Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour can stand behind the home bench at PNC Arena, look up and see his old jersey hanging in the rafters. Fittingly, it’s close to the 2006 Stanley Cup banner.
The Carolina Hurricanes retired Brind’Amour’s No. 17 in 2011, not long after he retired as a player — after 21 years in the league, after being the consummate team captain for the Canes, after winning a Cup.
The Stanley Cup was at the retirement ceremony that night in PNC Arena. Many wondered if Brind’Amour would lift it again, recreate that magic moment in June 2006 when the Canes were the champions and their ecstatic captain all but yanked the Cup out of the hands of commissioner Gary Bettman.
But Brind’Amour wouldn’t. The only one time you touch it, he said then and has often repeated, is when you win.
“You have to earn it,” he said.
Brind’Amour would like to touch it again, lift it over his head again. Earn it again. For the third straight season since he became head coach, the Hurricanes are a Stanley Cup playoff team, considered a solid Cup contender.
“All of us, the staff, the players, the owner, we’re here to win the Stanley Cup,” Brind’Amour recently said. “We’re on all the same page and we’re trying to be the last team standing, which means the team that wins it all.”
That’s no easy task. In 2006, Brind’Amour likened winning a Stanley Cup to climbing Mount Everest. It’s an arduous climb through the playoffs that can push you to a breaking point, physically and emotionally.
Brind’Amour handled it as a player. Now he must and try and do it in his third try as head coach, with all that comes with it.
‘A great leader for us’
Recently, Brind’Amour was asked if he was a better player than a coach.
“Player, easy,” he said. “I’ve got good players, I’ve got a good staff that makes coaching a lot easier.”
Brind’Amour said as a player he believed coaching was overrated, that the players, not the guy behind the bench made the difference. He prepared, he played and he played hard. Brind’Amour was a warrior on the ice, his wide eyes filled with intensity.
Three years as the head guy behind the bench — often like dog years for a coach — has changed that belief.
“When I played, I thought coaching was, how hard can it be?” Brind’Amour said. “And in doing this for a while you realize there’s a lot. There’s a lot that goes into it to get to the level you want to get to.”
Brind’Amour often has credited majority owner Tom Dundon and Don Waddell, the team’s president and general manager, for making the commitment to winning. The Canes, long considered a “budget team,” have spent to the NHL salary cap under Dundon and made significant personnel changes under Waddell.
“I say it all the time, we have great people here who are committed to doing it right,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t think we saw the change coming this quickly. I think it was a vision that we had where, ‘OK, we want to get relevant every year, we’ve got some good pieces here, keep building.’ That’s why we’re having success.”
But Brind’Amour is the one who is around the players. He decides on who plays, on playing time, on matchups.
“His message is, you’ve got to do it right 100 percent of the time,” said forward Jordan Martinook, one of the Canes’ alternate captains. “I think he really pushed us this year and obviously it was a ton of hockey. Everybody pushed each other and he was obviously the driving force behind all of it.”
Brind’Amour sets an example. He’s in the building early, going through a conditioning workout that might shame some players. Then all the game preparation. He sets the tone.
“It’s huge the work he puts in.” Canes center Sebastian Aho said. “The leadership, the whole culture is pretty much him.
“He’s honest. He can be tough but he’s fair.. He expects the players to work for him because he does that for the players. He puts the most work in when he coaches. He’s a great leader for us.”
‘A different era’
When Brind’Amour played, he would all but limp his way on to the ice, if necessary. Sore knee? He played. Sore shoulder? He played. Concussion symptoms? Just a headache.
But the players today must be handled differently, he said. Not so much pampered, but differently. Medical treatment is different. Concussions are handled differently, cautiously and judiciously.
“We played in a different era,” Brind’Amour said. “I have a little harder time with today’s player on some things, but I think they’re smarter. I think we’re way better educated on that, and we treat them way better. We have better methods to treat everything and understanding injuries, so it’s part of the game right now.”
Since the franchise moved to North Carolina in 1997 and became the Carolina Hurricanes, it has had Paul Maurice, Peter Laviolette, Kirk Muller, Bill Peters and now Brind’Amour as their head coaches.
Laviolette won the Cup in 2006. Only Brind’Amour has taken the team to the playoffs three consecutive years.
“He’s a very, very big part of our success,” center Vincent Trocheck said. “I think it would be a completely different story with someone else.”
Brind’Amour, 50, is in the final year of an initial three-year contract. One of the NHL’s lowest-paid coaches, he’s in line for a substantial raise with an extension. That salary could rise should he be awarded the Jack Adams Award as the league’s coach of the year, should his team sizzle in the postseason.
Each year has presented a different challenge in the playoffs, and not just in winning and losing.
In 2019, the Canes returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. PNC Arena was full, the noise loud, the energy force palpable. The Canes reached the Eastern Conference finals before falling to the Boston Bruins.
A year later, no one knew if there would be Stanley Cup playoffs. The coronavirus pandemic shut down the NHL in March 2020 and for months there was uncertainty about what came next. The league and players finally agreed on a Return to Play postseason that began in August, but with games played in a bubble, with no fans. Again, the Bruins ended the Canes’ playoffs.
This season did not begin until January. There were 56 games and new divisions. With pandemic restrictions eased in the state, Canes fans finally began to return to PNC Arena in March, limited to fewer than 5,000 a game. Gov. Roy Cooper, a self-proclaimed “Huge Caniac,” could see his team again in person, if he wanted.
The Canes won the Central Division, their first divisional title since 2005-06. They’ve been among the NHL’s best teams. They’ face the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the plays, with Game 1 on Monday at PNC Arena.
The common thread and strongest bond is Rod Brind’Amour. As good as he was a player, and he was very, very good, he has been just as good as a head coach.
Only one thing is missing — something he’d like to touch again.
Predators at Hurricanes
Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round One
When: 8 p.m., Monday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
Watch: CNBC, BSSO