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Brind'Amour finally finishes first in faceoffs

by John McGourty

Carolina Hurricanes Rod Brind'Amour has won the NHL's seasonal faceoff championship, his first, by winning 908 of his 1,488 faceoffs, or 61 percent.

You could call Brind'Amour the Alydar or Tom Lehman of the NHL's faceoff category. Like Alydar, who finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown  races in 1978, or Lehman, who led the U.S. Open after 54 holes in 1995, 1996 and 1997 but never won, Brind'Amour finished second in faceoff victory percentage three times behind seven-time champion Yanic Perreault earlier in this decade.

Brind'Amour, 39, also finished third, fifth and 12th in years that Perreault won. He finished fifth behind Scott Nichol in 2008 and 12th behind Joe Nieuwendyk in 1999. He was 21st in 1998, when Eric Lindros won and the NHL first began keeping faceoff statistics.

Brind'Amour has long been one of the NHL's best faceoff performers and that was never more evident than last season. He led the NHL with 664 even-strength faceoff victories and by winning 63.2 percent of faceoffs at home. He was second in the NHL in winning 494 home faceoffs, 414 road faceoffs and 908 faceoffs of all kinds.

Brind'Amour is the complete package when it comes to winning faceoffs. He's strong in his torso, his arms, thick hands and wrists. He has a low center of gravity and lowers further for faceoffs, bringing his powerful legs into play, helping him maintain position when bodies collide after the drop.  He's also very fast with his stick due to great hand-eye coordination. And, he knows a million tricks.

Brind'Amour entered the NHL in 1988 with the St. Louis Blues and he has gained a world of experience playing with great faceoff men like Tony Hrkac in St.  Louis, Keith Acton and Lindros in Philadelphia and Ron Francis in Carolina.

"The thing I remember about when Rod broke in with us in St. Louis in 1988 was how strong he was," said former Blues teammate Tony McKegney, the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone ambassador. "He spent the previous year while he was at Michigan State working out with the football team. This was back when NHL teams didn't have individual weight-lifting programs. But I had always lifted weights so Rod and I became close.

"We had excellent centers on that team; Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter, Cliff Ronning, Peter Zezel, Tony Hrkac and Rick Meagher, but I don't remember Rod working with them on faceoffs. He was already very good at that when he got to the NHL. He was very good at using his body on faceoffs because he was so strong."

In a surprising revelation a few years back, Brind'Amour told that he never practices faceoffs because he knows all the NHL linesmen's tendencies and his coaches can't duplicate that, so it would only throw him off his game.

That familiarity drove Shawn Horcoff and the Edmonton Oilers crazy during the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. Horcoff and his coach, Craig MacTavish, complained Brind'Amour was "cheating" after Brind'Amour won nearly 80 percent of his faceoffs against Horcoff. They said he stands at an angle, rather than the  perpendicular stance the rules call for. They said he also lifts his stick after putting it down in accordance with the rule book.

They weren't wrong, but Brind'Amour is not alone in making quick moves after the linesmen get the players set for a faceoff. There's a split second there before the drop, and Brind'Amour has the timing down cold.

The Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks were the only NHL teams with full-season players in the top 10, although the Columbus Blue Jackets' March 4 trade for Antoine Vermette gave them two, including Manny Malhotra, at season's end. Thus it's no surprise that the Red Wings led the NHL by winning 55.1 percent of their faceoffs and the Sharks were second with a 58.8 winning percentage. Detroit's Kris Draper finished second and Pavel Datsyuk was ninth.

San Jose's Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton finished eighth and 10th, respectively. The Sharks may be even better this season as Thornton and Pavelski will be joined by free-agent Scott Nichol, who led the NHL in 2007-08, and the return to health of faceoff specialist Torrey Mitchell, who missed last season with a leg injury. Marcel Goc, who won 58 percent of over 500 faceoffs, was not re-signed.

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