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Greenberg: Brind'Amour epitomized Flyers hockey

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

Sixteen years since the end of Rod Brind’Amour’s team record 484 consecutive game streak, no Flyer has gotten within two seasons of it, yet still he believes his endurance warrants no commendation. If Brind’Amour didn’t play in those contests, somebody else would have.

“Why would I give that guy an opportunity?” he says. “I think never feeling my spot was guaranteed helped keep me on my toes.

“Obviously, if you are too hurt to play you can’t. But if there’s a way, you do. It’s your job to play, what was the accomplishment? That kind of mentality doesn’t exist any more. Right or wrong, it’s just different.”

In his era teammates likely were to go to the bar after a game. Iron Rod went back to the weight room, a routine practically as unprecedented back in the day as Rod’s father Bob designing a lifting program for a scrawny, 10-year old, 2-time hockey dropout. Those 10-minute workouts became a habit that grew into an obsession.

“I always thought the way I’m going to be better than the kids I’m playing against is to do something different to get ahead,” Brind’Amour says. “When it started to kick in at a younger age, I saw the results.

“I think the only reason I made it to the NHL at 18 was that I was physically mature enough. It was working for me, so why would I change it? I would try to be the hardest working guy wherever I was.”

Perhaps the hardest working guy ever for a franchise labeled by hard-working guys goes into its Hall of Fame Monday night, an event so moving to Brind’Amour, an assistant coach for the visiting Hurricanes, that he has agreed to come out of the weight room to speak on the Wells Fargo Center red carpet.

Flyer fans should consider that their honor as well. When a charter carrying the Brind’Amour era Flyers back from games in the West would land at daybreak and the rest of the team went home, Brind’Amour instead would go to the training facility in Voorhees to work for two or three more hours.

Feeling as tired as the rest of us, one time Rod skipped and went to bed,” recalls Mark Howe. “When he didn’t score for something like the next four games, Rod swore ‘I’ll never do that again.’

“He was the best conditioned athlete I ever played with.”

Statues for which Rod Brind’Amour apparently posed are mounted throughout Athens. Every coach he ever had mounted his work ethic on a pedestal.

“Even if we didn’t always see eye to eye about some (usage) situations, I loved Rod,” said Terry Murray. “Very low maintenance, you spent zero time telling him to work.”

Thanks to the first big piece acquired for their early nineties rebuild, relentless effort remained the Flyers’ calling card through even the only sustained losing period of their history, when they missed playoffs for another three years after Brind’Amour’s acquisition.

“When I first got here (during 1991 training camp) I remember Bill Barber took me under his wing and told me how they had these expectations built,” Brind’Amour said. “It came to mean something to me to live up to.”

But did anyone really have to tell this kid?

Born in Ottawa and raised in Campbell River, British Columbia, Brind’Amour left home at age 15 to attend the noted Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, where he helped the Hounds to a national midget championship. At 17, he earned a place on Canada’s team competing for the Spengler Cup (world university championship) in Davos, Switzerland. When Canada took first place, a Swiss businessman bought the players a $1000 bottle of champagne. Rod quietly sat drinking milk.

“He was the most mature freshman I ever had,” said Rod Mason, who coached 23 seasons at Michigan State, where Brind’Amour played for a year after St Louis made him the ninth-overall choice in the 1988 entry draft. During a 61-point rookie NHL season, the Blues adored Rod, too, for his dedication. But when he regressed by 12 points the following season, they began to see his devotion as self-defeating. Watching Brind’Amour fight his long slumps with workout room marathons, even Brian Sutter, the tightly wound St. Louis coach, began to believe the kid was getting muscle-bound in the head.

When the Blues signed free agent Brendan Shanahan away from New Jersey, Rod and goaltender Curtis Joseph were offered as the compensation required by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Devils instead argued for Scott Stevens and Judge Edward Houston, the NHL-appointed arbitrator, agreed, leaving a big hole in the St. Louis defense as well as in the egos of Joseph and Brind’Amour. Flyers’ GM Russ Farwell, who had been told by the Blues that Brind’Amour was untouchable in 1990, tried again after the arbitration ruling and GM Ron Caron accepted Ron Sutter – the coach’s brother – and defenseman Murray Baron in a trade.

