Six years ago, I was sitting at my desk doing traffic reports during the morning commute when a friend of mine popped over the cubicle wall with a proposition.
"Hey, Brian, you like the Hurricanes, right?" he asked me.
"Well, yeah," I said, a little caught off-guard, but never turning down an opportunity to talk hockey was one of my trademarks, so I went along with it.
"Want to cover the team?"
It took me all of about a tenth of a second to take him up on the offer. And with that, I took up residence on the fifth floor of PNC Arena, which would be my home for 41 nights a season for the next six years.
As of next season, that run comes to an end.
Circumstances have changed a bit over that time. I've left that job where I was back in 2007, and eventually made my way back to reporting traffic again as of a few weeks ago - at the same place, although with a promotion involved. I now have to be at work at 5 AM every morning, and for a severe non-morning person that is not an easy habit to get into. Getting home at 11:30 after a game, then waking up at 4:30...yeah, you can guess where this is going.
And while we're on the subject of severe sleep deprivation, this October my wife and I will welcome a baby girl into the world (holy cow, it feels surreal typing that). What little time I already have is going to be reduced even further when that rolls around.
So it's time to go back to armchair quarterbacking. But first, a few words of thanks.
The friend who thought enough to ask me to cover the Canes was Taylor Zarzour, who was the sports director at Curtis Media (my once and current employer) before moving to Charlotte at the beginning of 2011. Even though he's in Charlotte now, you can still hear him in Raleigh from 4-7 PM on 620 AM, or if you're in Charlotte he'll give you an extra hour, 3-7 on 610 AM. You won't regret it. I owe my break to Taylor, and he remains one of my best friends.
To the Canes' PR team, past and present, who had to put up with a guy literally learning on the job from square one. Mike Sundheim, Kyle Hanlin, Paul Branecky, Michael Smith and too many interns to mention made this job very enjoyable, and I'll miss working with them.
Chip Alexander isn't exactly a natural covering hockey, even though he's been reporting sports in this market since before I was born, so in a way we both learned the ropes together after he came on board in 2008. I've learned a ton working with Chip, and I will greatly miss him and his legendary IT troubles (if you're sitting in section 325, you know who to blame if a MacBook comes flying down from the press box).
For many years, Mike Maniscalco was the only person in the box who really knew what it was like to be up until 11:30 and back up and on the radio the next morning before sunrise. Before I joined Canes Country, Mike and I were pretty much the only regulars on the "quiet" side of the press box, above section 323, which is now pretty much solely the domain of Mike and whatever reporter is working the locker room on a given night. Mike works harder than just about anyone I've ever met in radio, and deserves better than the abuse he regularly tolerates on the Aftermath every night. (To say nothing of sitting below Dave Mishkin, the Lightning radio play-by-play guy, whose goal calls are legendarily eardrum-busting.)
Of course, this wouldn't be complete without a word of appreciation to everyone at Canes Country. When Taylor left to go to Charlotte, I pretty much became a free-agent writer; I knew I wanted to continue covering the team, and Bob Wage was kind enough to give me the opportunity to do so. He and I have had plenty of good times in the press box, and I know he'll keep up the great coverage that I was proud to be a part of for two-plus seasons.
And finally, to my wife, Laura: believe me, it is not easy to sit at home and do nothing while your spouse is covering hockey games 41 times a year. She let me do so for six seasons, and I can't thank her enough. I have no idea how beat writers who travel to cover the team do it, but I'm grateful to her for allowing me to do so as much as I could. The least I can do to repay her is to be around as much as possible to raise our daughter.
I'll still be around. I'll contribute columns here and there, I'll still chime in on open threads, and I'll still be active on Twitter (although I have a sneaking suspicion that will take a turn toward the cute-baby-photo genre in three months or so). Maybe later in the season, I'll pop back in to cover a game or two, depending on how the great parenting adventure is working out.
But until then, you're in great hands here at CC, and I want to thank all of you for making covering this team so much fun. I'm going to miss it, but I'm excited for what's to come.
Now watch the Canes go win the Stanley Cup next season. If so, you know who to thank.