-- If there's anything that new Chicago Blackhawks
forward Andrew Brunette
has learned over his 15 years in the NHL, it's that self-deprecation goes a long way.
As it turned out, the 37-year old Brunette needed some on Monday during a press conference at the United Center to officially introduce both him and fellow free-agent signee Daniel Carcillo
. Brunette was asked about his ability to produce offensively over his career despite not being the fleetest afoot on the ice.
His response? First a smile and then a searing one-liner delivered with the kind of dry humor that should make his transition from the Minnesota Wild
to Chicago a smooth one.
"I guess the one good thing for me is it's tough to lose a step when you get older if you never really had one," Brunette said, eliciting laughs from the assembled media and Hawks' front office dignitaries. "I've been blessed with other abilities and I've been able to get to the spots I need to get to. I think I'm as good as anybody in the League in certain spots. I just need to find a way to get there. Unfortunately I'm a little slower than most to get there, but I get there eventually."
In all, he's gotten there for goals 256 times and 450 times for assists in his career, including 18 goals and 46 points in 82 games last season with the Wild. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Brunette, who also played for Quenneville during a stint with the Colorado Avalanche
, is expected to step into a role among the Hawks' top-six forwards -- which include stars Jonathan Toews
, Patrick Kane
, Patrick Sharp
and Marian Hossa
Much has been made of the grit Chicago General Manager Stan Bowman has added to the mix via free agency this summer, but Brunette said that shouldn't cloud over the fact the Hawks are still loaded with players who can put the puck in the net.
"There's tons of skill," he said. "You can go through every line and there's some skill. It's going to be exciting. You can talk about the toughness, but I think the skill level on this team is as high as anybody's in the League."
While he's looking forward to adding his own skill set to the Hawks, the most important reason he signed a one-year deal worth $2 million with Chicago was the chance to contend for the Stanley Cup -- a trophy he's never hoisted.
"The last three years in Minnesota was tough," Brunette said. "It was tough on pride and tough on a lot of things, not being able to get into the playoffs. It's something that hurts every April when you're in your basement and you don't want to watch a game -- but you end up watching the games. It's no fun."
Thus, a team's chances to compete for the ultimate prize were at the forefront of Brunette's wish list heading into this summer's free agency period.
"This is one of the top two or three teams I felt had a great opportunity to win a Stanley Cup," Brunette said. "The core they have, they know what it takes to win and they won a couple of years ago, so I really felt this could be a good fit. For me, dwindling down to the end of my career, to have an opportunity to win a Cup or to win a Cup would be a dream come true."
It didn't hurt that Chicago is an Original Six team with a passionate fan base and arena renowned for its spine-chilling volume during the Star Spangled Banner.
"As a hockey buff and historian growing up, I've always dreamed of wearing an Original Six jersey and for me, (Chicago's) is probably the best crest in all of pro hockey," said Brunette, who's played for the Wild, Avalanche, Capitals, Predators and the former Atlanta Thrashers
. "To play in this building is probably one of the biggest treats of being a professional hockey player, especially the last few years. When this place gets rocking there's nothing like it. It gives you chills. I played my first game here in 1995-96, and after the national anthem I didn't think I could even get on the ice."
Now, he'll take the ice for the home team for up to 41 regular-season games at the "Madhouse on Madison" -- bringing along his incredible durability and a knack for scoring on the power play. Dating back to the 1998-99 season, Brunette has logged a whopping 970 games, the most of any NHL player in that timeframe. He's also missed just two games over the past eight seasons.
If he can continue that trend in 2011-12, it will be a big help to the Hawks, who had extended injury absences by Hossa, Kane and Sharp last season.
"I've played with some pretty bad injuries, but I think it's the will and the love of the game that gets you through a lot of bumps and bruises," Brunette said. "For me, to get back in the playoffs would be the goal -- and to win a Stanley Cup. You've got to get in before you can start dreaming bigger, but being in the playoffs and having fun is what's most important to me."
"It’s something that hurts every April when you’re in your basement and you don't want to watch a game -- but you end up watching the games. It’s no fun." -- Andrew Brunette
Brunette hasn't tasted the playoffs in three seasons, but over his career he's played in 43 postseason contests and tallied 34 points (16 goals).
He also led the Wild with 8 power-play goals last season, when he reached an impressive career milestone by playing in his 1,000th game. Now, it's all about making a run at that elusive Cup with a team that ought to be nearly as hungry to win it again as he is to win for the first time.
Brunette pointed to Chicago's gutty effort in the first round last spring to force a Game 7 against the rival Vancouver Canucks
as proof the Hawks still have what it takes.
"To be down 3-0 (and come back), they showed some tenacity and a heart of a champion," said Brunette, whose Wild upset the Dallas Stars
on the season's last day to help the Hawks get the Western Conference's eighth playoff spot. "If it's in you, it's in you. I think we're going to be extremely hungry. Once you win, you want to win more. Sometimes you don't really realize how much it takes to win. I think that was maybe a good lesson, and this year maybe they're even hungrier than they've ever been."
That's what Brunette is banking on, at least.