SUNRISE — Andrew Brunette has faced his former teams both as a player and as an assistant coach but Saturday should definitely be different as the interim head coach of the Florida Panthers leads his team against the Minnesota Wild.
Brunette spent a large chunk of his playing days with the Wild and then the next six years either behind the Minnesota bench as an assistant or in the team front office.
Last month, Brunette was promoted to replace Joel Quenneville as coach of the Panthers.
Although Brunette and the Panthers faced Minnesota both in Sunrise and in St. Paul during the 2019-20 season, this will be his first game against his old friends from the center of the bench.
“I played against them as a player when I was in Colorado, so I think that part of it is gone,” Brunette said. “I think it is different when you play than when you’re doing other things like coaching or in management. I don’t feel that same thing. It’s just a hockey game for me.
“I have been through the process of being emotional before.”
When Brunette retired as a player in 2013, he was one of the most popular players in Minnesota Wild history.
Not only did he play 489 games with the team (he ranks fifth in goals scored, sixth in points) but he scored the team’s biggest goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals in 2003 against Colorado.
Upon retirement as a player in 2013, Brunette joined the Wild front office as an advisor in the hockey operations department.
“I talked to a couple teams, but I came to the decision my heart was in Minnesota,” Brunette told Mike Russo at the time. “It just made sense to be here.”
Brunette ended up working the bench for the Wild as an assistant coach and was the team’s assistant general manager under Chuck Fletcher.
When Fletcher was fired, Paul Fenton made Brunette the team’s director of player personnel.
Fenton — who is now a senior advisor to Florida GM Bill Zito — ended up firing Brunette in 2019.
Joel Quenneville hired him in Florida soon afterward.
”There are a lot of great memories there for sure,” Brunette said. “A big part of my life was spent in Minnesota and with that organization. But this is a totally different chapter in my life and I just want to try and get our guys ready to play a hockey game.”
As for Saturday’s matchup, Florida is trying to extend its home winning streak to 10 games this season — and 15 dating back to the last one.
The Panthers have won their past two games in overwhelming fashion, beating the Islanders and Devils by a combined 10-2.
The Wild lead the Central Division and is coming off a 7-2 win against Dallas on Thursday night.
“They have been playing really good hockey,’’ Brunette said. “They are a team which really makes you earn everything you get … they are a relentless group.
“I have had the privilege to be around a lot of their players — either coaching or drafting or being on the development side. So I am very familiar and it’s nice to see some of the growth of the young guys. I’m very proud of them. Tomorrow I just hope they take it easy on us.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
MINNESOTA WILD AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- WHEN: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- WHERE: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TICKETS: CLICK HERE
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: WQAM 560
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Wild lead 18-6-2, 1 tie
- Odds via BetMGM: Florida (PL -1.5 +170) — (ML -145) — U/O 6
- Up next: Minnesota at Florida, Saturday, 7; New Jersey at Tampa Bay, Saturday, 4
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
11 Jonathan Huberdeau // 9 Sam Bennett // 10 Anthony Duclair
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
77 Frank Vatrano // 19 Joe Thornton // 74 Owen Tippett
94 Ryan Lomberg // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 70 Patric Hornqvist
52 MacKenzie Weegar // 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gus Forsling // 7 Radko Gudas
62 Brandon Montour // 44 Kevin Connauton
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
30 Spencer Knight
Scratched: Lucas Carlsson, Maxim Mamin
Injured: Noel Acciari (IR), Olli Juolevi (IR), Markus Nutivaara (IR), Mason Marchment (IR), Sasha Barkov
PROJECTED MINNESOTA WILD LINEUP
18 Jordan Greenway // 14 Joel Eriksson Ek // 17 Marcus Foligno
22 Kevin Fiala // 38 Ryan Hartman // 36 Mats Zuccarello
97 Kirill Kaprizov // 49 Victor Rask // 89 Frederick Gaudreau
21 Brandon Duhaime // 7 Nico Sturm // 16 Rem Pitlick
47 Alex Goligoski // 46 Jared Spurgeon
25 Jonas Brodin // 24 Mathew Dumba
4 Jon Merrill // 29 Dmitry Kulikov
33 Cam Talbot
34 Kaapo Kahkonen