The Next Best Thing

Monday, 11.05.2012 / 10:30 AM
Michael Smith

Rod Brind’Amour used to occupy the center stall along the far wall in the Hurricanes’ dressing room. It was used by Ron Francis before him and Eric Staal, after.

Two years removed from that stall, Brind’Amour is now a full-time assistant coach with the Canes. The only difference is he is exactly the same he used to be.

Dressed in a suit you’d likely find him wearing on a game day, Brind’Amour sat at his new desk in the recently renovated coaches’ office.

He was watching film, taking notes, making preparations. Old habits.

“For me (as a player), that was always one of my biggest things: preparation,” Brind’Amour said. “It was a lot of mental preparation that went into my game that I don’t miss. I don’t miss the down time just sitting on the road waiting for a game.

“When you are a coach, it’s a little different. The stress is gone. You do your job, you prepare and then it’s up to the players. Whereas when you are a player, there’s a lot of stress, at least for me, and I certainly don’t miss that aspect of it.”

What Brind’Amour does miss is being down the hall, interacting daily with teammates. But even that hasn’t changed too much.

“There’s a camaraderie that you have as a player with your teammates,” he said. “But it’s funny – I still am good friends with most of them, and I don’t feel like I’m on the other side yet. Everyone still treats me the same. I’m sure that will change as the years go on and the guys that I played with are gone or moved on, but as of now, some of my good friends are still here, and we talk everyday.”

From On the Bench to Behind the Bench

Brind’Amour’s 21-year NHL career began in 1988 when he was drafted ninth overall by the St. Louis Blues. Following a 59-point season with the Michigan State Spartans, Brind’Amour joined the Blues for five playoff games. He scored two goals – the first of which came on his first NHL shot – and never looked back.

As a 19-year-old in the following season, Brind’Amour skated in 79 games with St. Louis. He recorded 26 goals and 35 assists (61 points), was a career-best plus-23 and was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team.

It would be another 10 years before he became a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Brind’Amour spent just over eight seasons with the Flyers from 1991-2000. In 1997, he helped propel Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Finals, as he scored 13 goals, which tied Colorado’s Claude Lemieux for the league lead in the playoffs. An alternate captain with the Flyers, Brind’Amour was immensely popular with the fans, cementing a legacy with his unparalleled work ethic and propensity to score timely goals.

On Jan. 23, 2000, Brind’Amour and goaltender Jean-Marc Pelletier were traded to Carolina in exchange for the Canes’ embattled former captain and contract holdout Keith Primeau. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most seminal trades Jim Rutherford has ever made as general manager of the organization.

Brind’Amour became the fourth captain of the Hurricanes and 12th player in franchise history to wear the “C” on Aug. 25, 2005. Ten months later, he hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup above his head for the first and only time of his career. Like in 1997 with Philadelphia, Brind’Amour was a key cog in the Canes’ playoff success; he scored a league-leading 12 playoff goals, which also was a franchise record.

On June 30, 2010, Brind’Amour retired as a member of the Hurricanes, still one year remaining on his contract. It wasn’t the ideal scenario – he was struggling statistically as the team was struggling in the standings, and his captaincy was passed on – but Brind’Amour said by that point, he was already playing on “borrowed time.”

“I think it’s always hard when it’s over and you’re done. But I think at that point in my career, I knew it was coming, and I prepared myself really the last 10 years of my career that it could be over at any minute,” he said. “My last year was not how I would have wanted it to go down. It was a very sour taste in my mouth. But at the end of it, I looked at the positives, and I looked at all the opportunities that I did have, and I was fortunate to get a chance to lead a championship team. So, I had a lot more good times than bad.”

Brind’Amour will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2013. His resume includes three trips to the Stanley Cup Final and one Cup win, 111 points (51g, 60a) in 159 career playoff games, perennial prowess in the faceoff circle, back-to-back Frank J. Selke trophy wins as the NHL’s top defensive forward (2005-06, 2006-07), 452 career goals, 732 career assists and a laundry list on intangibles that many teams would deem indispensable.

For his service with the Canes, Brind’Amour’s No. 17 became the third jersey to be hoisted into the rafters. Fittingly, the Hurricanes faced the Flyers that night, and both teams wore his jersey in warm-ups and watched the pregame ceremony from the bench.

In the 2010-11 season, Brind’Amour served in a player development role, leaving the game for just a summer before getting involved again.

“I knew I wanted to stay in the game. It’s something I’ve done my whole life. It’s in your blood,” he said. “I was getting my feet wet by just learning how the business works on the other side of the fence (in the player development role).”

The next season, Brind’Amour added assistant coaching duties to his plate, retaining his developmental coaching role. Still, he carved out time for family, something he plans on doing even in a full-time assistant role.