“Sutter was a top-end third-line center whose best days were behind him,” recalls Farwell. “Rod was another level of player.” Farwell’s best deal of his four-year reign -- and one of the greatest the organization ever made – gained the Flyers seven years at the center position and their first major piece on the way back to contention.

“I was a 20-year old kid, out of a bad situation in St. Louis and it felt like a breath of fresh air,” recalls Brind’Amour. “I was lucky in the sense that I went from Brian Sutter, who was just a hard ass, to Paul Holmgren, who was a tough ass to play for, so all I knew to start my career was that there’s no cheating of the game.

“I’d played [44] games as a Flyer when I learned how it was special here. We [hosted] the All Star Game and I’m in it only because every club has to be represented. I realized all that, sure. But they announced me last and, of all the players, I got the loudest ovation. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are in the game and the place goes (off) like I’m the best player to ever play because I’m wearing the Flyers jersey. And the fans barely knew me.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, you don’t get that everywhere.’ I once scored two shorthanded goals to finish off a playoff series (against Pittsburgh 1997) and that All Star Game is still my most memorable moment here. I don’t know if players think like that now, but it meant a lot to me.”

The appreciation proved reciprocal. In runs to the semifinals (1995) and finals (1997) Brind’Amour provided far more than just secondary scoring support in a one-two combination with Lindros.

“Rod did everything second-line centers should do -- win draws, kill penalties and play the power play,” recalls Chris Therien, a teammate for five-plus seasons. “That they moved him around (with multiple linemates and to left wing) was a tribute to how good Rod was. He had offensive skill he didn’t use because he played the game the right way.”

The skill would desert Brind’Amour during scoring droughts when his hands become as tight as his abs. He repeatedly was told to relax. But Rod didn’t do relaxed.

“Even though you’re doing the exact same things when you are scoring, no one ever says you are trying too hard, right?” he says. “When things are going badly, [fans and media] are gonna find things.

“What makes successful teams are guys that care and compete. Yeah, looking back, it would have been easier not putting so much pressure on myself, but if you’re going to err on one side I want to be the guy who is trying too hard.”

Even with all this suspected paralysis-by-self analysis, Brind’Amour scored 601 points in 633 Philadelphia games and 24 goals (including an NHL-leading 13 in the ’97 drive to the finals) in 57 playoff contests. Those were good counts for a guy who never kept count, choosing to sign contracts with no bonuses for points.

“I don’t want to worry about stuff like that,” he said. “If the team wins, I’ll sleep at night.”

And if his intensity cost him a few winks, he’s convinced all that work off ice kept him on it during the consecutive game streak that began on February 24, 1993 and ended on opening night 1999, after his foot became fractured in an exhibition game. Brind’Amour had been back in the lineup only 12 games when he, goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier and a second-round choice were dealt to Carolina for Keith Primeau and a fifth rounder.

Bob Clarke was obsessed with getting a second oversized center behind Lindros -- or perhaps eventually to replace him. But Rod doesn’t think that deal ever would have happened had he not missed so much time that season.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” he says. “Their thinking, I’m sure, was they didn’t need me any more.

“I was crushed. Crushed. I was a Flyer. To me, it meant something to be a Flyer.”

Nine years after his first trade to a team starting over, he was on his way to another. But six years later, after Brind’Amour captained Carolina to the Stanley Cup that the guys he left behind in Philadelphia never won, none of them begrudged him that championship.

“I think the ending for Rod Brind’Amour was well-scripted,” said Therien. “The guy deserved to captain a Stanley Cup winning team. I wish I would have won one with him.”

That feeling went all the way to the top of the Flyers organization.

“Ed Snider was one of the first calls I got when we won,” said Brind’Amour who retired in 2010 after 20 NHL seasons, and has become the Hurricanes’ assistant coach and player development coach “Six years later, he still remembered. That meant a lot to me.

“This place is special. I walked around the [Wells Fargo Center] when I was there scouting the [2014 Frozen Four] and I got mobbed, what, 14 years after I played here?

“If there’s a fan group that deserves [another] championship, it’s the Flyers.”


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