Andrew Brunette acknowledges that he wasn't necessarily itching to get into the coaching ranks. But the Valley East native, who defined a 1100+ game NHL career by constantly defying the odds, wasn't about to turn down a chance to broaden his hockey horizons.
The forty-year old retired NHLer, who amazingly never played less than 77 games in any of his final 13 seasons of professional hockey, was named as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild earlier this summer.
"After playing, I wanted to see every aspect of the game, and this is giving me a chance to see the coaching side," noted Brunette recently, attending one of his niece's soccer games at the James Jerome Sports Complex.
Splitting the 2013-2014 season between his role as scout, hockey advisor and assistant coach, Brunette spent many games in the press-box, providing another set of eyes for Mineesota head coach and North Bay native Mike Yeo.
While he is only just beginning to wade into the coaching waters, Brunette is confident in his ability to provide some tangible help to the Wild. "I think that sharing some of the gifts that I had as a player, helping the younger kids develop into better hockey players," he said.
"Obviously, I feel that technically, I have a lot to offer, having played for some real good coaches over my career - Jacques Lemaire, Joel Quenneville, Barry Trotz - I've been able to learn a lot and soak it all in while I was playing."
Although he admitted that he and Yeo were truly acquaintances only throughout much of his playing days, Brunette has no trouble pledging his complete support to the former Sudbury Wolf. "I think that his style of hockey is a lot of fun to watch," said Brunette.
"It's a lot of "push the pace", a lot of in your face hockey, which I kind of appreciate. Mike is an extremely hard working coach, very honest." Coming off a solid to impressive playoff performance, Minnesota continued to make news in the off-season, adding Thomas Vanek to the mix.
But in a Western Conference grouping that already includes the likes of the Chicago Black Hawks, St Louis Blues and Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, it's simply not easy keeping up with the "Smith's".
"I think the West is extremely tough, but I think we can compete with them, no doubt about it," said Brunette. "The teams below you are always getting better, the teams above you are adding pieces. You just want to try and get into the playoffs."
"We think we have some of the best young players in the game, and we think they proved that a little in the playoffs," Brunette continued. "We think they're only going to get better. We're excited, but it's like talking to every other team in the West."
Boasting a longetivity streak that ranks as among the most impressive in the game, Brunette actually takes even more pride in the steps that preceeded his entry to the NHL. "Being somebody that had to prove himself every step of the way, somebody who never had the easiest path," stated Brunette.
"I had to overcome a lot of people who didn't really believe in me, so that's a pretty big source of pride, that I've been able to do it my way, that I was able to prove myself at every level." It's that message that the Minnesota Wild is hoping filters through to the current crop of up and coming NHL talent as they add Andrew Brunette to the coaching mix.