Rod Brind’Amour remembers his first time like it was yesterday.
Brind’Amour remembers his first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs - how he felt the night before, everything that comes with a new season -- as if it just happened, and wasn’t 30 years ago.
The Carolina Hurricanes coach will lead the team into the post season for the first time in 10 years, with very little playoff experience on the roster.
His first major postseason action happened to be his first action with an NHL team, when he got the call to join the St. Louis Blues. He got called up late from Michigan State and was thrown right into playoff action. That was the start of a long career, with plenty of playoff games, 159 to be exact. He can talk to his guys about his experience, but his team will be taking it all in for the first time when the Hurricanes visit the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
“The worry for me is a lot of these guys haven’t been there and it’s tough,” Brind’Amour said. “You learn so much from your first time. I’m hoping it’s not a learning experience, but we will see. It’s an exciting time.”
Brind’Amour was 18 when he got called up and said the expectations then were way different. At 18, you play like you have nothing to lose. On his roster, there are plenty of guys who have played a lot of hockey with no playoff games under their belts. He expects a lot out of them because they have been around for a while. What he doesn’t expect is for this group to get caught up in all the bright lights the postseason will bring.
Justin Faulk has played in 559 games in his career, all in Carolina, but like so many of his teammates, will experience the playoffs from the ice and not his sofa this year. Faulk had no issues watching the playoffs in previous years, just glad he doesn’t have to this time around.
“It’s fun to keep going and not having that feeling of knowing when the season is going to end,” Faulk said.
Faulk hasn’t reached out to anyone to see what to expect on the ice on Thursday. He’s played enough hockey and understands what’s on the line. When they clinched a playoff birth, Faulk knew what it meant to the organization. The Hurricanes last trip to playoffs came after the 2008-09 season, and that trip ended when they were swept by Pittsburgh in the conference finals.
Inside the locker room, players would argue that they’ve been playing “playoff hockey” for the last month, fighting for their lives to make it to the postseason.
“It just shows how resilient our group is,” Brett Pesce, another first timer, said. “We weren’t getting the results in the beginning, but we didn’t quit, we didn’t stop. We just stuck with the program. We just continued to come to work every day and obviously it benefited.”
Luckily for Pesce when he has playoff questions he doesn’t have to reach out to anyone around the league for advice. He can just walk across the locker room to chat with Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, or talk with Brind’Amour.
“You can pick guys brains in here,” Pesce said. “It’s just more intense. I was talking to Jordan Staal and he said every little hit the crowd roars. It’s exciting times and it’s good to know that we have guys who have been through the ringer and ultimately they are going to lead us.”