When Rod Brind'Amour came to Raleigh just a touch more than 11 years ago, the rugged center was crushed. He was leaving Philadelphia -- the hockey mecca he had called home for more than eight seasons -- to come to a market that was in its infancy.
While never the star player on the Flyers, in many ways Brind'Amour was the face of the franchise: an old-school hockey player who looked the part of a ’70s Broad Street Bully. That's not to say No. 17 was a play-on-the-edge mauler who used physical intimidation to rattle opponents. Yes, he had his share of fights in his youth (a surprising 27 regular season tilts, plus one against Carolina's Adam Burt in the 1999 playoffs), but he was rarely, if ever, a player looking for a scrum.
That's because Brind'Amour didn't need to toss you around to intimidate you. He didn't even have to flex one of his monstrous biceps to remind you of his famously sculpted figure. Intensity simply pulsed from Brind'Amour, whether it came from a steely glare at an official, a fixed pose in the face-off circle as a linesman prepared to drop the puck, or a determination that didn't need words or bravado to be noticed.
For me, Brind'Amour was hockey. I was fortunate to see him at his professional pinnacle, raising the Stanley Cup above his head for the first time with a power that somehow made every Carolina fan in the crowd who had stood for all of Game 7 seem like they had reached a new height, like they had gone from standing to floating above their seats.
But my respect and admiration for Brind'Amour began well before June 19, 2006. The Hurricanes’ acquisition of Brind'Amour in 2000 was the tipping point for me as a fan. I had grown up in New England a Philadelphia Flyers fan, rooting on Brian Propp in a hotbed of Bruins and Whalers fans. But as the years went by, my frustration with the Flyers grew as then-GM Bobby Clarke traded away young players for quick-fix veterans.
As time passed, Brind'Amour became my favorite player. What was not to like? He scored and defended, took key faceoffs and killed penalties. He was clearly one of the game's best lead-by-example players, even if he wore an "A" while Eric Lindros sported the "C."
Brind'Amour's arrival in Raleigh coincided with my relocation to the Triangle. I was starting my adult life in a new place, away from family and friends, but a familiar face was always close by at the then-Entertainment & Sports Arena. With the arena just miles from where I lived -- a luxury I never had as a Flyers fan in Massachusetts -- I adopted the Hurricanes as my team.
It wasn't easy for me. I've always been fiercely loyal to my teams, but none (the Dolphins in football, Cardinals in baseball and Flyers in hockey) were ever right there in my back yard. I had grown to really enjoy the Hurricanes while holding on to my Flyer fandom, but when No. 17 arrived in Raleigh, I finally broke. I shed the orange and black for what, at that time, was an unknown future.
Could hockey even survive in North Carolina? Philadelphia was so rich in hockey history, while the Canes were seemingly doing everything they could to make people forget their past as the hapless Hartford Whalers, a team that was just 30 minutes from my childhood home but still mostly an afterthought to me.
And while Ron Francis' arrival in the Triangle brought legitimacy to the market, Brind'Amour's acquisition would eventually solidify it. For me, it was immediate. For others, it took seeing Carolina's captain, No. 17, stomping his feet in utter joy as he prepared to raise the trophy that had eluded him for so many years.
Most will remember Brind'Amour for those 2006 Stanley Cup moments: his Game 1 winner when he stole the puck off Edmonton goalie Ty Conklin's stick, or his performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Buffalo, and surely his boyish celebration once he got his hands on the Stanley Cup.
Brind'Amour has been asked several times this week how he wants to be remembered and, being the humble guy he is, he has shied away from giving a definitive answer. But I remember his answer when he was asked that during a 30-minute special on him Fox Sports aired after the 2006 season. He said that once a teammate had complimented him, and that's how he'd want to be remembered. He told Brind'Amour he was a good dad.
That really gets the crux of Brind'Amour. He was never one to seek out glory or praise, and he never gave anything but his best effort on and off the ice. Today the Hurricanes will retire his No. 17, which will join Francis' No. 10 and Glen Wesley's No. 2 as the only numbers retired by the team.
It's a night I've waited a long time for because I wanted to show my appreciation for Rod. Not just what he did on the ice, but the way he carried himself as a person, and also for what he did to help build a great hockey market in an unlikely place.
But I won't be there. Instead, tonight I'll be at my 7-year-old daughter's talent show where she'll play "Ode To Joy" on guitar in front of a full house at her elementary school. It won't be as packed as the RBC Center, but I'm sure it will fill me with more happiness than even seeing my favorite hockey player of all time receive the ultimate honor.
For a guy that wanted nothing more than to be remembered as a good dad, I think Brind'Amour will understand.
For more on tonight's ceremony, which will air live on NHL Network in the United States, check out Canes Country.