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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

NC trend: Rod Brind’Amour has led a resurgent hockey powerhouse

Rod Brind’Amour

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes made the playoffs twice over the next dozen years. Attendance sagged at Raleigh’s PNC Arena, ranking second-to-last in the NHL for two years, and rumors floated that the team might leave town. Then, in 2018, the Hurricanes promoted former star and assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour to lead the team.

In the five following years, the Hurricanes have appeared in the National Hockey League playoffs every year, including two trips to the conference finals. He was named the NHL’s top coach in 2021. This past season, the Hurricanes averaged 19,526 fans per game, second behind the Montreal Canadiens, and a 47% increase from the year before Brind’Amour became coach.

Brind’Amour played 20 seasons for the St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers and the Hurricanes. He joined the Raleigh team in 1999 and captained the 2006 champions. He finished his career with 452 goals and 732 assists. He was 39 in his last season.

Leadership trainer Travis Vendeusen lauds Brind’Amour’s management style, noting he “prioritizes positivity and a growth mindset. He is always looking for ways to improve himself and his team and encourages his players to do the same.” In a study posted on LinkedIn, Vendeusen notes Brind’Amour’s communication skills and his ability to think positively when facing adversity.

Brind’Amour, 53, spoke with Business North Carolina about his evolution from player to coach and his management style. The following has been lightly edited for clarity.

As a player, did you watch the different motivational
strategies of coaches?
Obviously, you pay attention to your coach and whatever they’re asking you to do, you do. In the back of your mind, you don’t question it. When I was coming in, you didn’t buck the system. It was, “This was the way we’re doing it.” It changed later in my career. and you could go up to a coach and say, “How about we try it this way?” Now the players are much more in tune and not afraid to come up and tell you there’s a different way of doing things.

What attracted you to coaching?
I didn’t really want to be a coach. When I finished playing, I wanted to get into management and help put a team together. I was tired of the schedule, and coaching is the exact same thing. 

A year out of playing, I was in management but not really doing much, and they asked me to come back and be a part-time coach, which was really good. Unless you’re all in, you’re not really impacting the team. I think it’s what you miss when you’re not playing. The closest thing is being a coach. You’re in it for every play, just like the players. There’s nothing else that gets close.

What did you learn as an assistant coach?
I learned watching guys do it. There are different styles and definitely different ways of doing it. There’s not one way of having it done. I watched [former Hurricanes coach] Paul Maurice and said I couldn’t do it like that. Paul didn’t play, so he didn’t have a feel for the game. But then [former Hurricanes coach] Kirk Muller came in, and he was a former player and did it much differently than Paul. I took the good from each guy. But at the end of the day you have to be yourself.

What are you focusing on before a game?
The routine is you’re always preparing. As soon as a game is over, you’re looking at what you need to improve and you’re obviously looking at the next team you’re playing and making sure you’re prepared. You’re mostly focused on your players as much as possible and trying to get better each day. That’s really the No. 1 thing.

What are some of your leadership tactics?
Every day there’s stuff going on. We try to approach every day and get the most out of it and not worry about what’s going on. That’s really the secret for a long season. You have 82 games just to get to the playoffs. You can’t lose sight of the fact that you might not make the playoffs. We look for ways to keep everybody focused. You’re seeing things over and over and trying to keep the guys engaged.

What’s the most difficult thing about being a hockey coach?
Managing your own expectations and the stress. You’re expected to win every night. Even when you play great, there’s a lot of random-ness, and you sometimes don’t win. We focus all of our attention on game day. Managing that frustration and stress on the whole and not letting it get to you too much, I think that’s the toughest thing.

Do you set goals for the team?
We don’t set individual goals like I need you to score this amount of goals. It’s more focused on being consistent in trying to get better every day. It’s kind of cliche, but it’s giving our best effort every night. It doesn’t always show up on the score sheet. 

We have a major goal as a team. Our goal is to be the best team in the world. We don’t put a bunch of other goals out there.

What do you defer to the team captains?
There’s a lot of decisions that have to be made that people don’t think about. Like travel times after practice when we go to a new city. Do we want to go home after practice and get a late flight? Do we stay overnight after a game? We ask captains what they think best. If we’ve been on the road for 10 days, they may want to get home and be with
their families.

On days off, we will come in, and I will ask the captains if they need a day or two. Sometimes they know better than you do. And if you have an honest group, they will let you know. I trust them.

You’re known as an intense leader. Do you think that rubs off on the team?
You hope as a coach that whatever you’re preaching, or whatever your persona is, you hope that they take on some of that, if not a lot of that. That’s why you put your system into play and your identity. You certainly hope so.

How do you work with the general manager and owner?
Majority owner Tom Dundon and Don Waddell, the general manager, call me every day and talk about what we’re doing and my thoughts. So I am part of the management group. That’s a unique thing. Whatever is on the table, I am definitely involved. I’m pretty fortunate that way. 

Tom is the hardest-working owner in sports. There is no other person. He’s also one
of the smartest men in sports. He’s constantly questioning everything you do so he
can learn too.

Chris Roush
Chris Roush
Chris Roush is executive editor of Business North Carolina. He can be reached at croush@businessnc.com.

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