When Rod Brind'Amour arrived here more than a decade ago, he couldn't wait to leave. Now, all he wants to do is stay.
The man who captained the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006 walked away from the game of hockey Wednesday, at least as a player, but he won't be walking away from the Triangle.
Like Ron Francis and Glen Wesley, he will remain here now that his career is over. And like them, he played a key role in making the franchise a Sun Belt success story, one that can endure the ownership uncertainty.
After appearing in more games than all but 15 players in NHL history, Brind'Amour, who is taking a management job with the team, may no longer be wanted or needed on the ice. But his career has always been about more than that. In a game that places a premium on hard work, he worked harder than anyone. To a franchise built on uncertain ground, he brought stability. To know the man is to respect him.
Five days ago, Brind'Amour was back in his hometown of Campbell River, British Columbia, hosting his annual golf tournament to raise money for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This year's record haul of $145,000 shattered the mark set in 2006, when Brind'Amour took the Stanley Cup with him.
That may not seem like a lot of money - the Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic probably spends that much on wine each year - but the people and businesses of a small town like Campbell River don't have a ton to spare. They donated that money, more than $1 million in the 15 years Brind'Amour has held the tournament, out of respect for him.
Retire his jersey
Let him be held in the same esteem here. At some point soon, his No. 17 will join Francis' No. 10 and Wesley's No. 2 in the RBC Center rafters, and justly so. That trio laid the foundation for hockey in North Carolina, each in his own way.
Wesley was the rock who held together not only the defense but the team itself during the difficult transition from Hartford and those dismal days at the Greensboro Coliseum. Francis, by returning in 1999 to the franchise that once traded him away, legitimized the team as a free-agent destination at a time when that issue was very much up for debate.
And then there's Brind'Amour, whose decision to re-sign with the Hurricanes in 2001, when the entire hockey world expected him to flee at his first opportunity, further established the Triangle as a place players wanted to live.
Set the tone
His diligence in the weight room set the tone for a generation of young players who now know no other way to train. His leadership in 2006, alternately steadying and rallying the team at key moments during the postseason with a deft touch, was both underestimated and invaluable.
Nothing against Cam Ward, who was outstanding, but Brind'Amour should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that year. Ward's goaltending in the finals dazzled the national media that had previously ignored the Hurricanes. Those of us along for the entire crazy ride knew better. Brind'Amour got my vote.
It ended all wrong
Brind'Amour deserved better than this after 21 seasons, no doubt about it. Sometimes, though, it doesn't end well. It just ends. So ended a long, distinguished and sweat-soaked career: with a shove into retirement on Wednesday, the fall cushioned by a seven-figure going-away-present.
To the surprise of no one, Brind'Amour said he still expected to hit the gym for a workout this morning. Even in retirement, there will be no days off - just as it was during a career that may not have ended on the terms he would have preferred, but with no lack of dignity or class for it.
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