You don’t need to be an avid Carolina Hurricanes watcher to see how much fun the team is having. Maybe you took notice of their inspirational run through last season’s playoffs, or even caught a glimpse of a storm surge on a highlight reel or the now-extinct Coach’s Corner. But for those who have been following the team this season, the smiles on the bench and enthusiasm on the ice have been impossible to miss.
For the Hurricanes, it’s more than just working hard. It’s more than just hockey. The players on the team genuinely enjoy being around each other, and the chemistry they’ve developed off the ice – the culture that’s been built in the locker room – has shaped them into a better team.
The Hurricanes are a Family
The NHL regular season spans from October to April, 82 games over the course of six months. The best teams get to compete for the Stanley Cup all the way into June. With all that time playing hockey, and half of those games spent on the road, you end up spending more time with your teammates than your family.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour stresses the importance of team bonding, and the Hurricanes don’t just grasp that concept, they live it. Even new additions Ryan Dzingel, Erik Haula, Jake Gardiner and James Reimer took no time buying into the Hurricanes’ culture. The inclusive nature of Brind’Amour’s team was even cited as a specific factor in what drew them to Carolina, and inside the locker room, they believe they’ve got something special.
For many of the Hurricanes, their personalities just play well off each other. In particular, Andrei Svechnikov, Dougie Hamilton and Warren Foegele have formed a strong friendship. For the 19-year-old Svechnikov, having the green light to be himself and show a little goofiness from time to time brings the same out in those around him. Hurricanes broadcaster and host Mike Maniscalco took notice of this as well. “What it comes down to is, Andrei Svechnikov is just a really good person, and the guys like being around him,” he said.
Hamilton has become a mentor of sorts for the Russian winger. At 26 years old, Hamilton is one of the veterans on this young team, but he’s not far disposed from his rookie year either, having come into the league during the 2012-13 season. Beginning his career with the Boston Bruins, he had several role models himself who showed him the ropes and helped get him adjusted to the league.
Hamilton experienced many of the highs and lows of the NHL, having been maligned at points throughout his career with the Bruins and Calgary Flames, but he’s become like a big brother to Svechnikov as he’s helped him transition to life in North America.
Svechnikov also hit it off with Jordan Martinook last season, who was another first-year Hurricane. Martinook spent the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Arizona Coyotes, where 21-year Coyotes veteran Shane Doan took him under his wing. Having captained the Coyotes for 13 seasons, Doan was another one of the game’s finest leaders, and a huge influence in Martinook’s early development.
Just one year later, Martinook is wearing a letter for the first time in his career and is one of the guys in the pilot’s seat for the youthful Hurricanes, passing on the wisdom to guys like Svechnikov and rookie Martin Necas. Martinook proves you don’t need to be a superstar to earn respect from your teammates – not when you can bring the thunder like he can.
He’s like 12 cases of Red Bull being drank all at once. That’s what he does. He gets the guys hyped up, he gets them ready to play, because he knows exactly how special it is to be an NHL player.Hurricanes broadcaster Mike Maniscalco on Jordan Martinook
Every team has their own kind of pre-game rituals. Echoing through the arena hallways before games, you can often hear shouts of “Let’s go, Marty!” returned by Svechnikov’s “Let’s go, Doogie!” holler as the ‘Canes prepare to hit the ice. Martinook’s “Yeah, Svech!” is often the loudest, as stick taps, helmet bumps and hockey hugs go around in bunches.
The leadership core was tested early when Martinook was sidelined for five weeks after sustaining a core muscle injury just four games into the season. Without his electric personality in the locker room, the Hurricanes dropped four of their next six games.
He made his impact when he finally returned to action Nov. 16 against the Minnesota Wild. The Hurricanes hit the ice pumped with adrenaline, scoring two goals in the first six minutes of the game en route to a 4-3 overtime win. This season, the Hurricanes are 8-2-0 with Martinook in the lineup.
Brind’Amour is at the Heart of the Operation
Amidst the drama surrounding current and former NHL coaches, Brind’Amour stands out in a special way – his players love him. In fact, there’s only been good things said about Brind’Amour throughout his playing and coaching career. He’s currently in his second season as head coach of the Hurricanes following the departure of Bill Peters in April of 2018. Since his promotion from assistant to head coach, he sports a record of 61-38-8.
