As a player, Rod Brind’Amour had the gift of knowing what to say, how to say it and - perhaps most importantly - how much of it to say. They were traits that helped to define him as a Stanley Cup-winning captain, and became the stuff of legend within the walls of the Carolina Hurricanes’ locker room.
Now, as the Canes’ coach, Brind’Amour is putting those traits to work in a whole different way.
Still less than a decade removed from his playing career, Brind’Amour might not be the first person that comes to mind when thinking about how to reach today’s NHL players, but he knows that communicating with players who are the age of his own children requires a different approach, one that meets the players on their own terms instead of forcing them to conform to his.
During training camp, Brind’Amour told the media that he was showing no more than two minutes of video to his players at one time. And he says even that might be too much.
“We’re still showing more than I would like,” says Brind’Amour. “I just know the attention span of the guys and how much they actually take in is probably a third of what you actually think they’re taking in. I know you can’t show too much of it, but at the same time you’ve got to do it.”
It would be too easy to call this “How Millennials Killed Video Coaching,” because that isn’t what’s happening. Rather, the Canes are using it in a different way to reach players whose attention spans are very different from those that Brind’Amour grew up with.
Video coach Chris Huffine, who has been with the team since the Greensboro days and predates Brind’Amour’s arrival in 2000, says that the coach’s approach to video is one that befits a player-turned coach. “He was a high level NHL player who got into coaching,” Huffine says. “He remembers what it was like to be an NHL player, so he knows the attention span. You can have a meeting that's an hour long, but if you can get the guys to remember one or two things, it’s been successful.”
But that isn’t to say that Brind’Amour himself is watching less video than other coaches. To the contrary; Huffine says that the coach wants to see as much as he can consume.
“I’m just as detailed, and Rod is just as detailed. [The coaches] want to know everything. I lay out the systems stuff of what other teams are doing, but the [players] maybe don’t need to know everything because it slows players down. He comes to us and says ‘what are the few things I need to know that this team does differently?’”
Brind’Amour, then, is more of a filter, picking and choosing the information that his players see and trying to simplify things as much as possible. While Huffine and L.J. Scarpace will show the coaches information about the opposition, that almost never gets down to the players unless it needs to. If a situation presents itself within a game, the coaches need to be ready to react and tell the players what to do, but feeding them too much information muddies the water and can detract from the game plan. In the NHL of 2018, simpler is better.
For Brind’Amour, simpler means more focus on what the Hurricanes do instead of focusing on how to stop the opposition. And that has an unintentional byproduct, Huffine says: more team camaraderie.
“They see another team and they watch [passively], but as soon as they come on TV they’re ‘did I make a mistake? Did I make a good play?’ Then the room starts chirping.”
Ever the perfectionist, Brind’Amour is quick to pick up on what players can improve on, but Jordan Staal says that the coach does it in a way that avoids making examples of players.
“He tries not to drag it out too much,” says the Canes center. “He doesn’t call guys out, but he makes sure everyone is doing what they need to do out there. He makes it seem like it isn’t a big deal, making a big deal out of it, and he’s got a lot of positive stuff on there too.”
Similar to his approach to the special teams, which has been a work in progress with tweaks rather than wholesale changes, Brind’Amour’s philosophy on critiquing plays through video boils down, essentially, to “hockey is fast and stuff happens.” It’s a different approach than many other teams use, including the Hurricanes themselves in years past.
Staal says that the players appreciate it.
“There may be a teachable moment. He may cut out some of the more obvious [mistakes] that we have to clean up, and it’s more about what we’re doing and how we’re playing.”
Huffine echoes that view. Having watched Brind’Amour firsthand, from a newcomer to a captain to an assistant coach and now the head job, he thinks that the way Brind’Amour treats game preparation will be key to his long-term success as a coach.
“It’s been cool for me to watch him take over. He gives you the room to do your job. Everybody’s part of everything. We all have a part in it, and that's part of what has made him successful.”