Right-winger Connor Brown is a truly representative Canadian player with a story so many young Canadian athletes can relate to. There’s no question that Connor Brown has earned his spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs. What’s less known is what he had to overcome to earn his place in the pros.
Born in Etobicoke, Ontario, Connor started playing hockey at just three years old, and was always small for a hockey player. But what he lacked in size, he made up for with hard work. Playing in Toronto on the legendary GTHL Toronto Marlboros team that earned 10 Toronto city championships, Connor was later made captain of the Erie Otters, where he famously played on a line with Connor McDavid, and earned distinction as the OHL’s top-scoring right winger and the top scoring player in the OHL overall. Connor was selected at the 2012 NHL Entry draft to play for his home team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing with the Toronto Marlies until March 2016, where he won the AHL rookie scoring title. He joined the full-time Leafs roster for the 2016-17 season.
Both his grit and his grind on the ice are obvious, but it’s his personality that really draws you in. Connor, unlike some who have been spoiled by success and attention, embodies core Canadian attributes of friendliness and humility. The spirit and drive of the kid who spent hours practising on his outdoor rink shines through the glamour of a professional hockey contract, and is the reason Connor was selected as a Stay Real With Milk ambassador.
When Dairy Farmers of Ontario approached Connor Brown to be an ambassador for the program, Connor, a life-long milk drinker, readily accepted. The program, funded by Ontario dairy farming families, is designed to increase accessibility to sport at the community level for young athletes across Ontario, focusing on three key sports: hockey, basketball, and soccer. With $1.5M dedicated to community leagues and teams, the program seeks to encourage more young people to play and lead healthy, active lifestyles. As a role model for young athletes, Connor was a perfect fit as his story reflects the program message for young athletes, that there are no shortcuts to greatness. It’s what’s inside you that delivers your dreams.
When we met up with Connor, he had just received eight stitches for a high stick injury received during the previous night’s game. “I got high-sticked, but was bleeding too much so I had to leave the game. They gave me a needle to freeze it and put in eight stitches, and then I went back out there.” Connor’s story is one of hard work, focus, and commitment. He’s a player who has been undervalued his entire career, and yet one who has consistently emerged from the shadows to deliver great game. Connor is comfortable with both the rinkside opinions and his own inner resolve, “Growing up, I remember being told I was too small day in and day out. I grew up on the smaller side and the biggest thing I did to get through it was to become a hard worker. I’ve lived my life under the idea that the harder you work, the luckier you get. So, you work hard, and you’ll get lucky.”
Since joining the Leafs, Connor has shown consistency and drive in both offence and defence, and seems never to get distracted from his own mission of being the best player he can be.
Connor’s advice to young players chasing their personal best is simple:
“Just have fun with the sport. If you find it fun and have the desire to get out and play,
you’re going to get better without even noticing it.”
As athletes progress within a sport, they can lose sight of the reason they started playing in the first place—fun. Connor’s success is driven by a passion born in childhood and cultivated over wins and losses, good days and bad. A true grit grinder, as hockey nicknames go, Connor Brown’s may be among the best. Mike Babcock, head coach for the Leafs, reportedly dubbed him ‘Brown Cow‘, which we happen to think is perfect.