Friday, February 18, 2011

Nothing but Brotherly Love for Rod Brind'Amour

Every Philadelphia Flyers fan that was lucky enough to witness Rod Brind'Amour's 8-plus seasons in South Philadelphia loves the guy. Brind'Amour wasn't just a fan favorite here, he was the fan favorite. Philadelphia loved him, and he loved Philadelphia right back:

"I loved my time in Philadelphia. There are certain players that play in that city that really do well and love it, and I think I was one of them. I’ve said this many times - the day I got traded from Philadelphia was one of the worst days of my career. Up until that point I bled orange and black. It was an extremely tough time for me to leave that place because I loved it so much. They’ve got tremendous loyal fans there that every player, if there’s a list of a couple teams they wish they could play on, Philadelphia's always at the top of that list because of the organization and because of the following and the reception that you get there. They keep you on your toes and they keep you honest, but they’re always there for you, and I think that says a lot about that Flyer fan base.”

The day he was traded to Carolina was an incredibly bittersweet moment. On the one hand, the Flyers got in return their future captain in Keith Primeau, a man who almost singlehandedly willed the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final but came up short as his teammates didn't give quite enough help against Tampa Bay.

On the other hand, they lost the heart and soul of the team, the guy who did anything and everything he could to win. Brind'Amour was never confused for Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr or even Eric Lindros. He wasn't going to lead the NHL in scoring, though he was no slouch offensively — seven times he scored at least 24 goals in Philadelphia, topping 30 four times, and he put up at least 74 points six times as a Flyer, including 97 in 1993-94. But he was as a good a two-way forward this league has ever seen, year in and year out worthy of Selke consideration. On the penalty kill, he was arguably the best I've ever seen — Mike Richards, Shjon Podein and anyone else you want to name included.

In the face-off circle, he was easily the best I have ever seen and there's a pretty good reason for it: He literally was one of the very best the game has ever seen, routinely winning more than 60 percent of his draws and often leading the entire NHL in face-off percentage.

But even more than his numbers, Rod Brind'Amour is one of the all-time favorites in Philadelphia because he truly embodied this city. Philadelphia is a tough, rough, blue-collar city. All they ask of their athletes is to play hard, work hard and win. Rod Brind'Amour did all those things for his entire career — from the moment he stepped foot in the Spectrum locker room until he finally hung up his skates in Carolina. His offseason workout routines were the stuff of legend, and that hard work came through out on the ice. He was dominant in face-off circle, impossible to move off the puck. He played physical. He was a defensive master, tasked his entire career with shutting down the opposition's top line. He won battles along the boards, could score, could pass, did whatever was asked of him. And his strength was almost mythical. The argument used to go that so few players fought Brind'Amour because he was perhaps the strongest player pound-for-pound in the NHL — but he certainly was willing to drop the gloves when needed.

Brind'Amour was always in motion, always working hard, always playing inspired hockey. He never took a night off, a shift off, a moment off. And really, that's all we ask. That is why even after more than decade since he last laced them up for the Flyers, he's still as beloved as anyone in this city.

When the Carolina Hurricanes made it to the Stanley Cup Final, there wasn't a Flyers fan alive rooting against them. The reason was simple: We all wanted to see Rod Brind'Amour hoist Lord's Stanley Cup, even if he couldn't do so wearing the Orange and Black. And he did it as Carolina's captain.

Tonight, the Flyers head down to Raleigh to take on the Hurricanes. And in a classy move befitting the class Rod Brind'Amour displayed during his playing days, the Carolina Hurricanes are retiring Brind'Amour's jersey with his old team in town — a team that is now coached by Peter Laviolette, the man behind the bench when Brind'Amour finally hoisted the Cup he had chased for so long.

It's not often that a player who made only one all-star game appearance in his career (in 1992, his first season as a Flyer) is so beloved in two cities. But Rod Brind'Amour is. He spent 8-plus years in Philadelphia, where he became and all-time favorite, the iron man of Flyers hockey, and then went on to play another 9-plus in Carolina, where he won two Selke Trophies as the league's best defensive forward and of course led the Canes to the Cup while wearing the C.

Tonight is going to be special for every hockey fan in Philadelphia and North Carolina, perhaps just as special as it will be for Rod Brind'Amour himself. For all the Flyers fans, all the Hurricanes fans, all the hockey fans across the globe, I just want to say thank you to Rod Brind'Amour for giving us all so many wonderful memories and for truly being the type of player and person that parents can feel proud to have their children emulate. No one deserves this recognition and adulation more.

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