Rod Brind’Amour spent part of Tuesday morning in the weight room.
That, of course, is little surprise to anyone who has followed the career path of the Stanley Cup champion and fanatical workout devotee. But this season, perhaps moreso than at any time since he retired as a player in 2010, there will be an undercurrent of added meaning to those workouts. As the new head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, Brind’Amour will be setting a tone for his locker room: don’t expect any shortcuts, and if you want to earn the coach’s respect, hard work is the minimum standard expected.
Haydn Fleury, entering his second NHL season, notices a difference already. “You can tell the culture is changing every single day. You see Roddy in the gym working out every day. You know how personable of a guy he is, and you can go to him with anything. You know he’s going to put the work in for you, so you want to put the work in for him.”
Brind’Amour has sought counsel from other coaches. He married into a coach’s family, that being former UNC-Asheville coach and N.C. State player Eddie Biedenbach, and that opened up other doors. Sidney Lowe, onetime N.C. State head coach and longtime NBA assistant, has offered Brind’Amour advice about taking charge of a professional locker room for the first time as well.
And it should come as no surprise that the ever-prepared Brind’Amour has already been hard at work sandboxing line combinations — something he said he tried to stop himself from doing, knowing that it would be a Sisyphean task, yet found himself doing anyway.
Just like his time as a leader on the ice, he’s ready to find his voice behind the bench, but he’s going to be as authentic as ever.
“You have to be yourself. It’s something that I already knew, that I thought was important, but it’s funny how it’s always the first thing that [other coaches] say,” Brind’Amour said. “If you veer off from that, you’re going to get sniffed out, the players are not going to respond very well to phony stuff. We’re going to make mistakes, but as long as we learn from them and get better, that’s the approach that I have.”
Justin Williams, who won the first of his three Stanley Cups with Brind’Amour as his captain, has seen his new coach command a locker room with his presence, knowing when to raise his voice and when to back off. Things are different in his new role, though. “Now he’s a lot more vocal,” said the man who many are expecting to be named Canes captain. “He seems to be really, really excited, and you can actually see it in his face. Guys are excited to play for him.”
As it has been all summer, “culture change” is the buzz phrase du jour, and it was the talking point that flowed throughout Tuesday’s availabilities. But Williams went deeper than that, saying that it’s not just a culture that needs rebuilding, but an organization as a whole, and Brind’Amour is just the man to lead that transformation.
“What we need to create is a stable foundation, top to bottom,” Williams said. “What better way to start than with the consummate pro and the guy who is going to work his butt off. He worked his butt off playing hockey and he’s going to work his butt off off the ice as well. I’m excited for him to work with the team.”
That team will include a pair of rookies on whom high expectations have been placed. Brind’Amour, who entered the NHL with the St. Louis Blues as an 18-year-old, is now tasked with shepherding another 18-year-old, Andrei Svechnikov, through his first professional season. The coach knows that for the team to be successful, he’ll need to set up Svechnikov and Martin Necas to taste success early and often, and that might be a balancing act that requires refining over the opening months of the season.
But what won’t change is Brind’Amour’s approach to the game. The standard will be set early and often, and having a familiar model for that standard will make the transition that much easier, says Fleury.
“The good thing about Roddy is that I don’t think anything really changes. He’s going to be the hardest working guy anyway, whether he’s an assistant or the head coach. As players, that’s one thing you really like. The guy doesn’t have to change what he’s about when he gets to be the head coach. Seeing what he does, he’s still the same guy.
“I don’t think he’s lost a step. He’s still really jacked. If we can be close to him, we’ll be good.”