SportsPulse: Kevin Allen explains that the series between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will come down to defense and goaltending.
BOSTON — Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, known as a players’ coach, would never demean his players, though he embarrasses them sometimes without trying.
“When he comes into the dressing room to use the shower, we tell him to keep his shirt on because he makes us all look bad,” center Jordan Staal told USA TODAY Sports, laughing. “He’s pretty much in better shape than anyone on the team.”
Center Sebastian Aho said Brind’Amour, 48, can probably “outlift everyone in the whole league.”
When Brind’Amour played in the NHL from 1988 to 2010, nobody would have ever called him a typical player. Today, nobody would call him a typical coach. His connection to players just seems different.
“His drive to succeed is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Carolina general manager Don Waddell, who has been involved in pro hockey since 1980.
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Hurricanes rookie head coach Rod Brind’Amour has his team in the conference final in its first playoff appearance since 2009. (Photo: Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports)
Brind’Amour has found a way to get through to his players all season, and that has never been more important than Tuesday night (8 ET, NBCSN) with his team trailing 2-0 to the Boston Bruins heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
He was a popular and respected athlete — he was captain of the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup championship team — and yet he’s also one of the humbler people in the organization.
“He’s always been well-respected in the community, but he’s been in the background because he was an assistant coach,” Waddell said. “But when you become the coach, you become the face of the team. He would like to stay behind the spotlight. He’d prefer to give the spotlight to his players. He’s probably not as comfortable in the spotlight. He just wants to worry about coaching this team.”
Brind’Amour said moving from assistant to head coach has forced him to look at the game differently. He seems to lean on his assistant coaches frequently and likes their input.
“You definitely change,” he said. “As an assistant, you are seen and not heard. Now it’s the exact opposite. … Now, I have to face the music.”
Players like his straight-talk approach.
“Roddy gets the message across,” defenseman Calvin de Haan said. “He’s deliberate, and pretty frank, and sometimes that’s a good thing for a young team.”
He makes sure players don’t wonder where they stand with him.
“He is a natural leader, and his work effort is unreal,” Aho said. “He’s always the last guy off the ice.”
Brind’Amour’s work ethic has been talked about since he was a teenager. Today, every NHL player seems to have an over-the-top fitness discipline. But Brind’Amour was ahead of his time as the league’s resident fitness freak. In the 1990s, Brind’Amour was more invested in the weight room than the vast majority of NHLers.
“Back then, if you asked everyone in the NHL, who is the one player in the league who cares the most about fitness and his health, I think 90% of them would have said Brind’Amour,” said Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who was Brind’Amour’s captain when they played on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Former NHL star Jeremy Roenick said Brind’Amour and Chris Chelios were “two players who made a lot of players change the way they worked out in the summer.”
Roenick met Brind’Amour the first time at a New Jersey Devils pre-draft gathering in 1988. Roenick was 18. Brind’Amour was 17, although he seemed older.
“My first impression of him was that he was such a professional in how he trained and how he approached the game,” Roenick recalled. “He was a very impressive athlete and now he is a very impressive coach. That same determination has transferred to the coaching side.”
Roenick was taken No. 8 by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1988 draft, and Brind’Amour was selected ninth by the St. Louis Blues.
“He was hard to play against,” Roenick said. “Very strong on the puck. He wasn’t flashy, but always determined. He was a mentally strong person. I think you see that in him now as coach. I like how after a game, if his team doesn’t play well, he just says it.”
Staal said he likes how much Brind’Amour cares.
“He wants to help you play better,” Staal said. “When he screws up, he takes ownership of it. And when you screw up, he won’t be shy about telling you.”
With regard to his fitness, Brind’Amour might work out as hard today as he did when he played. Waddell, 60, works out early in the morning, at the same time Brind’Amour does.
“I’m in pretty good shape for a man my age, but I do about 10% of what he does,” Waddell said, laughing.
After practice and dealing with the media, Brind’Amour goes back for another workout.
“I’d say he works out two hours a day,” Waddell said.
“He got nicknamed ‘Rod the Bod’ for a reason,” de Haan said. “He’s a tank.”
When you ask Carolina players if Brind’Amour could still play in the NHL, they say, “Yes.” He says, “No.”
“I would,” he said. “But I couldn’t. I can’t move anymore.”
In addition to everything else, Brind’Amour is also known for his honesty.