Flyers great Rod Brind’Amour’s case for the Hockey Hall of Fame
The former Flyer "checks every single box," but he has yet to make the Hall. Those who know him best want that to change.
In the aftermath of the Buffalo Sabres’ 4-1 series trouncing of the Flyers in the 1998 Eastern Conference quarterfinals — the first time in five meetings that the Sabres beat the Flyers in a playoff series — general manager Bobby Clarke decided defenseman Chris Therien needed to step up his offseason training.
With an assist and a minus-1 rating through five games, Therien admitted he didn’t have his best series. “Nobody really did,” he said. But that didn’t prevent Therien from becoming a target of Clarke’s ire.
“He said, ‘If I were Therien, I would tie myself to Rod Brind’Amour’s weight belt and hang around him all summer,’” Therien said. “I actually kind of did. But I always did. I worked hard in the summer. You can’t not work hard when you’re there with Rod Brind’Amour.”
When Therien joined the Flyers in the summer of 1994, he found Brind’Amour toiling away in the weight room of the Coliseum, the Flyers’ training facility in Voorhees. Every summer, Therien joined Brind’Amour for his daily hour-and-45-minutes sessions in which the Flyers’ two-way center who averaged nearly a point per game through eight-plus seasons in Philadelphia led a master class in pain.
Together, they rode stationary bikes for an hour with the resistance resembling a slog through quicksand. They powered through sets of bicep curls, Brind’Amour breathing down Therien’s neck between each one, ensuring that Therien wouldn’t waste a moment in an effort to minimize recovery time.
“He was a machine and a guy that I’m really, really glad I had an opportunity to play with because you learn really quick what hard work and determination and dedication, how far it’ll get you,” Therien said.
Brind’Amour’s tireless effort translated from the gym to the ice, as he went on to have a 20-year NHL career, 10 of which he spent with the Carolina Hurricanes. Following his trade from the Flyers to the Hurricanes for Keith Primeau on Jan. 23, 2000, Brind’Amour earned two Selke trophies (2005-06, 2006-07), a Stanley Cup as captain in 2006, and saw his No. 17 retired in Raleigh after playing 1,484 games in the league.
But the ultimate accolade — a Hockey Hall of Fame nod — eludes Brind’Amour, 51, now in his fourth season as coach of the Hurricanes, whose scheduled Tuesday game against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center was postponed late Monday night due to COVID issues affecting the Flyers.
The Hall of Fame snub is confusing to his former teammates.
“He’s the guy that got out of the game everything that he put into it,” Therien said. “A Stanley Cup winner, the captain of that team, has gone on to coach guys and to have great respect and they play tremendous hockey for him because of who he is. To go to the Hall of Fame, I appreciate every guy that’s gotten into the Hall of Fame, but there are players that are in the Hall of Fame that have gotten in before him that never should have.”
Former Flyers forward Keith Jones could tell Brind’Amour was built for the game when he played against him in college for the first time.
Brind’Amour, an Ottawa native who played for Michigan State, and Jones, a Western Michigan product, were freshmen in 1988. As an 18-year-old, Brind’Amour was exceptionally productive, notching 59 points (27 goals, 32 assists) through 42 games for the Spartans.
“He was miles ahead of me already,” Jones said. “He was already one of the strongest players on the ice, which is unusual in college. Normally, the juniors and seniors are the big, strong guys, but he was extremely hard to knock off the puck.”
After his first year at Michigan State, Brind’Amour left for the NHL and joined the St. Louis Blues, who drafted him ninth overall in 1988. He played his first game in Game 5 of the Norris Division semifinals, and scored on his first shot. Brind’Amour put up 26 goals in his first full season with the Blues the next year, ranking third on the team, and was selected to the All-Rookie Team that season.
Following Brind’Amour’s trade to the Flyers after the 1990-91 season, he established a reputation as a strong two-way center in the NHL, which culminated in his Selke trophies as a Hurricane. Still, as the second-line center behind Eric Lindros on the depth chart, Brind’Amour never lost his scoring touch.
