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2018-2019 Season




JUSTIN BRAUN: STEADY FORCE GUARDING SHARKS BLUE LINE


By Paul Freeman

Justin Braun

Check out our Justin Braun 2018 Photo Gallery.

Solidity, dependability, strength, mobility and good hockey sense -- those are qualities all teams need to build an effective defense corps. A hard shot is a bonus. Justin Braun has provided all of those attributes, demonstrating ample skill in his seasons with the San Jose Sharks.

The native of Saint Paul, Minnesota played in the United States Hockey League, prior to gaining recognition for his play with the University of Massachusetts. He was drafted by San Jose 201st in the seventh round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Another astute move by the Sharks scouting staff.

By 2010, Braun was contributing to the success of the NHL squad. He has been a key member of the lineup, helping the team make its first run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Braun is married to Jessica Lysiak, who enjoyed a successful career as a private chef. She's the daughter of former NHL All-Star Tom Lysiak. The Brauns have a two-year-old daughter, Madison.

Justin was gracious enough to take time to talk with Top Shelf.

TOP SHELF:
Are you excited about having Erik Karlsson as part of the Sharks D corps now?

JUSTIN BRAUN:
Having one of the best D-men in the league join the group, having that extra guy giving that offense, is pretty huge for the group and the amount of experience we have on the back end is pretty amazing. I don't know of many other teams that have the kind of experience, games played, that we do. TOP SHELF: Having watched Erik over the years, what has most impressed you about his game?

BRAUN:
I think it's just his overall ability to control the game, when he has the puck, making plays in the neutral zone. It reminds me of Doughty, when he has it. The game just kind of seems to slow down for him. He always seems to make the right play and putting passes on tape and putting points on the board. It's been pretty impressive to watch over the years.

TOP SHELF:
You've had a great chemistry with Marc-Edouard Vlasic for quite a while now -- What has made that work so well?

BRAUN:
I think it's just knowing where he's going to be, what kind plays he's going to make and just having each other's back. Being able to skate and good sticks help out in the D-zone a ton. And it's been good. We'll see how it plays out this year.

TOP SHELF:
if you do have a new partner, will it take a while to get acclimated?

BRAUN:
No, I don't think too bad, because more than likely, having a new partner, it's going to be Dilly [Brenden Dillon]. I've played with him enough over the years. When guys have been hurt or after power plays, usually we get thrown out there. So we've had quite a few shifts together over the years. It's not like a brand new guy hopping in there. We've had quite a bit of time already to kind of get used to each other.

TOP SHELF:
Growing up, was D always your position?

BRAUN:
Yeah [laughs], I was never very good at forward. So I just kind of caught on, on D, and never really switched out of that. It worked out pretty well.

TOP SHELF:
Did you have hockey role models, NHL defensemen you watched?

BRAUN:
Yeah, Nik Lidstrom was always one of the best to watch, growing up. And then to have the chance to actually play against him for a few years was pretty amazing. He's another one, when he had the puck, he just controlled the game. He kind of always wanted to get to that point and speed through that at the highest level. It was pretty impressive. Not a lot of guys can do that -- get pucks through from the point. He made it look so easy. And then you get here and everyone blocks every shot. So it even makes it more impressive, what he was able to accomplish.

TOP SHELF:
I guess you grew up in between the North Stars and the Wild in Minnesota. So what team did you root for as a kid?

BRAUN:
At the time, it was more like college hockey. We ended up watching a lot of the Gophers. And WCHA was always huge, when I was growing up, because we had that kind of transition. So not as much pro hockey. More of the college game. We'd go to those games with my dad and stuff. So that was more what we got into.

TOP SHELF:
How did you decide the USHL, and then college, would be the best route for you?

BRAUN:
I always figured college was the way to go. I didn't know really much of anything about major juniors or anything. So I got an opportunity in the USHL after high school and I didn't have any college -- maybe a couple of D3 [Division I] schools, but I didn't have any D1 school looking at me. So I had a year to mature, to grow, and then UMass [University of Massachusetts] came along and I decided to give that a shot. And the coaches there were great -- Red Gendron had coached in the pro game, so he helped me a lot. And Len Quesnelle, the whole staff, they get you ready for college and levels beyond.

TOP SHELF:
So how early did you begin seriously thinking about pursuing a pro career?

