by Craig DeVrieze
The Quad-City Times
CLICK HERE for Original Story
Frank Anzalone mentions an uncle who won the lightweight boxing championship of the world about a half-century back.
"He lost the next fight, and your career fades," said Anzalone, the Quad-City Mallards coach who himself once stood at the pinnacle of college hockey and now toils in the pro game's minor leagues. "That's sports. It's a fickle business."
Goaltender David Brown's
dream of achieving a National Hockey League career hasn't suffered a knockout yet, but the 2004 eighth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins is fighting long odds to make his way to the top.
Brown, 25, is 6ƒ years past that promising NHL Draft day and four years beyond a shining CCHA Championship senior season at Notre Dame during which he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award presented to the top college goalie.
"It was definitely part of a dream come true to get drafted and be recognized," he remembered this week of a June 27, 2004, call from the Penguins that the then-Notre Dame sophomore took in his dorm room. "The feeling that an organization likes you enough to draft you is a fantastic feeling."
Brown's relationship with the Penguins never developed much from there, as he toggled between their American Hockey League and ECHL affiliates from 2007 to 2009, playing only 23 games in a Triple-A net.
A 10-19-3 campaign with a 3.94 goals-against average and a .888 saves percentage at ECHL Gwinnett last year further knocked him off the NHL radar.
With Anzalone's Mallards in the Double-A Central Hockey League, though, Brown has begun to pick himself up off the canvas.
He is just 10-10-0, thanks to a string of hardluck early losses, but he is 4-2 over the past month, a stretch that includes a league-best three shutouts, a 2.01 GAA and a .940 save percentage.
His resurgence was particularly timely for the Mallards, as it bridged the three-week absence because of injury to fellow Q-C netminder Adam Russo, and it helped launch the Mallards to a run of eight wins in their past 11 starts.
"Just trying to step up to the challenge," Brown said. "We needed to get some wins. We had some guys injured, so I did the best I could being solid on the back end for the guys."
He has been solid enough to earn himself a rank along with Russo among the CHL's top tenders. His GAA of 2.54 trails only two CHL goaltenders (Russo is second), and his save percentage of .923, only .009 behind Russo's league-leading number, stands third in the CHL as well.
Anzalone credited Brown with taking a professional, even-keel approach to finding himself a step back, in the CHL.
"David's thing was let me try to be the best Double-A goalie I can be," the coach said. "And, if he keeps that up, you can never be unhappy if you do well. And if you get more from it, you'll be even happier."
As evidenced by a pair of one-day, emergency AHL call-ups - including a game Friday on the Houston Aeros bench - Brown has not entirely been forgotten at pro hockey's upper tiers.
Aside from a nice check, Brown said such cameos offer opportunity. He practiced last week in Rosemont, Ill., with the Aeros. There and in a December trip to Rockford for the Texas Stars, he also got a brief chance to show his stuff in the pregame skate.
It's not the equivalent of trading punches in the middle of a ring, but it is a chance to spar and, most importantly, believe again.
"It definitely feeds the fire to know you are getting an opportunity to be recognized," Brown said. "It's nice to be able to get back up there and see the level of play. It can only help to get to the next level."