OTTAWA – Last night was an off-night so there was no doubt where Derick Brassard would be: Sitting at home glued to the entire 70-minute thriller between Anaheim and Nashville.
Not all hockey players are like this, especially in late May. Some prefer to leave hockey at the rink and some simply need to get away.
"There’s guys that are very good hockey players," Brassard said Friday morning, "(but) it doesn’t mean they’re really passionate about it."
He does not count himself among that group. The Ottawa Senators centre grew up the son of a former Montreal Canadiens draft pick, and Pierre Brassard tended to the local rink in the Hull neighbourhood where Derick was raised.
The game got into his blood early and never left.
"Our family is hockey, hockey, hockey," said Brassard. "I really love the game. I like watching it, I like everything around it."
Here he is now trying literally and figuratively to bring the Stanley Cup home. His parents attend every game at Canadian Tire Centre, and a bunch of his buddies get here regularly as well.
But as Brassard prepared to face Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday, he spoke of the need to stay in the moment.
"You can’t think about if we’re 3-1 or it’s going to be 2-2 after the game," he said. "You just have to turn the switch on, turn the switch off, and hope for the best."
It is a reminder that the playoff battles are contested between the ears as well as on the ice.
For Brassard will acknowledge that he was thinking ahead to what might be in the Cup final while watching the Predators and Ducks play on Thursday night. Sizing up a potential opponent, working through the pros and cons of each possible matchup, all of it.
"When I’m watching, I obviously think about that stuff," he said. "You just look at those teams, I don’t even know when the last time we played Nashville was. When’s the last time we played Anaheim? So that’s I think the hardest part – there’s no rivals there."
Still six wins from a championship, they need to finish off the Penguins first.
Occasionally, the 29-year-old is prone to reflecting on what might have been in 2014. He was a key part of the New York Rangers team that was beaten by the L.A. Kings in a five-game series where they dropped three games in overtime.
A couple different bounces and…
"I just thought that year, we played a really good team, but the first two games in L.A. we were up by two going into the third period and we kind of blew that lead," said Brassard. "You just kind of think about that and how hard it is."
It still stings to this day.
"When we lost a couple years ago, that summer, you don’t really think about it because you’re just exhausted from the season," said Brassard. "But when you get to training camp and you have to do that again and go through the season and make the playoffs and beat one team in the first round, the second round, I think that’s when you kind of realize the chance that you (had going) to the final. But I have the chance to go again so I just try to do my best."
The possibility of this kind of run was not even on Brassard’s radar when he found out he’d been traded to his hometown team last July 18. That move came with some mixed emotions. Brassard isn’t married, doesn’t have kids, and Ottawa is quite an adjustment after living in an upscale Tribeca apartment with views of the Empire State Building.
He wound up inviting teammate Ryan Dzingel to move in with him to combat the initial loneliness that came with living in a quieter, more family-focused city. Brassard certainly wasn’t dreaming about the possibility of a long playoff run while trying to fit in and find his place.
"I was just thinking about what I can do best to help them," said Brassard. "Kind of the season goes by and now we’re making the playoffs and beating good teams, we’ve got more confidence – you’re beating Boston and you’re beating New York and now we’re here – I think everyone in this dressing room is kind of realizing we can do this.
"We can beat everyone."