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Contract gives Brown hope to crack Habs
By BILL BEACON -- Canadian Press, Sat. Sept. 19, 1998. MONTREAL -- General manager Rejean Houle had some good news and some bad news for tough defenceman Brad Brown this summer -- he would get a one-way contract, but he might be asked to play forward. Brown was only too happy to take the one-year, $525,000 US contract, but wasn't crazy about moving up to the wing. So far at the Montreal Canadiens' camp, Brown has got his wish to fight for a job on the blue-line -- a situation that could change if the rugged Newfoundland native actually stays with the NHL club. "I want to show them I can play," Brown said Saturday as the Canadiens prepared for their opening pre-season game against the Boston Bruins. "I don't want to be a forward. "I'm trying to win a job as a defenceman." Brown, 22, has always played defence, including his four seasons of junior hockey with the North Bay Centennials and his last three years with Montreal's top farm club in Fredericton, where he was captain last season. But the Canadiens look at his penalty minutes -- 368 in 1996-97 and another 297 last season -- and wonder if Brown's future may lie as a fighter, where he would be more useful up front. Teams don't like having defencemen as enforcers because if they are ejected from a game, it leaves them short on defence. It's easier to cut down to three forward lines. "Last year they asked me to be a forward, too, and I said no," said Brown. "But we'll see what happens." Montreal's top draft pick, 18th overall, in 1994, has stiff competition for a defence job from Miloslav Guren and Brett Clarke, both quicker afoot than Brown. A candidate to replace departed free agent Mick Vukota as enforcer could be winger Sylvain Blouin, a converted defenceman who was acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for veteran Peter Popovic. "People who saw me play in the minors know that I'll fight if I have to, but I play the game first," said Brown. "I got a lot of penalty minutes, but I pick my spots." In Brown's favour is a contract that raised many eyebrows. The one-way pact stipulates that he is paid the same whether he plays in Montreal or Fredericton. Houle suggested Brown would spend the season in the NHL. Brown would have to clear waivers if he is sent down. Brown, a native of Ming's Bight, Nfld., who grew up in Mississauga, Ont., wants to make coach Alain Vigneault's decision easy with a strong preseason. "Over the next couple of weeks, I've got to play my best," he said. "There's a lot of talented guys here, but we'll see what happens." Fredericton coach Michel Therrien believes Brown is ready for the NHL. "He's an aggressive, physical defenceman and he's improved his skating and mobility a lot," said Therrien. "If he has to defend his teammates, he will, but he's also improved his one-on-one play and moving the puck. "He still has a lot to learn. They say a defenceman doesn't mature until 26 or 27 and he's only 22. But he's improving."