May 28th, 2024

Rod Brind’Amour aimed to build a perennial contender. He’s made the Carolina Hurricanes exactly that

By Aaron Beard, The Associated Press on April 18, 2024.

MORRISVILLE, N.C. (AP) – Rod Brind’Amour remembers those early days as a first-time head coach for a franchise that had gone nearly a decade without reaching the playoffs. He realizes now just how much he didn’t know back then.

“But I didn’t know I didn’t know it,” he said, “and that was big because I didn’t have any doubt.”

And there hasn’t been any doubt since, either, about Brind’Amour becoming one of the league’s top coaches. He’s now 6-for-6 in getting the Carolina Hurricanes to the postseason over years spent building a sturdy winning culture, one running at a self-sustaining hum through a talented, experienced and deep roster. That has turned Carolina into a regular among the league’s elite and made the Hurricanes the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, according to BetMGM Sportsbook.

Their first-round series against the New York Islanders starts at home on Saturday.

“You never get complacent,” Brind’Amour told The Associated Press. “You’re constantly having to kick them in the butt and keep them on track. But they understand where the road leads. They understand where we’re trying to get to.

“You’ve got to keep them on the right path. Really that’s all I have to do. … Realistically, these guys are taking care of it themselves. It’s just a matter of me letting them run with it.”

Face of the ‘Canes

The 53-year-old native of Ottawa has become the face of the franchise with long-running ties in this so-called “nontraditional” Southern market that has blossomed. He arrived in a January 2000 trade and stayed until he retired in 2010, then spent seven seasons as an assistant coach before taking over in 2018.

The peak was his captaincy of the Hurricanes’ 2006 championship winner. It’s a moment immortalized in Raleigh by Brind’Amour snatching the Cup before Commissioner Gary Bettman could even put down his microphone during the presentation, giving it a long kiss and then hoisting it with a scream.

The man who proclaimed “I bleed Hurricane red” when he took over is in the final year of his contract, though Brind’Amour said he’s optimistic that he will reach another deal in a familiar scenario from three years ago. In the meantime, as he praises players and staff while deflecting credit for Carolina’s success, there’s no minimizing his role in the climb from a nine-year postseason drought to becoming a perennial contender.

“I mean, I don’t know a single guy for an organization that has more impact than he has here,” said Carolina center Sebastian Aho, a third-year player when Brind’Amour became head coach. “Obviously he’s done a lot, hopefully he gets one as a coach as well.”

A team reset

Brind’Amour took over amid a massive franchise reset as Tom Dundon became majority owner. He started with a fresh message to that first beleaguered group: there’s enough here to build something more.

“It’s like a dad believing in your kids,” Brind’Amour said. “If the kid doesn’t think that you believe in them, I don’t know if they reach their potential. And I think it was just more like, “˜We’re OK.’ Yeah, we gave them a plan, but everybody has a plan, every team has a plan, if they follow it they’re going to be OK.”

Carolina has reached the postseason every year dating to its unexpected 2019 run to the Eastern Conference Final. It ranks second in the NHL over the last four combined regular seasons with 420 points and a .695 win percentage, trailing only the Boston Bruins (424, .702). The run included three straight division titles in 2021-23, another run to the East final last year, at least one postseason series win annually and Brind’Amour winning the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach in 2021.

The franchise had never before been to three straight postseasons since the former Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina in 1997.

“You see how much work he puts into it,” defenseman Brady Skjei said. “He’s been in our shoes and he knows what it’s like to be a player. You see as a player how hard he worked. You kind of want to emulate that and play for him. Our guys have done a great job of buying into that. But he’s a real easy guy to follow.”

A players’ coach

That’s no different than his playing days. Brind’Amour was the weight-room warrior known for cutting no corners when it came to training and preparation. There’s a familiar ethic coursing through the Hurricanes’ playing style based on simply, relentlessly outworking the opponent.

They use an aggressive forecheck to win puck battles, maintain possession and generate scoring chances to keep the pressure on in the offensive zone. It can minimize the chances opponents have to fire at Carolina’s goaltender.

“Every coach says that, but you have to do it,” Brind’Amour said. “The easy thing to do is talk. The coach has got the easy job. He says it and then the guy has to do it. He has to believe that it’s leading to something. And it has to lead to something for the team but also for himself. That’s the trick of pro sports, especially hockey.”

This year’s group is bolstered by a pair of developments that took place on the same day in March: the return of top goaltender Frederik Andersen after missing four months due to a blood-clotting issue and the trade-deadline acquisition of scoring forward Jake Guentzel.

Andersen is 9-1 in his 10 starts since his March 7 return, posting a league-best .951 save percentage while his 1.30 goals-against average is second among goalies with more than three starts in that span.

Guentzel’s arrival from Pittsburgh filled a long-running need for another top finisher. The two-time 40-goal scorer has been elite; he had 25 points (eight goals) in 17 games, and the Hurricanes have outscored opponents 34-6 with him on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Blending the roster

It’s an example of the success Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes have had in integrating talented big names – like trading for defenseman Brent Burns in 2022 and signing fellow blue-liner Dmitry Orlov in free agency last summer – as well as making riskier additions seeking a fresh start like defenseman Tony DeAngelo in 2021 or forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, acquired in March after he spent a month receiving care from the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.

“I think when you walk in that locker room, it’s a feel that, “˜Hey, we’re all in this thing together. We’re not about points and goals and assists, we’re about wins,'” Carolina president and general manager Don Waddell said.

Brind’Amour has had the right touch with setting that vibe, based on instincts rooted in his playing days.

“That benefited me because I kind of know where their minds are,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t want to gloss over it: it’s a great group and we gave great staff. They all work, like everybody does their part. I think that’s what’s made it successful these years.”

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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