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When people speak of the Hurricanes’ last three captains, they use many of the same terms. “Lead by example” is perhaps the most prominent.
That’s certainly true of Ron Francis, Rod Brind’Amour and Eric Staal in what they do on the ice and behind the scenes. Words were said when they needed to be said, but teammates tend to have a better recollection of what was done, taking into account the manner and timing of the accomplishment.
All three had their success, winning Stanley Cups at one time or another. All three were first-line centers in their heyday, capable of scoring the big goal as well as preventing it.
That being said, they aren’t identical. For all the examples that were set and traditions handed down, there’s one area in which there will only be one Rod Brind’Amour.
“I’m not going to be exactly like Rod as far as the weight room goes,” admitted Staal, the Hurricanes’ current captain. “He was a different animal than me.”
“He was a machine,” said Cam Ward
As much as anything else, Brind’Amour is likely to be remembered for his obsession with fitness – the kind that allowed him to play until the age of 39 and post his best offensive totals in 11 years at the age of 36, when he scored 82 points in 79 games. There are countless stories of his commitment to workouts, ranging from the padlocking of gyms to keep him out to the times he’d do a 10-mile ride on the stationary bike after the toughest practice of the season.
While impressive enough in itself, what made his work ethic contagious was that it was completely self-motivated.
“To me, that was the thing that was going to make me the player that I was,” said Brind’Amour. “At 12 or 13 years old I started working harder than everyone else because I wanted to be better. That kind of just stayed with me. My thought was that if I can’t score 50 goals or can’t get 25 minutes of ice time, I can at least be the best at working and being in the best shape. Those are things I can control.”
While Brind’Amour is still with the organization, he’s not in the weight room after practice like he used to be. Still, his influence remains.
“All our captains now have played under him and they understand about hard work,” said coach Paul Maurice, referring to the current leadership group of Staal, Tim Gleason and Brandon Sutter. “Once a guy like that comes through your organization, you’ve got a lot of years after that where you benefit from it. You don’t have to worry that guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing off-ice. They just do it because it’s the way things are done.”
As the one of the longest-serving captains in Hurricanes history (his five years tie him with Francis), Brind’Amour played a key role in setting those expectations, not because he had to pester people to follow, but because his demeanor demanded it.
“I don’t care who you are, you have to back it up and you have to do it on the ice and do it with your work ethic when no one else is looking,” he said. “It can’t be phony. You’ve got to do it all the time.”
“When you watch hockey as a kid, for me I knew the type of player Rod was and that he was a hard-nosed, hard-working player on the ice, but you don’t know the intangibles behind it,” said Staal. “That I learned firsthand just watching as an 18-year-old. It’s pretty phenomenal.”
As the bridge between Francis and Staal in the Hurricanes’ lineage of leaders, Brind’Amour learned from one and taught another. He’ll downplay his own influence, saying that, even as an 18-year-old rookie, Staal understood things from day one.
While better prepared than most, Staal says he’s learned plenty from Brind’Amour.
“He’s one of the hardest-working guys to ever play the game,” said Staal. “He knew what he needed to do mentally and physically to be prepared for games, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve picked up.”
“What I love about Eric most is that he leads by the way he plays, and that’s the way you have to do it,” said Brind’Amour. “Anyone can talk and do this in the locker room or say that, but you’ve got to go and prove it and play it. He does that.”
In other words, he does things the Hurricanes way, continuing a tradition and a culture that that Brind’Amour helped create.