he game was over, the Blues had won and the Boys of Winter were unwinding in the shower or relaxing in the whirlpool. But not second-year center Rod Brind'Amour. Nicknamed ''Nitro'' and ''Rod the Bod'' by teasing teammates, Brind'Amour cooled off from the heat of battle by twisting on the floor of the locker room with light weights.
He is a fitness freak, a hard-driven perfectionist fueled by lots and lots of exercise. ''Everybody has a vice,'' observed right wing Brett Hull, Brind'Amour's linemate and alter ego. ''For some people it's drinking. For some, it's listening to music. For some, it's weightlifting.''
The Blues media guide lists weightlifting as Brind'Amour's hobby, though he professes a recreational interest in water skiing, baseball and basketball. He enjoys competition. ''I wish he would mellow out,'' Hull said. ''I tell him, 'You're too young. You're going to die. You're going to kill yourself. He's too young to be so intense. I can't play the game that intense. If I don't go out there loose and relaxed, I can't get anything done.''
But Brind'Amour's keen focus has carried him to the brink of National Hockey League stardom at the age of 20. ''He's pretty intense,'' said Blues defenseman Jeff Brown, who boards Brind'Amour during the season in St. Louis. ''He's one of those guys who, on game day, has his game face on. He stays that way pretty much the whole season. He's dedicated. That's just Rod. There's nothing wrong with that. He's a quiet guy. He's a nice guy, just a little quieter than a lot of guys.''
He is not a big teller of jokes or needler of teammates. He never clowns around during games. And unlike a high percentage of National Hockey League players, he does not enjoy the taste of beer after a big tilt. ''I'll have the odd one when I go out with some old friends,'' Brind'Amour said. ''I guess you acquire a taste for beer. Fortunately, I haven't.'' Does this guy ever loosen up? ''We were playing ping-pong last night and after I put a clinic on him, we laughed about it,'' Brown said. ''But it's a little different playing Nintendo baseball or whatever and playing your profession''
Blues' general manager Ron Caron was asked if he could have imagined such maturity from Brind'Amour two years after drafting him. ''In 1990, our civilization is so loose and music dictates the tempo of life . . . the answer is no,'' Caron said. ''It is very unusual.''
Bob Brind'Amour, a pipe fitter at a British Columbia mill, said his son Rod was wound more tightly than his schoolboy rivals. ''He's had that attitude from Day One,'' Bob said. ''I remember one time he was about 12 years old and he was running track and field. He had inflamed Achilles tendons but he beat everybody in a race. He had tears from the pain, but he wouldn't quit. My heart went out to him. He won the race and he was hurting. ''The guy was just 12 years old.''
What gives? ''I guess I've always been a little competitive, especially when I was younger,'' Brind'Amour said. ''A lot of kids are in athletics to have fun. I always wanted to win. I got that from my dad. That's the way he is. My father really helped me. He coached me when I was young. He instilled the discipline, gave me the fundamentals. But he never told me I couldn't do what I wanted to do. If I wanted to play hockey, that was great. If not, it was OK. He was always there to support me.''
And, occasionally, he was there to tell Rod to chill out. ''One time I had shin splints real bad,'' Brind'Amour said. ''My dad came out and said, 'What are you doing?' I was in a lot of pain, but I didn't feel I could make it any worse. I was going away to school and it was something I felt I had to do to stay in shape. I guess it was kind of stupid.''
Brind'Amour left his home in Campbell River, B.C., at 15 to attend prep school at the Notre Dame academy in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. There, he led the school to a Canadian junior hockey title, earned a scholarship to Michigan State and caught the eye of the Blues, who drafted him ninth overall in the 1988 draft.
At Notre Dame, hockey players mostly practiced, trained, studied and worked in the kitchen. A glamorous life it wasn't, but Brind'Amour enjoys a boot camp more than the next guy. ''That was probably the best move I ever made, going there,'' he said. ''I wanted to concentrate on hockey and school. They have great coaching, great facilities. There are no distractions there.'' Indeed not, said Blues goaltender Curtis Joseph, a fellow alum of the rural Saskatchewan school. ''You had to be pretty disciplined or you didn't last there,'' Joseph said. ''Nobody was treated differently.''
