First, can you let readers know about your coaching career – how you got started and what you like most as a coach?
After I retired I spent the first full year as a stay at home dad to let my body heal, and more importantly, spend some much needed quality time with my two year-old twins. After the year was over I knew I needed to start a new career and a good friend of mine ran a hockey academy and asked if I would like to try coaching at it. After spending time on the ice with these kids, I knew this was where I wanted my next career to go towards.
I love helping kids reach their hockey goals whether it be making a higher level team or learning how to raise a puck. It took me back to when I was a kid and hockey was simply a game we played cause we loved it.
How difficult has it for you to transition from the NHL to a second career – and how were you able to do so?
I never really found it difficult as I left the game when I was ready to leave. I had no regrets and knew I was time to move on. I never considered myself solely a hockey player I felt I was just somebody who was fortunate to play a game I loved as a job. So when I retired I didnt see myself as losing my identity as much as I saw myself moving in a different direction
Who are some of the players and coaches that most influenced your coaching style today, and how so?
I think I probably took a little of all the coaches I had. I was fortunate to play for some pretty impressive coaches from Hitchcock to Keenan to Badger Bob etc. so I took what I liked best from all these men and lost the things that turned me off. Then added my own personality that emphasizes fun.
You read today about the struggles many NFL players face in transitioning from football to a post-sports career. How does the NHL help players do so – if at all, and is the issue as big with former NHL players as it is with NFL ones?
The NHLPA has a life after hockey program that helped with the adjustment to “normal” life by giving me the confidence to try something different. I know of a lot of other players who have struggled and for the most part it is the players that identified themselves solely as NHL hockey players, and when the limelight was turned off, they were left in the dark and had a hard time dealing with the fact that they were now just regular folk and were quickly forgotten.
You were drafted by the Penguins in 1986. What were your thoughts on getting drafted by the Penguins?
I do remember my draft, it was Montreal and the excitement of achieving a life long dream of taking that step towards the NHL. I knew they had a superstar in Mario and was both excited and nervous about taking part in training camp with the world;s greater player.
You had a huge season in ’88”90. What do you attribute that to besides being on the line with Lemieux. What about your game improved the most to allow for those 49 goals and +27 plus/minus rating?
’88-’89 was obviously a very special year and of course playing with Mario allowed my the opportunity to achieve huge success. My greatest attribute as a player was my knowledge of the Game and that allowed me to be in the right place at the right time when playing alongside Mario
What do you see as the most under-appreciated part of your game, and why?
I think my tenacity for the game. I had a huge competitive nature. When I played games I would do whatever it took to beat whomever I was playing against. I hated losing.
Who helped you adjust to the NHL – both on and off the ice – and how did they do so? Any examples?
My father was the biggest influence on my game and the person I leaned on most when times were tough.
What was the biggest difference you found to exist between the minors and NHL – and how did you adjust?
The biggest differences between the NHL and the minors were speed and size and the absence of true superstars.
As for adapting between my father and Ken Hitchcock, I was challenged to be the best player in the world not playing in the NHL and that fueled me to have hugely successful minor pro seasons and probably was the reason that I was able to come back for three more NHL seasons.
Who were some of the biggest characters on the Penguins teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks/personalities on that team?
There were a number of guys that would stand out from Johnny Cullen to Mark Recchi to Phil Bourque to Kevin Stevens. Any player will tell you the biggest thing they miss after their careers are over is the camaraderie that they shared with their teammates in the dressing rooms as well as on the ice. That is something that can’t be duplicated in any other walk of life. And it is funny when you get together with these guys there is never any talk of what happened on the ice. It’s all about what happened off.
What are your favorite memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
The teammates I played with. My first game and first goal. Playing in an all-star game. Every time we stepped on the ice at the beginning of a playoff game. And scoring a goal in my sister’s memory after she passed in 1999.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Having spent some of the greatest years of my life in Pittsburgh, I am loving my post hockey career as well spending quality time with my wife of 14 years and my now 11-year-old twins
Life has been good to Robbie brown and it still is today.