by Paul Branecky || AHL On The Beat Archive
Every National Hockey League team sends player development staff to check in on their AHL affiliates from time to time, but few, if any, can match the star power that comes to Charlotte from Carolina.
Though most have day jobs either behind the bench or in the front office, Tom Barrasso, Rod Brind’Amour, Ron Francis and Glen Wesley have all made it to Charlotte at one point or another to help run a few practices and take in a few games.
Three of those players have their numbers in the rafters of the Hurricanes’ home arena, while the fourth – Barrasso, who only played one season with the club – is in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Given that every member of that group has won at least one Stanley Cup (Barrasso and Francis have two) and was a household name while the current crop of Checkers players was growing up, it’s no wonder that their mere presence, let alone their coaching, seems to have a noticeable effect.
“It’s a star-studded group, for sure,” said Checkers forward Zach Boychuk. “It’s funny when they’re here, because guys have more jump and are staying out 10 or 15 minutes longer than they normally would.”
“You always see that in those practices,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “Guys are always a lot faster, sharper and more focused. These guys are well respected, and I’m sure the players saw them on TV before they got here.”
Friday was Brind’Amour’s turn to help run a practice, with the other three members of the group having each made stops earlier in the season. The fact that the team had his full attention wasn’t lost on him, nor was it discouraged.
“Coming down here keeps guys on their toes, or at least it should,” said Brind’Amour. “It’s not that they play any better, but more than anything it just helps them focus on the little things. You want them to become better players, and that’s the best way to do it.”
In a long season that often sees players get antsy about the fact that they aren’t in the NHL at any given moment, visits by Brind’Amour and company can also serve as peace of mind.
“It’s especially nice for the players to see that connection to the Hurricanes and know they aren’t being forgotten,” said Daniels.
Brind’Amour, now in his second season working in an off-ice role following his retirement as a player, has become something of an intermediary between the organization’s prospects and the full-time coaches at the NHL level. Given his official title of assistant coach/development coach, Checkers players know him from his visits to Charlotte, which makes things easier when they see him again once Carolina comes calling.
“It’s good working with him here, and it’s even good working with him when I’m up top,” said Boychuk, who along with goalie Justin Peters is one of two players on the Checkers’ current roster to have actually played alongside Brind’Amour. “When I’m with Carolina I talk with him every day and he gives a lot of feedback from what he sees and also from what the other coaches are seeing. I’m really comfortable with him that way.”
“When they go up they’ve got a familiar face that they can talk to, and I think that helps,” said Brind’Amour.
With such a large staff at their disposal, one might wonder why the Hurricanes’ development staff doesn’t head down more often, particularly since they all have their own area of expertise that wouldn’t necessarily overlap. For example, Barrasso and Wesley specialize in goalies and defensemen, respectively, to match their playing positions, while Brind’Amour spent time working on faceoffs with the Checkers’ centers on Friday.
Besides scheduling conflicts with the other aspects of their jobs, whether they be in coaching or management, spending time with other prospects in the junior or college ranks or the finer points of retired life (Brind’Amour was planning to spend part of his weekend coaching his son’s team in Charlotte), there’s the simple answer of not wanting to overstay their welcome. The intensity bump seen during Brind’Amour’s most recent practice, one most welcome as the team prepares for arguably its biggest two games of the season this weekend, could be seen as a novelty with the potential to fade over time.
“You don’t want to come down here all the time, because then it loses some of its effect,” said Brind’Amour. “At a certain point guys could start to tune you out, and if you’re here three or four times a month it almost becomes a distraction.”
Based on the pace of practice on Friday, the method of exposure in small doses seems to result in anything but.
“It’s a positive having them here, and the players would be foolish not to take advantage,” said Daniels.