BRAUN:
Probably junior, senior year of college, was the first time I really thought about it. Got drafted in the seventh round, my 20-year-old year, so I didn't put too many high expectations on that. It seemed more just like a throw-in. But you just work at it and have fun. I think that was the biggest thing. We had a good group of guys in college and we loved being at the rink. We worked hard every day, just trying to get better. And a few of us were able to play pro hockey and take that next step.

TOP SHELF:
So being drafted in the seventh round, was that a big validation for you, an important step? Or did you really doubt that you could make the leap?

BRAUN:
No, it was kind of cool, because I hadn't talked to any teams about the draft or anything [laughs]. I didn't even know if I was on anyone's radar at that point. So just to be drafted was kind of cool, to get the jersey. But I think that biggest thing that helped my career, at that point, was coming to development camp, seeing how hard it is and what I really needed to work on to get to that next level.

TOP SHELF:
And what did you decide were the things you most needed to work on?

BRAUN:
Just skating and, I think, you know, pivots and having a good stick, and seeing how fast guys are and how quickly you have to make plays. And we had two skating coaches, Graeme Townsend was one. He was the first skating coach here, under Ronnie Wilson. And he helped me a ton.

I was brutal at it. So he took some extra time, helped me work on pivots, edge work and everything, because I was pretty raw at that point, just kind of was able to do it on natural ability. And he refined it and helped me work on those pivots, heel the heel before you push and have the power instead of letting guys just skate right around you after a bad pivot. He worked with me as much as possible over that year and I wasn't as embarrassed at development camp that next year after [laughs]. It was a lot of work, but it paid off in the end.

TOP SHELF:
Generally, the time you spent in Worcester [then the Sharks' AHL affiliate], was that valuable, in terms of developing?

BRAUN:
Yeah, it was good. You know, getting used to the pro game, how many games it is, those three in threes [laughs]. You don't have those in college. So many games in a week. It gets a lot. It's not as intense as when you get up here, I would say. But you kind of get used to the routine of the pro game. And you get an opportunity to play power play and penalty kill more than you would up here. You kind of find what your role is. So it was good.

Those were good times. We had fun down there. We had some interesting trips with Roy [coach Roy Sommer]. It's huge to have that experience. And when you get called up and sent down, you still get to play hockey. You look at some of these other sports, you get cut or sent down in the NFL, that's it. You don't have that extra league to help you grow and become a player, which is huge.

TOP SHELF:
On the Sharks, in addition to the coaches, were there some of the veteran defensemen who really helped you along?

BRAUN:
Boyler -- Dan Boyle was huge, just kind of watching him. He was one of the best I've seen ever play back there, on the power play, obviously. I'm not much of a power play guy now, but just watching him and how he can read the game... and not a big guy, but he got the job done.

And Brad Stuart's another one. I got to spend a lot of time with him. So there's a guy that's won a Cup, played with some of the best players in the world. So you get to see a lot of guys. And even Patty Marleau, just to watch his routine, day in and day out, was huge, just to see how you've got to take every day serious, doesn't matter, practice day, game day, you show up to work and you've got to be ready to go.

TOP SHELF:
Tom Lysiak, fine NHLer, did you have much chance to sit with him and listen to stories about the good old days in the league?

BRAUN:
[Laughs] Yeah, he would tell some stories and most of them were off-ice stories. They were pretty funny, you know, how different things were back then, not flying charters that go to the actual airport. Times weren't easy back then. But it seems like they had a little more fun than we do now, going out with the boys. There were more off-ice stories he would tell that were pretty hilarious, because thinking of what we do now, the day -- you land, you sleep, you play the game, you take off to the next city. They had a little different lifestyle back then.

TOP SHELF:
Did he ever have career advice for you at all?

BRAUN:
No, not too much. A little different playing styles, I think. [laughs]. There was a difference between the two of us. But yeah, he would just tell the stories of the boys and everything. And I think that's what you remember, more than anything, the good times with the teammates. And you hopefully get to that goal of winning the Cup and you'll have that camaraderie with the teammates that you get to do that with. But the times that you're just hanging out on the road, those are the things you kind of remember at the end of the day.

TOP SHELF:
Your role, the shutdown role, is that one you welcome?

