Brind'Amour changed game in Raleigh
While we were waiting for former Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour to formally announce his retirement from the NHL on Wednesday, we couldn't help but think of a visit we made to Raleigh, N.C., toward the end of the 2005-06 regular season.
The Hurricanes were at the top of the NHL standings, and Raleigh had turned into a hockey-mad community as the team prepared for what would be a seminal run to the Stanley Cup later that spring, the first of the post-lockout era.
Brind'Amour, rarely at ease discussing his accomplishments or importance to the team, was gracious with his time. But what stuck out was watching Brind'Amour dutifully answer questions from the local media before quickly disappearing back into the Canes' gym after a game against Tampa.
The game was over, but his work wasn't done.
"He's a freak of nature," teammate Kevyn Adams told ESPN.com at the time.
But nature or time -- for surely they are first cousins -- ran out of patience with Brind'Amour, as they do with even the great of spirit. While he appeared ageless that season, coaxing his teammates to be ever better and profoundly changing the game in Raleigh and throughout the South, his long on-ice journey is at an end.
What begins tomorrow will be another journey with the Hurricanes, as Brind'Amour will assume a yet-undefined role within the organization.
"I don't think there'll ever be another Rod Brind'Amour," former teammate Matt Cullen told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I never learned so much from watching one guy in my entire career."
Cullen recalled enduring long practices under coach Peter Laviolette early in the 2005-06 season and then doing 10 miles on the stationary bike after on-ice sessions.
"Then Rod would catch his breath for maybe half a minute, and then he'd disappear into the weight room and put on a weight vest and start doing pull-ups," Cullen said. "It was unbelievable."
Laviolette, now the coach for the Philadelphia Flyers, also praised Brind'Amour's character.
"He doesn't put on an act. It's not for show. There's just something really simple and honest about it. You work hard and you speak the truth," Laviolette told ESPN.com of Brind'Amour. "It's a reflection of who he is."
It's funny how things work out.
On Wednesday, Brind'Amour recalled doing a radio interview the first day he arrived from Philadelphia via a trade in late January 2000. He had one suit and got snowed in by a freak snowstorm. At that moment, he figured he'd be out of Raleigh the moment his deal ended.
"No way I'm staying here," he remembered thinking.
It's been more than a decade.
"It's come full circle," he said Wednesday. "I'm proud that I'm a part of that."
No other team does loyalty quite like the Hurricanes, which goes a long way in explaining why the Brind'Amour tale has gone the way it has, why he's not preparing to start banging on doors July 1 to look for somewhere else to play next fall.
As recently as Wednesday morning, Brind'Amour was wondering about whether he could or should continue to play next season after two disappointing campaigns. But when Carolina GM Jim Rutherford explained the team's direction did not include him as a player but did within the organization, Brind'Amour's decision was suddenly made easy.
Brind'Amour said thinking about playing somewhere else "never ever felt right."
"I feel at peace," he said. "This is my home. And I'm proud to say this is my home."
Brind'Amour will not so much fade into the sunset but morph into something else, perhaps coaxing another group of Hurricanes players to accomplish what he helped achieve on the ice over the past decade. He will join former teammates Glen Wesley, Ron Francis and Jeff Daniels, who left the ice but not the organization.
Teams like to toss around terms like "loyalty" and "family," but the Hurricanes live them. Not that promising Brind'Amour a job is some sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge "job."
"This is not just a gift to him at this point in his career," Rutherford said.
Not that Brind'Amour would have it any other way.
Rutherford recalled the seminal goals the captain scored, a huge one against Montreal when the Canes were trailing 2-0 in their opening-round series in April 2006, a big one against Buffalo in the conference finals that sent Carolina to the Cup finals that same spring. He also scored the winner in Game 1 of the finals against Edmonton. Away from the rink, he, along with Francis (the man he succeeded as captain), was an iconic figure in the franchise's growth.
"There are so many things that he did away from the arena, and part of that was growing the sport," Rutherford said.
As we listened to Brind'Amour and Rutherford talk Wednesday, we also thought about what might happen three years from now. Last week's contentious selections for the 2010 Hockey Hall of Fame class have left the Hall's reputation in tatters. But we can't think of a better way to restore its luster than by opening its doors to Brind'Amour in 2013.
Beyond the points -- his 1,184 regular-season points are more than many Hall of Famers, including Mike Bossy, Frank Mahovlich, Glenn Anderson and Bobby Hull -- Brind'Amour was one of the best faceoff men in the business for years, killed penalties and choked the life out of opposing teams' best lines. And, in the end, he delivered the ultimate prize to a team whose very existence had been in question.
In our Hall of Fame, there will always be a place for Brind'Amour. Just as it appears he will always have a place with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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