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Brind'Amour's drive has been there since he was 12

by Larry Wigge
Chatting with Rod Brind'Amour following a 1-0 Carolina victory in St. Louis brought back memories.

I was there when he scored his first NHL goal to help the Blues clinch a first-round playoff win against the Minnesota North Stars in 1989.

Though his sentences were short and were choked off with a bit of nervousness and his thoughts and goals were pretty much kept inside, there was no hesitancy about this special, young kid on the ice.

Learn more about Brind'Amour Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET, when the NHL Network presents "Captains Driven By Bridgestone," a 20-part original series that will feature Brind'Amour.

From the instant that Ottawa native, who was selected ninth in the 1988 Entry Draft, skated off the campus at Michigan State after his freshman year right onto the ice of the NHL, there was no doubt that he was about to embark on a fabulous future.

I remember shortly after Rod was drafted, talking to Bob Brind'Amour, a pipe fitter at a Campbell River, B.C., mill, who said his son was wound more tightly than his school-boy rivals.

"He's had that attitude from Day 1," Bob said. "I remember one time he was about 12 years old and he was running track and field. He had inflamed Achilles' tendons, but he beat everybody in a race. My heart went out to him. Here he was, 12 years old and hurting badly. He had tears in his eyes from the pain ... but he wouldn't quit."

Here we were 19 years later talking about his accomplishments, captaining the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006, winning the Selke Trophy as the game's best defensive forward that year and, well, so much more. And there's much, much more yet to come.

Before Game 7 of the Cup Final against Edmonton, Brind'Amour stepped up in front of his teammates and used a golf analogy to spur on the Hurricanes, saying, "I told them to think of it like we were standing on the 18th tee at Augusta with a one-stroke lead in the Masters. I said, 'Don’t hold back. Be aggressive. Do what you did to get here.' "

And then Brind'Amour, as usual, was one of the team's driving forces in that championship game.

"That's the stage we all want to be on ... every year," he said. "It's the culmination to the dream we had as kids, playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and then lifting that Cup in the air in celebration.

"You do whatever it takes ... sacrifice everything ... to win."

The stories about this workaholic are legendary.

Former Michigan State coach Ron Mason said that turning the lights out didn't deter Brind'Amour from lifting weights and working out all night. He had to padlock the door.

"I've never seen a more relentless athlete in all the years I've coached," Mason said. "He was driven to perfection, even back then."

Seeing Brind'Amour near the top of the Carolina scoring chart is not unusual, but maybe it should be this season after he was injured Feb. 14 and had to undergo knee surgery. Then, after a long summer of rehabilitation, another surgical procedure was needed just before the team's September training camp to clean out a cartilage problem in the same knee.
"He's had that attitude from Day 1. I remember one time he was about 12 years old and he was running track and field. He had inflamed Achilles' tendons, but he beat everybody in a race. My heart went out to him. Here he was, 12 years old and hurting badly. He had tears in his eyes from the pain ... but he wouldn't quit." -- Bob Brind'Amour, Rob's dad
"I've had long layoffs before, but this one -- at this stage of my career -- was a hard one," he acknowledged. "It was the longest summer of my career. I didn't know what to expect. But I felt good ..."

He shook his head before he continued, saying, "What's frustrating is that everything felt so good. In the training I was doing, all my numbers were better than last year. It was like, 'This is great, this has been good for me.'

"I even entered the 5 kilometer charity race we have in Raleigh before training camp each year. I was getting down to the final 100 meters and I decided to push myself to the finish line and, suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my knee.

"In a way, it may have been fortunate that the injury occurred when it did. It's certainly better to find something then than a couple of weeks down the road. This ... was just a little setback."

Doesn't that story sound eerily similar to the one Bob Brind'Amour told us before his son played his first game in the NHL ... without the injury, of course?

Leader. Perfectionist. Driven. That's what champions are made from.

Self-driven athletes like Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Doug Gilmour, the Sutters and the Staals fit all of those intangibles. It wasn't a coincidence that after Rod Brind'Amour had made it to the Final and lost in 1997 when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers and lost again with Carolina in 2002, that he finally made it to the pinnacle of success.

Brind'Amour could not be denied. He clearly got to the winner's circle the old-fashioned way ... hard work.

"Roddie is in such great shape I feel like he's the same age I am," said teammate Eric Staal.

"If he isn't the face of the franchise ... then he's the body, the heart and soul," said teammate Ray Whitney.

"It's like Stevie Y. It's like Mess. You feel what that room is going to be like when you see what type of person Rod is and how he plays," Doug Weight said in 2006 after he was traded from St. Louis to Carolina for the Cup run. "That's what leadership is. You put on your sleeve what your team is going to be like when you get in that room and that's what it's like here."

And if you listen to Brind'Amour today, he's as energetic, as driven, as ever at 38.

"I keep giving coach the nod," Brind'Amour said with a laugh. "I want more minutes. I want to be more of a factor. But I know I have to prove myself all over again after the surgery."

When I told Peter Laviolette (since fired by Carolina) what his captain said, he smiled and said, "That's Roddie for you. There's no player around that I have more confidence in. He doesn't have to prove anything to me. He's indestructible."

Well, maybe not. But his character, passion and leadership on the Carolina Hurricanes is indestructible.

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