Connor Brown had his hands all over Canada’s gold-medal win at the world hockey championships.
Brown set up all three goals in a 3-2 victory over Finland, but his resounding tweet was about his partner in crime.
“Nick Paul does it all,” Brown tweeted to the world, following Sunday’s overtime win.
That saying, we are discovering, was born in the Ottawa Senators dressing room this spring and made it all the way to Latvia for the worlds. It was Senators teammates Brown and Chris Tierney who started the “Paul does it all” mantra. At times, Paul is simply called ‘Does it All,’ for his all-round play up and down Ottawa’s lineup.
If Paul “Does it All,” Brown predicted it all. As Brown and Paul were warming up for the finale, Brown told Paul about this “crazy feeling” he had. “This game is going to overtime and I’m passing you the winner,” Brown said.
Paul replied: “That sounds great, but let’s try to get it done before then so we don’t have to get the nerves going.”
“It ended up happening, which is crazy,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday.
You know how it played out because you’ve watched the replay a hundred times -- Paul and Brown breaking up ice during the 3-on-3 OT, the lefty Paul passing to the right-handed shooting Brown on the left; Brown using his skate to control the puck before sliding a forehand pass through the crease to Paul. Paul tapped home the Golden Goal. Madness ensued.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 6, 2021
“He told me I was getting the winner, so I had to put it in his skates, so it would follow through, right?” Paul laughs. “If I had given him a good pass it might not have worked out.”
Though Brown was usually lined up with Adam Henrique and Andrew Mangiapane, to form an explosive line for Canada, Gerard Gallant and his staff used Brown and Paul as one of the OT forward pairs because they knew the two had chemistry as teammates and as a penalty-killing tandem. They were also in on eight of Canada’s nine playoff goals.
“We read off each other so well, we communicate,” Paul says. “When the coach called the pairings and we were together, we kind of looked at each other and knew we were going to get it done. Brownie is an amazing player with amazing skill, he’s fast -- and on that big ice, we were excited. We wanted to be out there and we wanted to be the difference.”
It was a surreal finish for two under-appreciated players who grew up in Toronto’s west end. Paul, 26, was up and down between AHL Binghamton/Belleville and Ottawa so many times between 2015-19 he only wishes he could have claimed air miles instead of road miles. He cleared waivers several times before finding a regular spot as a glue-guy forward in 2019-20 -- his perseverance paying off in the Senators' 2020-21 nomination for the Masterton Trophy. He produced 20 points and was rock solid as a defensive winger and centre.
“Being up and down in the ‘A’ for five years and to keep pushing and pushing, and to have a year like I did this year was just unbelievable... going over and winning gold and scoring the game winner -- I’m going to need a bit of time to take it all in.”
On Monday, back home, Paul had a pinch-me moment.
“Getting all the messages from family and friends and all the hype behind it... I was unpacking and I took out my gold medal and I’m like -- this is crazy. This is such an amazing moment. And to share it with all these Ottawa guys, like Connor and JBD (defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker) and all the support staff is amazing.”
That massive Senators contingent included team doctor Tim Cregan, equipment manager John Forget, assistant equipment man Alex Menezes and athletic therapist Dom Nicoletta.
Connor Brown’s breakthrough has been just as dramatic. Though he was appreciated by those in the know with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2015-19, he was let go via trade with Ottawa in 2019 because of Toronto’s salary cap issues. That trade, which brought the RW Brown and defenceman Nikita Zaitsev to the Senators for Codi Ceci and Ben Harpur, as the main names in the deal, may go down as one of Ottawa’s best. The Leafs, meanwhile, could have used Brown’s will and firepower in a first-round playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
When the Senators didn’t make the playoffs, Brown, Paul and JBD said yes to Canada and made the most of what was a challenging experience.
Brown said there were times when the hotel lockdown was tough on players' mental health, especially when Canada started the tournament 0-3 and needed help to qualify for the medal round.
“We thought we had the best team in the medal round, but we needed that opportunity,” Brown said in an interview with Sportsnet.
Canada followed a hard road, through Russia, USA and Finland to win it all.
All Brown did was lead the tournament in scoring with 16 points while establishing an all-time Canadian record at the worlds with 14 assists. Not bad for a “defensive forward.”
To paraphrase Bobby Ryan, Brown came in hot to Latvia.
With the Senators, Brown, 27, exploded out of his defensive duties to lead Ottawa in goals with a career-high 21 in 56 games. He was second in points with 35. His 17.1 shooting percentage was second only to Josh Norris.
Five of Brown’s goals came shorthanded, the most in the NHL. Brown and Paul were a regular PK tandem and Brown led the team in shorthanded time on ice. Being opportunistic while a man short is a mindset, Brown says.
“When we don't have the puck we are playing our spots and when we get it we think, 'Go!'” Brown says. “You often get into situations with a forward back on defence or an odd-numbered rush, two on one, it really is an opportunity.”
“Not only that, it puts them on their heels and makes them think about us.
“With the PK, you think about kill percentages but if we score five to 10 shorties as a group in a given year that brings that percentage up. I think it’s an underrated part of the kill.”
From late March to early April, Brown’s Sherwood Code V stick was so hot at even strength and while shorthanded, it’s a wonder it wasn’t declared illegal. Once renowned for missing on breakaway opportunities, he was pouring pucks into the net -- setting a Senators record with goals in eight straight games. Shades of his 45-goal, 128-point season with the OHL Erie Otters in 2013-14.
Considering he started most of his shifts in the defensive zone, his offensive turnaround was all the more remarkable.
Brown says he put so much emphasis on the defensive side of his game early in his career to earn the trust of his coaches that it took away from his scoring.
“I’m starting to learn that being a good defensive player doesn’t actually take anything away from your offence -- just play with the puck a little more. Confidence is a big thing as well.”
This is a big summer for Brown. In August, he is getting married, and hopes it will be a semi-normal wedding event as Ontario starts to open up from the pandemic.
A rest is certainly in order, for Brown and Paul and their world championship colleagues.
Team Canada will want to keep these two in mind for future fixtures, perhaps even an Olympic spot as one of the worker bees.
Brown says he hopes he gets to suit up for Canada again. Paul, of course, was a world junior player for Canada in 2015.
“I think I proved myself a little bit and hope to get another opportunity, at a worlds or other events,” Brown says.
Playing with Anaheim’s Henrique and Mangiapane of the Calgary Flames, Brown says he took on “the role of feeder and the line just clicked.”
Mangiapane was named tournament MVP. As the leading IIHF scorer, Brown could just as easily have won that award.
On a young team, wearing an ‘A’ for Canada, Brown took on a big role, including half-wall duty on the power play. It’s something he hopes to pick up on when he suits up for the Senators in the fall. He had just one power-play goal for Ottawa this year, but has the potential to score more.
“I think it’s going to be great, I’m looking forward to it,” Brown says of the upcoming season with a Senators team that surged in April and May. “I'm looking to expand my offensive game to be honest. And hopefully find some new levels.”
Brimming with newfound confidence, Brown and Paul can't wait to get the party started in Ottawa this fall.