DENVER – Ted Brown never played hockey.
He excelled at football, becoming an All-America at North Carolina State and a first-round pick by the Vikings in 1979 — the start of an eight-season career in Minnesota where the running back rushed for almost 5,000 yards and chipped in more than 50 touchdowns.
But Ted was still able to mentor his son, J.T., once he decided to pursue hockey instead of football by teaching him about work ethic and character.
And the effect those lessons had on J.T. are why he wears No. 23 just like his dad did for the Vikings, recognition he’ll be able to carry on with the Wild after adopting the number Wednesday once it became available following the Gustav Olofsson trade to the Canadiens.
“It’s a nod to my dad,” Brown said. “He’s helped me out a lot along the way and getting to where I am now. For me [it’s] just kind of giving back to him and showing respect obviously to him and what he’s done and what he means to me.”
Brown was assigned No. 71 when he first started playing in Rosemount but once he got older and was able to choose his own number, he picked 23.
It’s what he wore in college at Minnesota Duluth and when he debuted in the NHL with the Lightning. Since the number already was claimed last season when he was traded to the Ducks, he went back to 71 and that’s what he was set to wear with the Wild before its previous occupant — Olofsson — was traded Wednesday to Montreal in exchange for forward Will Bitten.
“To wear the same number that he wore when he was a professional here, obviously he’s got a lot of love from Vikings fans,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to do the same here with the Wild.”
The 28-year-old forward, who signed a two-year, $1.375 million contract, didn’t get to debut his new look Thursday in the team’s season opener against the Avalanche since he was a healthy scratch, and he understands he’ll have to work to stay ready for another chance. And that outlook was molded by his dad, who preached, “Play hard. Play smart, and play together,” while Brown was growing up.
“He was only harping on me about my heart, how much effort I had during a game or if I wasn’t skating hard,” Brown said.
Since his dad retired before he was born, Brown never got to watch in person as his dad played for the Vikings but he’s seen clips on YouTube and noticed how attributes in football could be applied to hockey.
“They know they’re going to get hit going through the hole, but they go anyway,” he said. “Just try to take that fearless attitude.”
That’s the way Brown plans to represent the Wild — and his dad — when he cracks the lineup.
“Obviously I’m brought here for a reason, so you gotta build off that,” Brown said. “Just keep practicing hard, working hard and when you get your opportunity, you gotta take advantage of it.”
Fresh start for Olofsson
Olofsson’s tenure with the Wild was riddled with injuries — including the start to this season, when he was sidelined for much of training camp after hurting his shoulder in the team’s first preseason game.
But the trade gives the 23-year-old a fresh start after he spent five years with the Wild organization.
“We got a lot of good, young defensemen in Iowa, and I think Oly needed to play,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He was hurt for two years, and then last year he was hurt and didn’t play — in and out of the lineup. He’s gotta play to be successful.”
The decision to have Matt Hendricks rather than Brown fill out the fourth line in the season opener was recognition for Hendricks’ strong showing at camp and his leadership.
Having a physical presence on the ice against an Avalanche team that’s agitated the Wild in the past was another factor.
“Obviously, I have to keep the job,” said Hendricks, who played up the middle while Eric Fehr slotted at right wing — a look the Wild could use when the two play together. “It’s an every-day type of thing. I’m playing [Thursday], but it doesn’t mean anything unless I perform.”
Defenseman Nate Prosser was the other odd-man out.