To get a number retired in the National Hockey League is a special honor, one that is typically reserved for a unique kind of player. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the honoree was winner, but rather that he did something important to either put his team on the map or help make it stand out.
Rod Brind’Amour did both for the Carolina Hurricanes, which is why two years ago, this week, that the team retired his No. 17 – fittingly, in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was the perfect honor for Brind’Amour, who was instrumental not only in developing professional hockey in Raleigh, N.C., but in bringing the franchise its first Stanley Cup in 2006.
Drafted ninth overall by the St. Louis Blues in 1988, there was plenty of hype surrounding Brind’Amour as he made the transition directly from college hockey to the NHL level. After a brief three-year stint in St. Louis, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound center was traded to the Flyers – and quickly began to make a name for himself. In nine seasons – 633 games – with Philadelphia, Brind’Amour scored 235 goals and added 366 assists, becoming a fan-favorite and a team leader – earning one of the alternate captain titles, backing up captain Eric Lindros. Brind’Amour had become a star and for reasons that are still debated to this day – whether it be ego issues with Lindros or otherwise – the 29-year-old was traded to the Hurricanes – along with Jean-Marc Pelletier – for Keith Primeau midway through the 1999-00 season.
While Flyers fans felt heartbroken and as though the rug had been pulled out from under them, the Hurricanes were still in the process of building their brand and Brind’Amour was brought in to not only help build a winner, but also to put butts in the seats. His style of play could be defined as a hybrid. He had the strength to carry the puck and complimented it nicely with his wrist shot. While he might not have been the best skater, Brind’Amour had good vision on the ice and was a quick thinker with a good hockey sense. He was a player that could potentially fit well into the Hurricanes’ system.
Carolina – formerly known as the Whalers – had relocated from Hartford in 1997 but attendance in the beginning suffered, so badly that the team’s then-arena, the Coliseum, blocked off the upper deck, maximizing the attendance to about 12,000 per game – a number that was rarely ever reached. The team’s lineup was nothing spectacular but did have plenty of talent to build around, with players like center Ron Francis, right winger Jeff O’ Neill and defenseman Glen Wesley.
Brind’Amour joined a team that was in the midst of what would become another lackluster season, one in which the Hurricanes finished ninth in the Eastern Conference with 84 points. The same could be said for the team’s newest acquisition, after he finished with just 14 points in 33 games. But the turnaround would happen quicker than many could imagine and the following season the Hurricanes earned the franchise’s first playoff berth since moving to its new city. Carolina would run into a New Jersey Devils team in the middle of what many consider a dynasty run and was ousted in the first round. It was, however, the start of something special in Carolina and was a learning experience for the ‘Canes as they continued to prosper in a non-hockey market.
The following season the ‘Canes would make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. A big reason for the team’s success – besides hot goaltender Artus Irbe – was the success of the “BBC Line” which featured Bates Battaglia, Brind’Amour and Erik Cole. The ‘Canes eventually came up short, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in five games but Brind’Amour – who had 12 points during the 23 postseason games – proved his importance to the team both on the scoreboard and in the locker room.
The Hurricanes continued to flourish but didn’t have any luck getting back to the finals. After the 2003-04 season, Carolina captain – and future Hall of Famer – Ron Francis decided to call it a career and the Hurricanes officially passed the torch to Brind’Amour, naming him captain before the 2005-06 season – the prior season was lost thanks to a lockout.
In his first season as captain, Brin’Amour led the franchise to its only Stanley Cup, after the ‘Canes beat the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. Brind’Amour was fantastic during the run, doing whatever it took to try and earn his team the win. After finishing the regular season with 70 points, he tacked on another 18 during Carolina’s 25 postseason games, though it was his defensive play that was really getting him noticed on the national level. He received the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward that season and won it again the following year.
All the hard work had finally paid off for the man that had earned the nickname “Rod the Bod” over the years due to his intense and frequent work out regiments. He had a body that was chiseled, though he was more famous for his nose, a honker that was broken more times than he could count. The Stanley Cup ensured Brind’Amour’s place in team history – and that he’d always be treated as a folk hero.
Two years later, Brind’Amour, known for being injury-proof, tore his ACL during a February contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 37-year-old wasn’t ready to hang his skate up and instead decided to go through a lengthy rehabilitation assignment. He would return the following season, putting up 51 points in 80 games. As his career was on the downward decent, Brind’Amour remained a fan-favorite and gave it his all, but the team decided to pass the “C” to young-gunner Eric Staal, giving him the captaincy on Jan. 20, 2010. It marked the unofficial end of an era for Brind’Amour and the ‘Canes. Following the 2009-10 season, Brind’Amour called it quits ending a career that spanned over 21 seasons. He finished with 452 goals and 732 assists in 1,484 games.
The sellout crowd of 18,680 on hand to watch the banner raising had a significant amount of Flyers fans who wanted to pay homage to a player that had become almost as much of a fan favorite in Philadelphia as he was in Raleigh. Though while Philadelphia fans were left wonder what could have been, Carolina fans were celebrating what had been. It was the third number the Hurricanes retired, with Ron Francis in 2006 and Glen Wesley in 2009 coming before him.
Players like Brind’Amour, who give the game everything they have, are as much a rarity now as they were when he hoisted the Cup. Carolina was in need of a player that could get the franchise off the ground – what they got was a lot more.