RALEIGH, North Carolina — Rod Brind’Amour was one season into his 21-year NHL playing career in 2011 when he decided to try his hand at coaching. At 41, the former Carolina Hurricanes captain stepped behind their bench to assist Paul Maurice, his coach for seven of his 10 seasons here.
“I just remember seeing him do, say, ‘I’ll never be a coach’ because he’s here in his way of thinking,” Brind’Amour said, raising her hand above her head. “I was like, ‘Oh man, if it has to be like this, I probably can’t do it.’ But I found a different way to do it.”
When the Hurricanes take on the Florida Panthers of Mauritius in the Eastern Conference Finals, both coaches will bring more than just personal familiarity to the series. Each has earned his stature as one of the NHL’s top coaches.
Brind’Amour, 52, led Carolina to the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of his five seasons and advanced to the first round four times. Maurice, 56, in his first season with the Panthers, coached 1,766 regular season games, the fourth in NHL history. In 2002, he guided the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost in five games to the Detroit Red Wings. Then, in the first season of a second stint with Carolina, he took the Hurricanes to the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, where they were swept in four games by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now in his 25th season as an NHL coach, Maurice will be in his fourth conference final; his Winnipeg Jets lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
“There’s a reason it lasted so long,” Brind’Amour said. “Obviously he’s one of the best.”
Hurricanes ahead Paul Stastny has a good feeling for both coaches. He played for Maurice with the Jets the previous two seasons and in 2017-18.
“I think Rod does a good job of motivating in the sense of trying to tie everything together in the team aspect or the family aspect, or even trying to enjoy the game,” Stastny said. “He probably learned that from Paul because he’s really good at it. Paul has a good perspective on everything. He’s been in the game for so long.”
The Carolina coach readily admits learning those skills from Maurice.
“He always knew how to say the right thing,” said Brind’Amour. “What amazed me was that coaching is about saying the same things every night, but you have to find a different way to say it. He was really good at that.”
Maurice anticipated Brind’Amour’s training success even before his apprenticeship in Carolina. The former captain’s work ethic was particularly evident for Maurice in the hours after games.
“(As coaches) we get to the rink early and leave late,” Maurice said. “And after every game, it’s midnight, you go out, he’s still in the gym. That’s who he was as a player. He put in an incredible time and then when he decided to be a coach, he just putting that time into training. So he was going to be very successful.”
Brind’Amour’s playing days revealed other ideas to Maurice outside the rink.
“He was a calm player. Very intense, not very talkative,” said the Florida coach. “We were in Calgary, and he got an award for some of the charity work he did. He got up and accepted it and gave a speech, and it was spectacular. no idea he was such a good speaker. So public speaking is part of the job. You knew he had hockey his whole career and he had the work ethic, absolutely. But being able to communicate an idea is important and he’s really good at it.
Although the two coaches have learned a lot about each other, it will soon be time to put aside their admiration for each other.
“I don’t want to be sitting here throwing a love party. I have to beat him,” Brind’Amour said with a smile. “Everyone was waiting [the Panthers] be where they are. It just took them a little while to figure it out.”
The Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the NHL’s best record last season, were the second wild card in the Eastern playoffs this season. The Hurricanes finished first in the Metropolitan Division.
The teams have met three times in the regular season; Florida beat Carolina 3-0 on November 9, but lost 4-0 on December 30 and 6-4 on April 13.
Maurice is trying to lead Florida to its first Cup final since 1996, when it was swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
“They have a very good team,” Maurice said. “So it’s going to be exciting, fast-paced hockey. Yeah, it’s a special place. It’s like an eternity ago, so there’s not the same connection over time. [PNC Arena] is a tall building. It’s a noisy building.”
Regardless of how the series plays out, the coaches’ shared history seems to have a bearing on the outcome.
“When I was in Winnipeg, Paul always liked the way Carolina played — or hated the way Carolina played because they’re tough to play against,” Stastny said. “Paul was always trying to put this system in place when I was in Winnipeg. Sometimes it’s difficult because you have to have the right people and everyone has to buy in.
“But I think both coaches admire each other and the way the other plays. They are two guys who are held in high regard in the hockey world.
Alain Poupart, freelance correspondent for NHL.com, contributed to this report