Last week, as I attended the "Caniac Cookout" and listened to Gary Bettman's announcement about the All Star Classic coming to Raleigh, I couldn't help but think of how far and how fast the Hurricanes franchise has come over the years. To think that the fans here have had an opportunity to be a part of three Conference Finals, two Stanley Cup Finals, and a Stanley Cup Championship, all in the last decade is remarkable.
Sure, there have been low points as well. But in comparison to the droughts that some storied franchises have had to endure, we have been very fortunate here in Carolina. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won the Cup since 1967, a 43 year absence. The New York Rangers once suffered through a 53 year drought, (1939-40 to 1993-94).
Can you even imagine? It's almost a lifetime.
And some franchises have never won a Cup.
Now Caniacs have another chance to bask in glory and enjoy the fruits of living in a city with an NHL franchise. Hosting the All Star Classic means that "anyone who is anyone" in the NHL, will be in Raleigh that weekend.
The game itself is certainly not a "sit on the edge of your seat" type of contest. There will not be any hitting and very little defense played. But "The Classic" is much more than just the game itself. It's the complete event, or combination of events, that makes this so special.
The Skills Competition, The Youngstars Game, the Fan Fest, etc. etc. Not only are these events enjoyable for hockey fans, they are enjoyable for non-fans as well. And you know what happens to "non-fans" once they get a hook in them? They turn into "lifers".
Of course, along with the limelight will also come the criticism. The hockey elitists from up North will be out in full force continuing to spread their ignorant rhetoric about how hockey does not belong here and how Carolina did not deserve to be selected for the event.
Damien Cox is at it already.
Hockey writers around the globe will be adding in "clever" Hartford Whalers references whenever they can, thinking that they are being original and cute, but apparently not realizing that same boring cliches have been repeated, over and over and over again since 1997.
It's a shame that sportswriters rarely seem to listen to the folk who actually know what they are talking about regarding the NHL's success in Carolina, the players who live and work here.
Here is a recent Tom Kostopoulos quote:
I was really surprised and impressed with the fans. .... Going through that 14 game losing streak we did? I thought that the fans would give up on the team and we would be booed every night and people would stop coming and everyone would be negative. But I was talking to people around town and they were still positive.
Brian Pothier also had strong words of praise in his exit interview:
This fanbase here is really unique I think. Almost every city I have played in, it's a bandwagon city. If the team is winning, they support you, but if the team is losing, the rink is empty. ....... It's kind of a treat as a player, to know that if you lose a few games in a row, that the rink is not going to be empty. That's pretty unique. This is definitely the best city I have ever played in, where the fans own the team and are a part of the team, rather than just watching the team.
We could quote players all day long about what they think of hockey in this area and the fans who reside here, but some critics will never listen because they do not want to listen.
Regardless, each time the NHL spotlight is on Carolina, the area wins over more skeptics and this will be no different.
Caniacs also have an opportunity to take center stage in a different way. In 2009, Montreal fans were able to vote in four of the six starters for the Eastern Conference. Can Caniacs get organized enough to do something similar? Can they incur the wrath of a coach like Bruce Boudreau, who called the All Star voting process, "dumb" because his star pupil Alexander Ovechkin was left out of the starting lineup?
Or will Caniacs go in a different direction and concentrate their efforts on just one player, someone who would normally not make the squad? Fans tried to do exactly that for Rory Fitzpatrick three years ago and the cause became an over-sensationalized event with a life all of it's own.
Some even claimed that the NHL "fixed" the results, so that Fitzpatrick wouldn't make it.
Whatever Caniacs decide to do, they need to be organized and be united. It takes huge numbers to get results and since this is one of the smallest markets in the NHL, people will have to double and triple ordinary efforts to be effective.
Whatever happens, enjoy it Caniacs! This will be a once in a lifetime event for many of us.
With the draft lottery tonight, we will be having an open thread for discussion starting at 7:30. The lotto show starts at 8 p.m. The Canes have a 4.7% chance of moving up. Do you feel lucky?