BRAUN:
Yeah, over the years, Pickles [Vlasic] and I took it very seriously. Every game we wanted to be out there against the top line and we wanted to keep them off the scoresheet. At the end of the night, if you've kept the top lines off the scoresheet, you did a pretty good job. So that was our goal, to be ready every night and to go out there and do our best to shut them down. And we had a pretty good time doing that.

TOP SHELF:
So the whole time you've been playing, have you always taken a lot of pride in playing a solid two-way game?

BRAUN:
Yeah. You know, your roles change over the years. In junior, I wasn't very offensive. College I came into my own a little bit more, became a little bit more offensive. But still I never wanted to end a game minus-two. If you give up that goal or whatever, you feel like you've got to get it back. You take just as much pride in the offensive side as the defensive side. You want to go out there and score every night. It's not meant to be. But if you can play well defensively and help the team win, that's what's important.

TOP SHELF:
Getting to the Final a couple of years ago, did that just give you even a greater hunger to take that one extra step?

BRAUN:
Yeah, coming that far and getting that close, being the first Sharks team to make it to the Final, was huge for the organization, to finally get that step. And when you come up short, it's pretty depressing that summer, thinking you were only a couple of games away from winning the Stanley Cup. And you don't really realize it until it's two weeks later and you're like, "Wow, we were right there. We've got kind of the same group now, if not a little better. We could do it again."

So to find that chemistry, to put that together in the playoffs, to do that again would be huge and a lot of fun for the boys. Some of these guys, like Jumbo has played 19, 20 years now, he's still looking for his first. So it would be great to do that, put it all together for him. But we've got a long road, before we get there.

TOP SHELF:
Yes, but you must be looking at this new season with a tremendous amount of optimism.

BRAUN:
Yeah, for sure. With Kaner [Evander Kane] coming in and how he gelled at the end of last year. And now with Karlsson, there's a lot of optimism. We can feel it, that if we put it all together, we can be a pretty good team this year, really have a shot this year.

TOP SHELF:
You hear about dysfunction in other dressing rooms. The Sharks have been a really tight-knit group. Is it the individual personalities meshing? What has made it work so well for so long?

BRAUN:
I honestly think it's just the older guys, who have been here since I joined the team. You've got Jumbo, Pavs [Joe Pavelski], In the older days, Clowey [Ryan Clowe], Douglas Murray. You know, those guys they didn't mess around. They came to work. They did what they needed to do. And it sets a good example for the young kids. You're not going out to the bars all night. You've got to come here and work.

There are a few times when you get the green light and you go have a little fun. But at the end of the day, you're here to work. There's no easy way to do it, so you've got to come and work. And I think those guys set the tone.

They have a great time. Burnzie {Brent Burns] and Jumbo have a great time, but when they're on the ice, they work. They work on the little things every day. So I just think it's the old guys setting the example for the younger guys. They have for years here. We always seem to have good vets.

TOP SHELF:
Having a two-year-old daughter must help you not be too obsessed with the game, 24/7.

BRAUN:
Yeah. You put it in a little more perspective, when you have a family. When you come home to change a diaper, when she's first born, you can't really think about how you might have been minus-three that night [chuckles].

You have to come home and be a dad. You can't bring it home with you and sulk. You've got to do what you have to at home. And Madison has always done a great job to brighten my day, to make me laugh, if I'm not feeling very good about hockey at that moment. So, yeah, it's nice to have. There's more important things than hockey. When you have a family, you've got to remember that. It's a little bit different then.

TOP SHELF:
And your wife Jessie is a private chef? [Jessie Lysiak was a finalist on the TV show "MasterChef" with Gordon Ramsey in 2013.]

BRAUN:
Yeah, she was, on yachts for years. And then when Madison came around, she kind of had to put that on the shelf a little bit. She's trying to get in the wine business now a little bit, learning how to make wine, since we're out in California. So she's trying to find a new route to use her talents. With me playing hockey and when Madison was born, she kind of had to hang the private chef up a little bit, but we still get some pretty phenomenal meals at home.

TOP SHELF:
To this point, what's been the most rewarding aspect of the NHL experience for you?

BRAUN:
Just being able to come and play... and play against those top lines every night. I look forward to it every night, to go and shut those guys down. You get to play against, you know, Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and hopefully keep them off the scoresheet.

And to play with guys like Jumbo and Patty and Pavs -- these future Hall of Famers, it's pretty surreal, when you step back and think about what you get to do every day. And to play a game for a living -- you can't beat it.




   
 



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