SUNRISE, FLA. – Andrew Brunette has held a variety of titles in hockey since retiring as a player, going behind the bench as an assistant coach and taking a bird's-eye view in management.
Now, he has a new role: interim head coach of the Panthers.
"I've done everything," Brunette said. "When I was upstairs, you miss the grind. You miss the guys. You miss the competition. So, I think those are things I wanted to try, and I had an unbelievable opportunity here with a great team. I've enjoyed every second."
Brunette took over last month after Joel Quenneville resigned amid the fallout from an investigation into a sexual assault case involving the Chicago Blackhawks when Quenneville was their coach.
Before then, Brunette had served as Florida's assistant coach since joining the team in 2019 after a lengthy run with the Wild that included him working as an assistant coach and assistant general manager.
"He's such a smart person and personable and takes command of the room," captain Jared Spurgeon said. "You could definitely see it, his knowledge for the game watching him play, and I was fortunate enough to play with him for my first year and to see how he worked around the ice.
"The first year, he would take me aside and tell me little things, just stuff he had learned throughout his career. You could definitely see that."
The 48-year-old Brunette's most memorable contribution to the Wild, however, came as a player.
He scored the overtime goal in Game 7 against the Avalanche during the first round of the playoffs in 2003 to seal the Wild's first series victory. Overall, through six seasons during two stints, the fan favorite recorded 119 goals and 202 assists for 321 points in 489 regular-season games.
"It's nostalgic," Brunette said about coaching against the Wild. "I spent a huge portion of my life in that organization with those people, and there's always some emotion, for sure."
Before puck drop Saturday at FLA Live Arena, Brunette visited with Wild coaches and staff members. He has also kept up with how the players are doing.
"I'm extremely proud of them, to watch them grow into captains and assistant captains and to see [Joel] Eriksson Ek grow into the player he has with some opportunities," Brunette said. "When I watch the Wild when we're not playing, I'm just pretty proud to watch those guys. Their compete level is extremely high. Obviously, Dean [Evason] and his staff have done a great job there."
Evason kept what he refers to as the coaching staff's "security blanket" intact against the Panthers — the Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Marcus Foligno line that was a force last season.
"They feel comfortable with each other," Evason said. "You know what you're going to get."
Together, the three are the Wild's grittiest trio but Greenway already had an edge to his game before the reunion — since he returned from injury earlier this month, what Evason described as playing "with a bur."
"I wasn't too worried about the ankle injury," Greenway said. "I always say I want to put an emphasis on being more physical. But I felt like I want to do it a lot more, my No. 1 focus point has been being more physical. Usually, I think about it, but it's not No. 1 on my priority list. It has been lately."
Victor Rask remained in the lineup after a three-point performance in the 7-2 win over the Stars on Thursday in which he scored and added two assists.
Before that game, Rask sat four in a row as a healthy scratch.
"Rasky played with urgency," Evason said. "He got up and down the ice and checked very well. He put pressure on people in the neutral zone, had a good stick. He did a lot of good things in a lot of areas besides the offensive zone."