Earlier this week, another ex-Capital from the 1990s hung up his skates and has taken a front office job in the NHL, joining the ranks of the many Washington players from that era who have gone on to stay in the game as coaches or executives.
Andrew Brunette announced his retirement from the NHL as a player earlier this week, nearly 20 years after the Capitals drafted him. Brunette, who totaled 268 goals and 733 points in an NHL career that spanned 1,110 games, now joins the Minnesota Wild as hockey operations advisor.
The Capitals spent a seventh-round (174th overall) draft choice on Brunette in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. “Bruno,” as he was known to his teammates, played his junior hockey for Owen Sound in the OHL. Brunette was a prolific scorer with the Platers; he totaled 51 goals and 98 points in 1991-92 and upped those numbers to 62 goals and 162 points in his draft year of 1992-93.
Brunette led the OHL in goals, assists and points that season, yet he was the 174th player drafted.
Although he continued scoring at a prolific rate as a pro in the minor leagues, it took Brunette five seasons and some NHL expansion before he was able to nail down a full-time job in the league.
Never fleet afoot, Brunette was dismissed by some coaches and organizations because he wasn’t fast or graceful and didn’t look pretty as he skated.
“I think it’s improved a lot when I first started playing in the minors, or even from juniors,” Brunette told me back in January of 1998. “I’m not too disappointed. I think I can get to where I have to go. Sometimes it doesn’t look all that pretty, but I get there.
“I don’t put myself in a footrace with anybody, but I have other attributes that help the hockey club and I don’t think you can overlook those.”
Among those “other attributes” were a great pair of hands. Brunette reached the 20-goal level six times in the NHL, and he was adept as a playmaker, too. Four times he finished with more than 40 assists.
Brunette was also as durable as they come. In 13 NHL seasons after his departure from Washington, Brunette missed a grand total of 18 games. As he headed into what turned out to be his final season in the NHL – with Chicago in 2011-12 – Brunette had played in more games (970) since the 1998-99 season than any other player in the league.
Longtime Caps fans remember Brunette’s most glorious month as a Capital fondly. It came in the middle of the team’s run to the Stanley Cup final during the 1997-98 season.
In dire need of an offensive lift shortly after what was then known as the MCI Center opened on F St., the Caps had scored just eight goals in their previous seven games and were 0-for-their-last-22 on the power play when they put out the call for Brunette in late December of 1997. The left wing had several previous trials with Washington at that point; he had yo-yo’d up and down several times by then.
Brunette ended that power-play drought with a first-period goal against St. Louis on Dec. 29, and it touched off a wild run of offense for the Sudbury, Ont. Native.
Playing on what was known as the “BOB Line” with Peter Bondra and Adam Oates, Brunette put up 11 goals and 11 assists in his first 17 games with the Caps that season. Four of those goals and three of the helpers came on the power play. Two of the goals were game-winners; two others tied the score. He scored Washington’s first goal of the game four times, and registered at least one point in 16 of those 17 games.
The Caps had gone 1-5-4 in the 10 games prior to Brunette’s recall. They were 10-4-3 in the first 17 games in which he was in the lineup.
In the month of January, 1998 only two NHL players totaled more points than Brunette. Their names were Wayne Gretzky and Paul Kariya.
But by the end of February, Brunette was back in Portland. In the summer of 1998, Predators GM David Poile – who drafted Brunette while holding the same post in Washington – claimed Brunette from the Caps in the expansion draft. Finally, with Nashville in 1998-99, Brunette spent the entire season in the NHL. His minor league days were over for good.
“It was tough on the coach because you get this kid who came up from the minors and he scores, but he looks like he’s slow as molasses,” recalls Oates. “He had a fantastic month, but you’re thinking it was fool’s gold.
“But he obviously fooled us. He played 15 more years and was obviously a very productive player in this league.”
Brunette played for Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota (twice), Colorado and Chicago during a 16-year NHL career. One of the game’s many truly good guys, he was always an eloquent quote for us media types and a great teammate wherever he went.
We wish Bruno the best in his new career in the Wild’s front office.