“Equally as dedicated as playing the game defensively, but also cognizant of the fact that he had to produce,” Jones said. “In a production-based industry where points matter, whether they’re goals or assists, he would be extremely hard on himself if those points, those goals weren’t coming.”
Among NHL forwards who have played at least 1,400 NHL games, Brind’Amour ranks 26th in points (1,184). Of the 25 players ahead of him, 22 are in the Hall of Fame, and the other three are not yet eligible for induction (Jaromír Jágr, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau).
Brind’Amour’s Hall of Fame case received a boost when center Guy Carbonneau, lauded for a similar two-way game throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, was inducted in 2019. While Carbonneau won three Selke trophies and three Stanley Cups as a member of the Montréal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars, he didn’t achieve a similar scoring pace (663 points, 1,318 games) to Brind’Amour’s.
“Everybody had hyped [Carbonneau] up so much about the job he did defensively in his career that it carried water all the way through for him,” Therien said. “Brind’Amour was a guy that played pretty good defensive hockey, was an excellent faceoff guy, penalty killer, and he put up the amount of points he did. Over a thousand. That’s no-brainer Hall of Fame credentials.”
Ten years before 19-season NHL veteran Justin Williams became Brind’Amour’s teammate in Carolina, Williams formed his first impression of Brind’Amour at the age of 12 while watching him play for the Flyers on television.
Williams recalled Brind’Amour’s distinct face and physique. “He’s got that nose that’s been broken a million times,” said Williams, now the Hurricanes’ special adviser to the general manager. “He’s got the ‘Rod the Bod’ mantra that seems to follow him around because it’s fact.”
Of course, he had an equally distinct last name — “There’s no one else with the last name Brind’Amour,” Williams said. “There’s Willamses all over the place.”
But Williams quickly learned that there was much more that made Brind’Amour unique besides his physical appearance and the near point-per-game pace he established in Philadelphia. In the locker room, Brind’Amour separated himself as a “quiet leader” with a knack for reflecting and gathering information, capable of speaking from the heart and resonating with his teammates.
“When someone walks into a room and everything stops, the music stops and everything, he had that about him,” Williams said. “That it was time to listen because something good’s going to come out of that mouth.”
Prior to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, then-Carolina coach Peter Laviolette canceled his team meeting in favor of letting Brind’Amour, his captain, relay the final message before hitting the ice against the Edmonton Oilers. The Hurricanes were up 3-1 in the series and lost the next two games. Brind’Amour encouraged the team to have a short collective memory and focus on the task at hand.
“Everything that needed to be said was going to be said by Rod,” Williams said. “That was kind of an impactful moment, talk that he gave us all. That was one of the things that I reflect and I remember most about him is being the leader at that point that we needed.”
When Williams became captain of the Hurricanes for the 2018-19 season with Brind’Amour as head coach, he patterned his leadership after the coaches, teammates, and other important figures he’d come in contact with throughout his career. When it came to Brind’Amour, Williams admired “the whole package,” from how he was always there for the players to how he perfectly conveyed his messages.
Even now, while Williams coaches his kids in youth hockey, he finds himself incorporating Brind’Amour-isms in his own messages. One of Williams’ personal favorites, “Never take a breath out there,” reminds his kids to never relax on the ice, because that one breath will be the one that hurts you.
“He’s just a guy, and that’s what he says, he’s just a guy, but he just seems to do everything right,” Williams said. “He wants to make everybody around him better and doesn’t stand for mediocrity. I think that’s a really good lesson to have is be your best, always try to be your best, and if you’re not, that’s a you problem.”
This year, the 18-person Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee will usher in a new group of honorees after the 2021 class wasn’t selected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo, and Henrik Zetterberg are among the male players vying for a spot in their first year of eligibility.
Brind’Amour already attained immortality in the Flyers Hall of Fame and in the hearts of those he influenced throughout his playing and coaching career. Maybe Brind’Amour will finally achieve it in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Stanley Cup? Check,” Williams said. “Over a thousand points? Check. A thousand games? Check, got it. Major awards? Yep, got it. Selke. He just checks every single box. To me, I can’t fathom why he wouldn’t be in there yet. I would hope it happens real soon, because it’s long overdue.”