Rod Brind’Amour was not in a reflective mood on Tuesday when he participated in a conference call with reporters to talk about the retirement of his No. 17 on Friday.
“I’m just grateful,” he said at one point, “I’m remembered at all, to be honest with you.”
For the only captain in Carolina Hurricanes’ history to hold the Stanley Cup above his head as a champion, it’s a bit naive to think he would not be remembered. The Caniacs, as the team’s fans call themselves, might not have the numbers of say, the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens, but they are intense about their team.
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Forget Brind’Amour? No way. Maybe that seeming reluctance to reminisce is a personality trait or maybe it’s because, at age 40, he thinks he could still play. Last summer when the NHL’s buyout period began, Hurricanes management let Brind’Amour know that his contract would be bought out, but that he would have a place in the organization if he opted to retire.
At the time, Brind’Amour seemed somewhat bewildered by what represented the sudden end of an impressive career. General manager Jim Rutherford suggested that a serious knee injury that Brind’Amour suffered during the 2007-08 season had cost him some speed and probably deprived him of a few more productive seasons.
After all, Brind’Amour’s teammate on that 2005-06 Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup-winning team, Mark Recchi, is still playing, having reached the 40-point plateau already this season with Boston, and Recchi is 43.
That Brind’Amour played for as long as he did and accomplished what he did can be attributed largely to a legendary work ethic. Tuesday, Brind’Amour recounted the story of growing up in tiny Campbell River, British Columbia, the son of a pipe fitter. When he was 12, his father told him that if he ever wanted to get anywhere with hockey, then he would have to outwork everyone else.
That willingness to do just that is part of Brind’Amour’s legacy that will be remembered when his No. 17 hangs from the RBC Center’s rafters.
“Those are tough jobs,” Brind’Amour said of his father’s job. Recalling what his father told him, he said, “‘You’ll have to do something different from the next kid if you don’t want to do what I did.’ From then I said I had to work harder than the next guy. No excuses. That was my mentality when I played and when I trained. I took it serious pretty much every day I was a player.”
Even in retirement, Brind’Amour has an opportunity to work with and to influence the organization’s young players to that end. He does not work with the Jeff Skinners or the Brandon Sutters on the Hurricanes, instead his mission is to help the development of the team’s American Hockey League players in Charlotte and at lower levels.
“It’s basically just knowledge,” Brind’Amour said of his role. “I watch all their games. I go down there and sit with them individually and try to help them and get them to this level. We need these guys to play and be effective. We have a little more emphasis on our minor league teams. We want them to get them better quicker.”
Such was the local knowledge of and respect for Brind’Amour’s tireless work ethic that even Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski weighed in on the topic this week on a local radio station.
“There’s no question about that, he’s the ultimate pro,” Krzyzewski said. “Someone, who on a daily basis, that guys can take a look at in the locker room in a practice or a game and say, ‘He’s ready all the time.'”
Beyond that, in a more macro perspective, Brind’Amour will be remembered as a top two-way player, having won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward in 2006 and 2007. In any given season, he might have been the NHL’s top faceoff man — an essential skill for defusing a potentially dangerous defensive zone situation — but he also could score.
He hit the 20-goal plateau 11 times (missing the 12th by only one goal in the 2007-08 season, which was shortened by that knee injury) and the 30-goal mark five times. Similarly, Atlanta Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay, another former Selke winner who was one of the top defensive forwards of his era, scored 20 goals more in eight consecutive seasons.
Ramsay often talks about how while he was known as a defensive forward, he also could score. Brind’Amour seemed to like the idea that he would be remembered in a similar view.
“I do like that that award, now in the last few years especially, has gone to a guy who not only plays in his own end but [who] can score,” Brind’Amour said. Detroit’s Pavel “Datsyuk is the perfect example. That’s where it needs to go. I’m glad they’ve done that the last five, six, seven years. I take pride in that. I like playing both ends of the rink and being able to put up good numbers.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter too much how they remember. It’s all good.”
Brind’Amour was especially appreciative that the Hurricanes chose a game with Philadelphia for the retirement ceremony. For one, the Flyers are coached by Peter Laviolette, who was Carolina’s coach the year they won the Cup. Brind’Amour said he feuded with Laviolette when he was first hired, but in time came to admire and respect him.
Secondarily, Brind’Amour played nine seasons for the Flyers and made it with them to the Cup final in 1997. When he was first shipped to the ‘Canes on Jan. 23, 2000, for Keith Primeau, Brind’Amour called it “one of the worst days of my career,” he had so much love for Philadelphia and its fans. He said he has a lot of special memories from Philadelphia.
But none more special than winning the Cup in Carolina.
“If I had won before, maybe in Philadelphia, it might’ve been different,” Brind’Amour said of his career. “There’s no better way to remember it. I know I’ll be remembered as a Hurricane and that image of me holding that Cup up is etched in stone.
“This is my home now. Everything about it is right here.”