Truth-telling time: Rod Brind’Amour is my favorite hockey player of all time.
As a kid growing up in New England, less than an hour from the Hartford Civic Center and surrounded by Boston sports fans, I rooted for neither the Whalers nor the Bruins.
I was a Flyers fan.
That started with Brian Propp and Tim Kerr scoring goals and Ron Hextall stopping pucks (and doing other things, too). And when the next wave of Flyers legends came through — the Crazy Eights Line and then the Legion of Doom, both anchored by Eric Lindros — it was No. 17 who drew my admiration.
Brind’Amour had the do-everything skill and mentality that I seemed to look for in my baseball heroes. Ken Griffey Jr., Ozzie Smith and Ken Caminiti were all as likely to dazzle you in the field as they would at the plate or on the base paths, and I was as interested in seeing Brind’Amour take a key defensive zone shift as I was watching him score on the power play.
We both arrived in Raleigh at the same time. Brind’Amour was traded to the Hurricanes on Jan. 23, 2000, just over two months after I drove down — on my 23rd birthday, March 24 — to start my life in North Carolina’s capital with my fiancee, now wife.
My best friend and college roommate — who was an even bigger hockey fan than me — moved to Raleigh in 2002, and we started going to games together. In 2005, on some semblance of post-college solid financial footing, we got nosebleed Hurricanes season tickets as the NHL came out of its season-canceling lockout.
By then, we had both shed our allegiances — mine as a Flyers fan, his as a lifelong Islanders fan — to root for the hometown team (something I’d never done in my life in any sport, by the way), and we couldn’t have picked a better season to fully invest.
The 2005-06 season was magical, from the unlikely Martin Gerber/Cam Ward tandem in net and additions of crafty veterans Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney to the emergence of Eric Staal and Erik Cole as superstars.
But again, it was Brind’Amour that captivated me. A longtime alternate captain (behind Lindros in Philadelphia and Ron Francis in Carolina), it was the first time he wore the “C” full time in the NHL.
Yes, he piled up points (70 that year) and won the first of two consecutive Selkes as the league’s top defensive forward that year, but it was the way he led — he willed — the Hurricanes through the regular season and playoffs, all the way to the Stanley Cup, that represented everything Brind’Amour was about his entire career.
Maybe this is a love letter to my younger self and not a valid explanation of why Brind’Amour should be announced as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame later today. The numbers and accolades are there: 452 goals, 1,184 points, the best faceoff man of his era, two Selkes, and captain of Stanley Cup-winning team.
What I do know is someone I admired from afar for a long time — and he’s only about seven years older than me — and gotten to know while covering this team when he was a player, assistant coach and, now, head coach is the embodiment of everything he was on the ice.
Hard-working, intense, team-first and fair.
I’ve had my fan-boy moments covering the NHL — riding the elevator with Hextall, seeing Scotty Bowman on the fifth floor of PNC Arena, walking into the TD Garden press row bathroom behind Doc Emrick, introducing my kids to Francis — but I’ve never had that with Rod.
It’s not often that your heroes turn out to be everything you expect of them. I don’t gush over Brind’Amour in press conferences or post-practice scrums because that admiration is gone. It’s not that I’m any less in awe of who Brind’Amour was as a player and what he accomplished, it’s that knowing him turns that admiration, that fandom into something even more significant — respect.
There are arguments to be made for why Brind’Amour belongs or doesn’t belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame. If we’re really out to shine a light on people that combine athleticism, competitive spirit, sportsmanship and dedication, I can’t think of anyone who emulates that better than No. 17.
It might be the teenage fan in me talking, but the truth is this: Rod belongs.