It had been 11 years since Derrick Brown last stepped onto the ice with his team at the Minnesota state Hockey Tournament in St. Paul.
But that changed on March 5.
Brown, a defenseman on the Tigers 2001-02 and 2002-03 state tournament teams and captain of the 2003-04 Princeton boys hockey team, returned to St. Paul and the Xcel Energy Center behind the bench as coach of the Luverne Cardinals.
And like his Tiger hockey teams of the early 2000s, Luverne didn’t bring home a coveted state title.
After the 27-0-1 Cardinals lost 6-3 to Hermantown in the opening round of the state tournament, Luverne earned a 5-2 win over Chisago Lakes in the consolation round. They finished in fourth place after losing 4-3 to Totino-Grace in the consolation championship game.
During that game, Brown was in the midst of watching his team win a fourth-place trophy. But at a nearby hockey banquet, he was awarded one of high school hockey’s greatest honors.
Brown, a Milaca native who transferred to Princeton High School to play hockey, was named the winner of the John Mariucci Award as the Class A hockey coach of the year.
Brown wasn’t at the ceremony because the Cardinals were battling Totino-Grace in double overtime in the consolation championship.
“The game took a little longer than we expected,” Brown said
But he knew something out of the ordinary was up because his cellphone kept vibrating, he said.
“When we finished the game, I had lots of texts and voice messages,” Brown recalled.
Brown, in his fifth year as Luverne’s boys hockey coach, was humbled by the honor — in part because it’s voted on by the other hockey coaches in the state.
“It was the topping on a whirlwind couple of weeks,” Brown said.
The coach has received phone calls from old acquaintances and made some new ones. His hockey kids have been nothing less than excited for him, he said.
Brown said he feels very fortunate to earn the coach of the year award at just 28 years old.
“Some of the sports old-time greats never get it, so it’s humbling,” he said.
Brown first got interested in hockey as a young boy.
“My grandpa on my mom’s side started the hockey program in Mora,” he said.
Brown played hockey as a boy until his parents Wally and Elaine Brown moved to the Milaca area.
He wanted to continue playing hockey, but Milaca didn’t have a hockey program.
“As my freshman year of high school approached, I had a hard decision to make,” Brown recalled.
He transferred to Princeton, where he played both Tiger football and hockey.
Brown played on Princeton’s 2001-02 and 2002-03 state tournament teams. He was the captain of the 2003-04 team.
Today, Brown is No. 3 on the Princeton Tigers career points list for defenseman with 69 points. He is tied for fifth place for single season points for a defenseman with 30 points in the 2003-04 season and holds the 10th spot for his 22 points in the 2002-03 season.
After high school, Brown went on to play college hockey at St. Mary’s in Winona. He suffered a career-ending shoulder injury as a freshman.
“My college coach suggested I go into coaching, so I got involved with the youth program in Winona,” Brown said.
He then got a student-teaching assignment in LaCrescent, where he became an assistant varsity and junior varsity coach.
After college, he applied for a position as a social studies teacher and boys hockey coach at Luverne.
“The rest is history,” Brown said.
Hockey in Southwest Minnesota was in its infancy at the time, Brown recalled.
“The first year, we had no wins until mid-January,” he said.
“It’s amazing to think that five years later we were at state,” Brown said.
Brown’s parents Wally and Elaine Brown still live in Milaca, but spend a lot of time rooting for the red of Luverne instead of the red of the Wolves.
Wally Brown is the former volleyball and wrestling coach at Pierz High School, and brings a lot of knowledge to his son.
“Dad, he helps out a lot,” Brown said. “He was a role model for me growing up, so it’s been great.”
Wally and Elaine are on the road a lot as honorary Cardinal fans.
“Their travel log must be crazy,” said Derrick. “I’m very fortunate and am surprised at how many games they make.”