At Notre Dame, the determined Brind'Amour found security and a sense of purpose in his training routine. ''That's when I really started lifting weights, when I was 15,'' he said. ''I feel more effective if I do a little extra work. My life almost revolved around it since I started training. It's what you do, it kind of shapes your life.'' Naturally, Brind'Amour fell in love with the weight training facilities at Michigan State. ''Everybody knew he was one individual who worked hard whether he was on the ice or in the weight room,'' Michigan State coach Ron Mason said. ''I talked to him numerous times about not overdoing it, in the weight room especially. He drove himself to perfection and would wear himself out. We wanted him to lighten it up a little bit during the season.''
Still, Brind'Amour built a torso of which a National Football League fullback would be proud. He stands out in the locker room, so much so that some quizzical hockey writers wonder if he experimented with steroids. ''That's a joke,'' Brind'Amour said. ''Nobody has ever asked me that seriously. That's ridiculous. I've been tested like everybody else. In college, I was tested like everybody else.''
After scoring 59 points in 42 games as a Michigan State freshman, Brind'Amour turned pro for the 1989 playoffs and scored on his first NHL shot on goal. Last season he played left wing on the Adam Oates-Paul MacLean line, scored 61 points and made the NHL's all-rookie team. ''Last year we said we didn't want Roddy to be a game-breaker for us, scoring lots of goals and making the fantastic rushes,'' Blues coach Brian Sutter said. ''We never expected that.'' Now he is back at his accustomed center position, working with Hull and left wings Geoff Courtnall or Gino Cavallini.
He is a rare prospect, a strong center capable of plowing through the middle of the attacking zone on offense and smothering would-be scorers on defense. So far this season, he has scored just a goal and four assists in 10 games. ''This year, we don't expect him to be a ball of fire at center, scoring lots of points,'' Sutter said. ''We don't expect it to happen overnight. It's something that would have been easier had he stepped in and played center right away, instead of playing left wing last year.
''As a left wing, sometimes it's nice to have the boards there. You can get killed into the boards - that's the bad thing - it's nice to have something in front of you. ''Center is a tough position to play. We give a lot of defensive responsibility to our centers in our own zone. We want them in deep. We want to outnumber teams on the puck. He's got to be the second guy on the puck for us. ''You need people who can get the puck . . . and he is very capable when he gets it. He is very, very strong with the puck. He plays well in traffic. He may not have the speed and all the moves of (Blackhawks sophomore Jeremy) Roenick, but he gives you a lot of other dimensions.''
Brind'Amour, of course, isn't satisfied to be a strong defender capable of scoring some goals. He wants to be a wheel in the NHL, for the satisfaction of it, not the glamour. So when Brind'Amour is in a scoring slump (like now), he anguishes over every muffed shot or pass. ''He has to learn to relax,'' Caron said. ''He is so strong-minded when it comes to his goals. He has his own methodology on how he wants to succeed. He will accept any amount of responsibility. He has to learn to adapt . . . and not put too much strain on himself. He should know that management and the coaches have the ultimate confidence in him.''
Last season, Brind'Amour was so distraught over a prolonged goal-scoring slump that Sutter benched him to relax him. ''Everybody knows that last year I went through a stage where my confidence level was evaporating,'' he said. ''As far as the offense goes, I was about useless. I hadn't scored in 18 games. I was about a basket case as well.'' And now? ''We're winning now, and it makes it a lot easier,''Brind'Amour said. ''I'm not getting a lot of points right now on offense, but the chances are there. Hull is going to get a lot of chances regardless. ''I think I'm getting more comfortable there. I just try to look at it like after every game, I've got to start all over.''
This mindset is something he has to work on. ''I don't think I'm too serious,'' Brind'Amour said. ''I did have to learn not to take everything home with me. I have to learn not to dwell on what happens.'' All in all, Sutter wishes there were more guys like him. ''Some guys are like that, you have to loosen them up a little bit,'' he said. ''But you like to have players like that once in a while.''
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