the reason why we put the puck in the net.”
Brouwer also is very adaptable. Beagle said there was no real adjustment time needed earlier this season, so now the Vancouver, British Columbia, native is at home in front of the net, in Chicago or in Washington.
And all that talk about bringing Cup experience has proved true on the ice and in the locker room.
“He’s brought a lot of different intangibles: He brings a physicalness that I think was hyped up in the papers, but he’s also brought an offensive style,” linemate Matt Hendricks said. “He’s scored some really big goals for us, and he’s a leader around the room, a leader amongst the guys. He’s done everything, I think, that he’s been expected to do.”