TAMPA, Fla. —The game starts in about five minutes. Brent Seabrook, as always, is sitting perfectly still at his locker stall, staring into nothingness, lost in thought or concentration or who knows what. Superstitions don’t have to make sense to others, they only have to make sense to you.
It’s mostly quiet in the room. Joel Quenneville already has made his pregame cameo, offering up a quick summation of the night’s strategy and rattling off the names — OK, nicknames —of the starting lineup. The only sounds are tape rolling, equipment shuffling, and maybe some players murmuring — to each other, to themselves, to nobody in particular.
“This is not like Disney, when a guy stands up in the dressing room and talks to us like we are kids,” Duncan Keith said.
Then Seabrook breaks his focus and hollers, “Here we go, Red!” or “Here we go, White!” based on the team’s jersey color that night. He strides out to the end of the tunnel that leads to ice, the last guy out for warmups, the last voice his teammates hear before they step out into the arena each game, each period —“things you probably can’t write,” Bryan Bickell said.
“He’s the last guy who you fist-bump before going on the ice,” Antti Raanta said. “And his is harder, too. You get that hard fist-bump from him, and you know you’re ready to go.”
Jonathan Toews is the Hawks captain. But Seabrook is the Hawks’ beating heart — the vocal leader, the wily veteran, the tension-breaker, the steadying hand. No, this isn’t Disney, but when someone does need to step up during an intermission when the Hawks are trailing in a big game, it’s usually Seabrook. When someone needs to lighten the mood in pressure-packed situations, it’s usually Seabrook. And when Toews famously and stunningly lost his cool in Detroit in the 2013 playoffs, taking three straight penalties, it was Seabrook who stepped into the penalty box, put his arm around Toews, and refocused him.
Seabrook often comes across as prickly and ornery to outsiders. But inside the locker room, he’s beloved, an integral part of the Hawks’ vaunted leadership group, even without a letter on his sweater. His underrated play on the ice isn’t the only reason there’s no chance of him being a salary-cap casualties this summer, despite the $5.8 million he’s due in the final year of his contract next season. The Hawks need Seabrook — on and off the ice.
“He’s a great guy to be around,” said Raanta, whose locker stall was next to Seabrook’s for most of the past two seasons. “Whether you’re a rookie or you’ve been here 10 years, he cares about all the guys. Guys love that guy. Because some days, it’s hard to get yourself ready. There’s 82 games in a regular season, and there are some days when your head’s just not there. He gets you there.”
Seabrook is enjoying another stellar postseason, with six goals and four assists heading into Saturday’s second game of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had three goals in the last four games of the Western Conference final. His triple-overtime winner in Game 4 against Nashville was his third career postseason overtime winner, further cementing him as the Hawks’ Mr. Big Shot. Often overshadowed by longtime running buddy Duncan Keith (and now by shutdown defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson), the 10-year veteran Seabrook quietly goes about his business.
OK, maybe not quietly.
“He likes to talk, which is good,” Johnny Oduya said. “We tend to maybe not talk too much, but you need a good mix, and he’s one of the guys to speak up and talk a lot. It’s nice to have.”
Seabrook’s always been a natural leader. He was captain of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes as a 17-year-old, and has learned his own lessons in leadership from longtime teammates Keith, Patrick Sharp and Toews, among others. But it’s not forced. If anything, Seabrook’s nervous energy before a game, which manifests in manifold superstitions from stick-taping to catch-phrases to his final fist-bump, compels him to be vocal. It’s as much for himself as it is for his teammates.
“I like having fun and being around the guys,” he shrugged. “It’s a fun group to be around. Whenever you’re able to help out in any way you can, you do that.”
The veterans lean on him. The young players learn from him.
“He’s a guy that’s been around a long time, and he’s won the Cup before,” David Rundblad said. “And me, especially as a D-man, I look up to him and try to learn from him. If he says something, I obviously try to do what he says.”
The captain’s “C” belongs to Toews, and will for as long as he’s with the team. And it doesn’t bother Seabrook that he doesn’t even have an “A” on his sweater — alternate captains Keith and Sharp also joined the Hawks in the 2005-06 season. Seabrook knows his role, and his teammates know his value. He’s the one who’s there to send you out on the ice, to buck you up on the bench, to bear-hug you after a win, and yeah, to deliver that big hit, block that big shot, score that big goal.
The letter doesn’t matter. The actions — and the words — do.
“Whenever he’s present in the locker room, you know,” Raanta said. “You can feel it. Of course, [Toews] is one of the leaders. But I think Seabs is an even bigger leader in our locker room. He’s the guy.”