“I’ll be able to balance it a little bit, which is important to me,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be getting into coaching, and I still don’t know if that’s where I’m going to end up. There’s the coaching side of things and the management side of things, and I like both. I don’t know if there is a way to do both, but right now I’m just happy to be involved.”

Staying in Shape

Throughout his career, Brind’Amour was renowned for his peak level of physical fitness. Looking back on it, that’s what the now-42-year-old credits for his success in breaking into the league as a teenager in the late 1980’s.

“When I came in, (training) wasn’t that important. I was shocked how guys really just didn’t take care of themselves, especially year-round. And I thought, wow, there’s a huge advantage here for me,” he said. “I was in real tip-top shape, and that got me going.”

Over the years, the school of thought in fitness morphed. Today, year-round care is necessary and expected.

“Now guys are training year-round with personal trainers and doing all this extra stuff just to try to make their game better. And you have to,” Brind’Amour said. “There’s so much at stake for these players now with the amount they get paid. I don’t know why you wouldn’t (work out). It’s shocking to me that guys wouldn’t be the best shape because there’s so much at stake.”

And even though Brind’Amour is now over two years into retirement, he continues a steady workout regimen. Like hockey, it’s just something that’s in his blood.

“I mean, that’s part of my job, too, is to be in shape so I can still motivate some of these kids,” he said. “Also, it’s just been my life for forever, so I don’t think that will ever change.”

Coaching the Kids

Like Francis, Brind’Amour has been able to observe the growth of hockey in North Carolina during his 10-year tenure with the Canes. Unlike Francis, however, Brind’Amour has children young enough to experience the youth hockey boom.

His 13-year-old son Skyler plays for the 1999 Jr. Hurricanes. Brind’Amour serves as the team’s head coach, and his assistants both have college hockey experience, one advancing as far the minor leagues. Former Hurricane Steve Halko also lends an occasional hand.

“I think they don’t even realize how good they got it right now, but they will when we’re not around,” Brind’Amour said with a smile.

Brind’Amour won’t be around as often now that he’s in a full-time assistant coaching role with the Hurricanes. But, as he’s arranged with head coach Kirk Muller, he plans on sneaking out of the office every now and then to still have a hand in his son’s team.

As Brind’Amour pointed out, coaching young kids keeps him sharp and prepared to coach a professional team. As a youth hockey coach, you have teach and point out certain aspects of the game that are otherwise intrinsic at the NHL level, he said.

“There’s also the communication. Whether you’re talking to a 13-year-old or a 20- or 30-year-old, you have to make sure you are communicating on their level,” he said. “They have to understand [you].”

Brind’Amour also practices the reverse – taking what he’s learned at the NHL level and applying it with his son’s team.

“We basically have two hours a week to work with these kids. I’ve got to get a lot of things in. I do all the drills, a lot of the drills that the Hurricanes do,” he said. “They’re getting thrown a lot of stuff, but I think it will only make them better in the long run.”

Full-Time

With the delayed start to the season, Brind’Amour is unsure of his exact duties as a full-time assistant coach. He knows he’ll be more involved, maybe with the power play or systems work. He also knows he’ll be the “eye in the sky,” perched up in the coaches box on press row as he was last season with then-assistant coach Tom Barrasso.

Given the option of observing the game from ice level or the rafters, Brind’Amour prefers the birds-eye view.

“You can see the whole game,” he said. “I got a couple games behind the bench last year, and you certainly don’t see the game the same. Everything happens a lot faster. If you’re worried about changing lines and who’s up next and the flow of the game, you don’t really see as much. When you’re up top, you see everything.

“If it’s a system issue or a player issue, you can really see the game. We come down in between periods, and if [Muller] says, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ you're the best view of that. That’s where it can be effective.”

Brind’Amour can relay information to assistant coach John MacLean on the bench during the game via an earpiece. However, he said, sometimes that’s not the best mode of communication.

“It’s kind of tough. I’ve found that it’s not 100 percent productive because you have to be careful piping down a lot when the coach is talking,” he said. “If there is something I see, I’ll throw it out there and he’ll communicate it to Kirk. But I think it’s more in between periods that the communication gets going.”

Though playing days are limited, time spent in the sport doesn’t have to be. Many former players bridge the gap between their careers and retirement by getting involved at one level or another. Rutherford has retained a number of character, cornerstone players in the front office, and the chance for Brind’Amour to coach the team was one that appealed to him.

“I like it because I get to work with the players, especially the younger players that are coming up. It’s also exciting to be involved with the coaches that are here,” he said. “Kirk (Muller) has been really good about listening. He’s the head guy, but he wants your opinions on things. You feel like you’re involved with what’s going to happen going forward. It’s the action. You like having a stake in every game. You’re not playing, but it’s the next best thing.”

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