Hard work is the foundation of Brind’Amour’s methods, both as head coach and captain. One of the biggest staples of his leadership style is his emphasis on conditioning. His training routines are legendary. Even today, at 49 years old, almost 10 years since his retirement, nobody trains harder than the man they nicknamed ‘Rod the Bod.’
Leading by example through his own habits, Brind’Amour instilled the same hardworking attitude in his players, and it’s become a distinct characteristic of his team. The Hurricanes are a high-speed, hard forechecking team that rarely takes a shift off. Brind’Amour and the coaching staff have trained their players’ endurance to levels that carry their legs through the heavy stretches of the hockey season.
Last season, in their grueling first-round series against the Washington Capitals, that went to a Game 7 double overtime, the Hurricanes were the team that kept pushing and dominated play in the fifth period while the Capitals were running on empty. Two days after they won that game, they were back on the ice in Brooklyn, where they grinded out a 1-0 overtime win against the New York Islanders. Carolina won the next three games, completing the sweep before finally running out of steam against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final.
In some ways, Brind’Amour is more captain than coach. He recognizes he has to be the guy who wears the suit, but he understands the value of creating bonds with his players. What’s unique about Brind’Amour’s playing career was his versatility in playing different roles and situations. Those experiences allow him to connect on a personal level with every brand of player on his team – from the Svechnikovs to the Jordan Staals, to the Brock McGinns.
“He has been everything in this league that those guys want to be. He’s been a captain – he’s been a captain of a Stanley Cup championship team. He’s been a guy who’s played in all-star games. He’s played in Olympics, he’s played in the [World Cup of Hockey] back in 1996. He’s been a top-line player and a goal scorer. He’s been a defensive forward. He’s been a fourth-line player in his career eking out minutes at the end. He can relate to all these guys and it’s not just hot air.”Hurricanes broadcaster Mike Maniscalco on Rod Brind’Amour
Last season, the partnership between Brind’Amour and captain Justin Williams boosted the Hurricanes to a long-overdue awakening. In the locker room, it was Williams’ job to relay the coach’s message to the group, but also to know he could go to Brind’Amour if something needed to change. Brind’Amour is the kind of coach who goes beyond lip service when his players come to him – he actually listens them. It’s just one of the many ways he develops a mutual respect with his players.
If the Hurricanes could have Williams back in their locker room tomorrow, they’d have him. The decision is his, while he ponders whether to return to the team later in the season, but in the meantime, the heirs to the captaincy remain strong. And maybe somewhere down the line, Sebastian Aho, with his contagious ultra-competitiveness, could be the next to inherit the ‘C’.
Learning to Live in the Moment
As years go by, expectations rise, and that’s no different for the Hurricanes, as they’re looking to build on last season’s achievements. But with all the stress of performing up to expectations, one of the messages the head coach sends to his players is to spend more time in the moment. “[Brind’Amour] said that he wished he had enjoyed it more when he was playing,” said Maniscalco.
“When those guys look around at him, see what he’s done, and see his number is in the rafters here – and he’s the reason why they’ve got a Stanley Cup championship in Carolina. When he says you’ve got to have more fun, you’ve got to enjoy this game because it goes by fast, that carries a lot of water.”
They’re a bit more talented on paper this season but that doesn’t mean the foot is off the gas. They have Aho, Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen, who are all high-end talents, but they don’t have the luxury of a Connor McDavid, or a Sidney Crosby, or a Nathan MacKinnon. There isn’t any one guy to carry the load and rely on, which means nobody gets a night off and everybody has to pull on the rope.
But that also means the unlikeliest of players can become heroes – like Foegele scoring clutch goals in last year’s playoffs, or McGinn’s Game 7 double-overtime goal against the Capitals.
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This season, we’ve seen teams like Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, and the pre-Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs muddle in disappointment. You can have the high-end talent, but locker room harmony is the essence of a strong hockey team. If you have the right kind of guys, with personalities that naturally mesh, the game becomes fun again, and right now in Raleigh, hockey is alive.