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Andrew Brunette finds his way - quite fittingly - behind the bench of the Nashville Predators

Nashville is the perfect fit for Andrew Brunette - though truth be told, it would take some time for his specific post-playing days pathway to garner some clarity.

Just a decade removed from suiting up for his 1,110th and final NHL game at the tail-end of the 2011-2012 campaign, the man who spent the greatest portion of his career (489 games) with the Minnesota Wild is now convinced more than ever that his happy place his firmly entrenched behind the bench.

"I knew that I wanted to be part of the game but I didn't think coaching would be the avenue I would take," confessed the 50 year-old graduate of the Valley East Minor Hockey Association system, thinking back on his earliest visions of life once his playing days were done.

"I kind of envisioned myself as more of a builder, ideally in some kind of managerial role with the ultimate goal of being maybe a general manager."

Still, Brunette acknowledged that for as long as he was in a dressing room, enjoying the day to day banter that comes part and parcel of the lifestyle that is to be a professional hockey player, these ponderings were far more in the mode of a passing thought than any serious potential career analysis.

"We obviously don't really know what we're doing early in our (playing) careers," said Brunette. "When you hit mid-thirties, you start to think a little bit after that - but I honestly thought management was my niche, where a lot of my personality traits would fall."

Even as the twilight of his time on the ice merged with the NHL lockout of 2012-2013 and chaos reigned far more supreme than careful planning, Brunette was seemingly destined for a role in NHL upper management, latching on initially as a special advisor to Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher.

"I thought it was a great opportunity," said the man who was named this summer as just the fifth head coach in the franchise history of the Nashville Predators.

"I jumped in and really enjoyed it," added Brunette. "Chuck was phenomenal at letting me see the whole business, sitting in with agent meetings and draft meetings and free agency and coaching meetings."

"He let me see everything."

But with upheaval hitting the Wild the following season, Brunette was beckoned to lend a hand to head coach Mike Yeo, specifically providing valuable input in the finer details of play with the man advantage and various other offensive components of the game.

Another short stint in Minnesota in a non-coaching role (ass't GM / Player Personnel) in the ensuing years left Brunette with at least as many questions as answers.

"It's not easy to find exactly what you're looking for," admitted the highly engaging conversationalist. "I was 46 and at an age where I thought it might be coaching."

Though not 100% convinced, Brunette had seen the signs, felt the urgings that might pull a hockey individual one way or another.

"When you're in management, you're travelling, you're on the road a lot," he said. "You miss the connection with the game. You feel disconnected with what is happening on the ice. You feel like you have so much more to offer these kids."

It wasn't long into his new partnership as a member of the staff of Florida Panthers' head coach Joel Quenneville that Brunette confirmed to himself that the lure of coaching was more than legitimate.

"I kind of rediscovered the passion; this is what I really enjoy," he stated. "The grind of day to day, being on the ice, the highs and the lows - you feel so much closer to the game."

"All of these things I could see a lot clearer than I did when I was first in Minnesota. It was probably the proper stage of my life to really find the joy with what I am doing."

And while he fully concedes that the circumstances that led to his first head coaching role were unfortunate, that final bit of clarity was the end product, the realization that he is far more head coach than assistant.

"That's when it really came together for me; this is exactly what I want to do."

And why not?

With Brunette as head coach, the Panthers captured the Presidents Cup in 2021-2022.

A playoff performance that left everyone in Florida thoroughly disappointed meant that Brunette was on the move again last summer, this time connecting with veteran NHL bench boss Lindy Ruff in helping to mould a young and very talented New Jersey Devils' squad.

A year over year improvement of nearly 50 points by the Devils gave Brunette the leverage that he needed to garner some head coaching attention, once again, interestingly enough with the club with whom he is forever linked, the player who netted the very first goal in the history of the Nashville Predators.

Andrew Brunette is now clearly in his element.

"Being a locker room guy my whole life, the connection you have with the players, that bond through the good times and the bad times is special," he said. "Those relationships were a big part of why I liked playing the game, why I like to coach."

"I hold that very dearly."

Orendorff and Associates