A Platinum Celebration

The Carolina Hurricanes have packed a lot of pucks into 20 years

Story and photos by Dave Droschak

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I vividly recall, more than 20 years ago now, sitting at my desk one evening at The Associated Press when a colleague called over to me, “Some guy is on the phone who wants to talk to you about hockey.”

Hockey?

I picked up the phone as AP sports editor and on the other end was Hartford Whalers general manager Jim Rutherford, who wanted to discuss the possibility of the NHL team moving from Connecticut to North Carolina.

Growing up a huge hockey fan in Pittsburgh, I was thrilled by the idea as I chatted with the former NHL goalie I had once watched wearing a Penguin uniform—but when I hung up the phone, I wondered to myself, “How real could this be?”

A few months later, the Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes, stunning many hockey fans (myself included), and now, the franchise really is celebrating its 20th season in the Tar Heel State.  

The impact that the arrival of the NHL has had here can’t be stated enough, for several reasons. It ushered in an era of professional sports to an area that bleeds red and two shades of blue for its college teams, and it helped the city erect a big-time arena that is also shared with N.C. State basketball, along with major concert and entertainment opportunities.   

“The one aspect that stands out most to me is how this team brings the Triangle together like no other sports team ever has,” says Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. “Typically in this market, when one team succeeds about one-third of sports fans are elated and the other two-thirds are angry or depressed. But the Hurricanes changed that dynamic completely. The Hurricanes quickly became the Triangle’s team. In terms of sports galvanizing a community, this market has never experienced anything like the playoff runs in ’02, ’06, and ’09.”

Most people in attendance on June 19th, 2006 had to pinch themselves as the Stanley Cup made its appearance from the west tunnel. Was one of sports’ most coveted trophies really getting the white glove treatment in Raleigh? Was I really crying on press row watching captain Rod Brind’Amour hoist the Cup over his head?

We all have our Game 7 stories that will last a lifetime.“I was in Section 330, Row D, seat 11, and before the final horn sounded I was in Row G—and I can’t remember how I got there,” says Carolina Hurricanes Booster Club president John Gallagher. “Someone told me I jumped all the way up there when we won
the Cup.”

In less than a decade, the Hurricanes have accomplished some impressive hockey history. How significant was the Cup victory? Well, here’s a little perspective: Twelve franchises still have yet to win hockey’s ultimate prize, and that’s over a combined 204 seasons. St. Louis enters its 42nd season and has yet to win one.

“Not every city can say it has a professional sports team, so that [trophy] says quite a bit,” Gallagher notes. “Secondly, if you come and see how the game is played, and watch the work and skill that goes into it, you get hooked. And the arena is second to none, pretty competitive across the league as a place to go and a place to tailgate.”

With the longest playoff drought in the NHL, the Hurricanes’ fan base is itching for post-season hockey again. Whether that comes or not is open for debate, but there is little argument that the Hurricanes have proven the skeptics wrong before.

“And there were a lot of them, especially nationally,” Dupree adds. “First of all, they’re still here 20 years later. A lot of folks back then would have never believed it. Along the way they have developed and cultivated a large, dedicated, devoted fan base of Caniacs. And, maybe most importantly, the Hurricanes have been an incredible community partner in terms of charitable endeavors and outreach, from day one and continuing through today.

“Honestly I don’t see how, in the big picture, the Canes’ first 20 years in Raleigh can be viewed as anything other than a tremendous success. And I know that tens of thousands of hockey fans in North Carolina, including me, are looking forward to the next 20 years,” Dupree states.   

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