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They are reminders of what once was for the Carolina Hurricanes and optimistic about what can be.
Rod Brind’Amour and Justin Williams won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006, Brind’Amour the strong-willed captain and Williams a spirited forward whose late goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final sealed the championship.
Williams once sat to Brind’Amour’s right in the Canes’ home locker room. He now has moved over a seat and wears the “C” as the team captain. Brind’Amour has moved down the hall, to the newly renovated office that belongs to the head coach, and still will count on Williams being his right-hand man.
As the Canes embark on a new season, beginning Thursday against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena, so much has changed. Faces in the room. Ownership. Management. Coaches.
The team even will wear Hartford Whalers jerseys in two throwback games this season, a visual tip to their past and once an unimaginable thought.
But Brind’Amour and Williams are flesh-and-blood throwbacks to the Carolina Hurricanes’ past, both using the same word — “relevant” — in describing their goal for this team, this franchise.
For both coach and captain, being relevant means not only being a playoff team again but a Stanley Cup contender again. That can only happen by a team having the right blend, the right mindset, of competing the right way each time out.
Turn back the clock. Fill the arena. Have fans eager to go to Hurricanes games again.
“We have to go out and earn this area’s trust back and turn this into a hockey town yet again,” Williams said. “I know it’s possible. I know if we win, the city will rally around it.
“There’s optimism, definitely. And that’s a good thing.”
The Canes were 5-0-1 in preseason, the only blemish a 5-4 overtime loss Sunday to the Nashville Predators in a salty game at PNC Arena. Mistakes were made and penalties taken, but Brind’Amour came away from the game liking the aggressiveness and forcefulness of his team.
“We’re playing pretty hard,” Brind’Amour said during training camp. “At the end of the day that’s what we want to get across, first and foremost. That’s the foundation.”
Behind the Nashville bench was Predators coach Peter Laviolette. Brind’Amour says he has gleaned a lot from other coaches — including former N.C. State basketball coach Sidney Lowe — but none more so than Laviolette, the Canes coach in the 2006 Stanley Cup run who made “Whatever It Takes” the team motto.
“I said all along that what he was able to do, whether by plan or it just happened, was he got everyone to believe in something that was greater than themselves and incorporate everybody,” Brind’Amour said. “Everyone had a role, everyone felt part of the group. It’s not so much about the coaching tactics or any of that. It goes really to what’s more important, which is what goes on in the locker room that ends up getting out there on the ice.
“I would say that’s the No. 1 thing I took away from Peter that I’m definitely trying to incorporate.”
Williams is a big part of that. He’s the man in the room, his finger on the pulse of the team, speaking when necessary. Offering advice, listening.
When Brind’Amour was captain in 2006, he looked around the room to see Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole and Matt Cullen, veterans all. Williams, 36, sees Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and many other 20somethings along with teenagers Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov.
“It was a different team for me and I had a lot of help,” Brind’Amour said. “I didn’t have to worry about guys being on time. There wasn’t a lot of young guys. It was a much, much different team. He’s got a way tougher job than I did, for sure.
“It’s tough. Just like coaching, you’re teaching a lot of stuff. A lot of these guys don’t understand what it’s like. They don’t understand the routine, don’t understand what goes into it. Being in the NHL, being a good NHL’er like Justin has been, is about consistency and doing it every day. I think that’s the biggest thing these kids will pick up from being around him.”
Aho, 21, now has a seat next to Williams, next to the captain.
“I’m going to follow him, watch and learn how he does things,” Aho said.
Williams has said there will be no predictions this season, not from him. The playoffs? That’s what everyone wants after a nine-year absence but there’s so much that goes into that, especially being in the Metropolitan Division, the NHL’s best.
Can goalies Scott Darling, once healthy, and Petr Mrazek get the job done? Can Aho and the Canes score enough? The real answers will start to come Thursday.
“The defense is great, the goaltending is a question mark,” NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire said this week. “They’re going to have to get run support and that’s going to be the interesting part of it.”
McGuire is a believer in Brind’Amour, in what he can achieve in his first season as a head coach.
“I think Rod is one of the guys who can communicate really well with young players,” McGuire said. “He has a real good idea for the identity he wants the team to have. That’s a real positive. When you’re a young coach you have to help create that identity, and I think he can do that.”
Play hard. Play smart. Compete. Don’t back down. Brind’Amour has constantly gotten that message across in training camp.
“Roddy has been preaching to get better, get better, get better,” Williams said.
Center Jordan Staal said Brind’Amour wants a “fast, exciting team that’s always looking for the next goal and wants to play on our toes and in your face.”
Canes fans want that, too.