In this age of single-sport specialization, Emily Brown is a throwback. The Blaine senior is a member of her school’s soccer, hockey and track squads and is a team captain for all three. In fact, this is her third season as a captain on the Bengals hockey team.
The Bengals are flying high on the ice after defeating Roseau 7-1 in Thursday’s Class 2A state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. They will face Hill-Murray in Friday’s semifinals. Emily, who plays defense, had one goal and one assist in Thursday’s game, giving her 15 goals, 28 assists and 43 points this season.
Her accolades are far-ranging: She won a gold medal with last year’s U18 national team and is one of five finalists for the Ms. Hockey Award. She will play collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota. She has been named the winner of Blaine’s Athena Award, which is bestowed on the school’s top female athlete. She has a 4.0 grade-point average and ranks No. 1 in her class.
But there’s more. A lot more. Blaine girls hockey coach Steve Guider calls Emily “perhaps the most self-disciplined person I have ever met. You have to witness Emily amongst her teammates and peers to really see how truly special she is. She changes the lives of people around her.”
The Bengals have a team motto this season that has nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with serving others. The motto is “Make A Difference” and the goal is to make a difference in at least one person’s life every day.
“Emily has embraced this, she has led our team effort by leading our weekly team Make a Difference projects where they visit senior centers or bring treats to the police department and similar things,” Guider said.
Those outreach efforts can include simple things like holding a door for someone, picking up trash at school or buying coffee for the person behind them in line at Caribou.
“This group of players is the most incredible group of kids I’ve ever coached,” Guider said. “They’re great hockey players but they’re far better students and people than hockey players.
“You watch them interact with little kids, how they stand for the national anthem, little things like that. We’ve talked about making a difference in the lives of people.”
Emily said, “It’s pretty incredible to see the effect that such a little action we perform can have on a person. We go to senior living centers and spend time with them, and just to see how much their day is made by talking about what they had for lunch or what they’re having for dinner, the games they’re playing. It’s pretty sweet to see.”
Playing three sports, getting straight A’s and contributing to the community means very little down time. Emily said she has learned to manage her time, even if it means doing homework in the car while her mom drives her to practice.
“There’s lots of homework and it can mean staying up a little bit later than usual,” she said. “It’s tough but it’s a good skill to learn.”
On the ice Brown is a tremendous competitor. She is not a highly vocal team leader but what her coach calls “a calming presence.”
“It doesn’t matter how much pressure she is under, she never gets rattled,” Guider said. “During games if we have a bad period Emily will come into the locker room and say, ‘Stay calm, settle down, get focused, we got this.’ If we are playing well she will make statements like, ‘Keep it up, we’re doing great, keep the energy going.’ If it’s a big game and competitive she will make statements like, ‘This is fun, this is why we play this game’ She has a great read on her teammates and all of her statements have a positive spin to them to keep her teammates relaxed and positive.”
Blaine girls soccer coach Scott Zachmann has similar praise for Emily.
“In 20 years of coaching at many levels -- college, high school and youth -- I can honestly say I have never met a more dedicated student-athlete than Emily,” he said. “She embodies what it means to be a student-athlete as she is disciplined in success in both academics and athletics. Great leaders make everyone around them aspire to be better. Emily does that. She inspires her coaches, her teammates, her teachers to become better versions of themselves every day.
“As her soccer coach the past four years I saw daily her impact. She led by example, hard work and commitment. A true leader cares not only about others and about how hard she needs to work for success, but cares about sportsmanship. It has always been important to Emily to show true character. She's the first to hand the ball to the other team, pick up a puck for an official or stay after practice to help put equipment away. She’s not looking for a pat on the back, she's just that kind of person. There is not a better representative of the word leadership.”
If Emily has one fear, it’s a fear of heights. Or as she told me with a smile, “I’m more like afraid of falling.”
During a hockey team-building trip to Camp Ripley, the players went through a confidence course that included vertical challenges such as a 30-foot cargo net that the players had to climb, go over and come down the other side. Guider said, “Emily is deathly afraid of heights. She was standing in line and you could just see the fear in her eyes. Just before it was her turn, she said, “I really don’t want to do this, but I don’t want to be that 80-year-old woman sitting in a wheelchair saying I never went up that rope.”
So up she went, fears and all.
“I ended up doing that and the feeling at the end was pretty incredible,” she said. “So now I won’t be that 80-year-old woman, so mission accomplished.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 459
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,457
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn