At this time a decade ago, the American Hockey League was the most prominent professional league in North America due to the NHL's 2004-2005 season lockout. In fact, Eric Staal was playing for the Lowell Lock Monsters recording a 77-point season while I was left wondering why Dick’s Sporting Goods took all their hockey equipment off the shelves. That also means it has been nearly a decade – nine years to be exact – since the Carolina Hurricanes captured the Stanley Cup and nearly two decades since NHL hockey arrived in North Carolina.
Since we’re looking back in time, before the PNC Arena was built, (previously RBC Center and Entertainment and Sports Arena) Dorton Arena was home to the Raleigh Ice Caps of the ECHL. Dorton Arena - a non air-conditioned, 5,000 capacity arena, is just a short walk from where the Hurricanes play now. Jason Karmanos, now Vice President of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, donned an Ice Caps jersey before working for the Hurricanes organization.
The Carolina Hurricanes were relocated from the city of Hartford to North Carolina in 1997 and many monumental moments took place in the 17 years. Let’s see what the top 10 are, shall we?
10. 2004 NHL Entry Draft- Andrew Ladd
The NHL Entry Draft was the only preliminary annual event to be held prior to the 2004-2005 season that didn’t exist. However, it was an exciting time for Carolina Hurricanes fans as the draft was held on June 26 of that year at the RBC Center. Their original spot in the draft was 8th overall in the first round, but they dealt that away along with their 59th overall pick in exchange for the fourth overall from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, without any video evidence to show, you’ll have to take my word that the crowd reaction was remarkable following the transaction. With that, the Hurricanes would select a 6-2 200lb forward from Maple Ridge, BC by the name of Andrew Ladd. It would be the franchise's second consecutive season drafting the top-rated North American skater since they drafted Eric Staal with the second pick in 2003.
9. Greensboro to Raleigh
The Greensboro Coliseum would be home to the Carolina Hurricanes for the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons as the Entertainment and Sports Arena, which would be home to the franchise, was still under construction. A 70-minute drive from home for home games was not ideal and took a toll on the players. Although the opening night was a packed house with 21,000 present, Sports Illustrated’s Gerry Callaghan would run an article titled "Natural Disaster" in October 1997 suggesting the nickname was fitting for the team as they were a "natural disaster." Facts showed Carolina as the smallest season-ticket base in the NHL and attendance would record 10,000 per game for the first two seasons. ESPN anchors would take note of the empty seats of the Coliseum making references to "Green Acres." "It was hard and it was embarrassing to read the articles,"owner Peter Karmanos told Scott Burnside of ESPN in an article in 2006. "As it turns out, [Greensboro] was probably a mistake."
As they remained competitive while in Greensboro, the move to the Captial City appeared to give the franchise a greater incentive and more comfort as they were finally ‘home’. The 2000-2001 playoffs enlivened their rivalry with the New Jersey Devils. Ron Francis took a devastating hit from Scott Stevens that would send him to the ice and would desperately and unsuccessfully search for the bench before being helped off. New Jersey would eliminate the Hurricanes and later advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Moving into a new building turned the page to a new chapter of the young franchise and would pay off for years to come.
8. Eric Staal Drafted
Drafting the teenager from Thunder Bay, Ontario second overall in 2003 was the first part of creating a franchise cornerstone.
Staal would play a vital part of the 2006 Stanley Cup team as he recorded a 100-point regular season and managed a 15-game point streak in the playoffs.
Eric Staal was named the franchise’s fifth captain on January 20, 2010 and would record a hat trick in first game with the ‘C’ on his chest against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Many rumors circulated speculating that the captain could possibly be on the move in in the 2014-2015 and years prior. However, Staal would put the rumors to a halt, as he would not waive his no-trade clause. So if the Hurricanes are "stuck" with the captain, he’ll be around for one more season at least.
With the reports that Staal would not waive his no-trade clause expressed his leadership, dedication, and commitment to the club. His 300 goals and nearly 800 games have all come with the franchise, why would he leave?
Staal has four All-Star game appearances under his belt while receiving the All-Star Game MVP in 2008. He also won the Gold Medal in 2010 for team Canada. He Currently holds the franchise record for most hat tricks in a single season(4), most career post season points(43), and most consecutive games(349, 2004-09).
7. Re-Acquisition of Ron Francis
March 4, 1991, the Hartford Whalers and Pittsburg Penguins stimulated a trade that would be recognized as one of the most storied trades on the trade-deadline. Along with Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings, Francis would be sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Jeff Parker, Zarley Zalapski, and John Cullen. His tenure in Pittsburgh would shape legacy not only for himself, but the Penguins as well. Three months later, Francis would win his first Stanley Cup and repeat the following year.
Seven years later free agent, Francis would embark on a homecoming to the organization. He would help the Hurricanes attain their first Prince of Wales trophy appear in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time. While doing so, Francis would cushion franchise records and obtain the most assists behind Wayne Gretzky.
6. Scott Walker "Sucker Punch" and Series K-O
The 2009 Eastern Conference Finals would include the Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins. Fast forward to game five, the Carolina Hurricanes would be leading the series 3-1 en route to the TD Garden.
As time dwindled down, it would be safe to assume that the series would head back to the RBC Center for game six as the Bruins lead 4-0 with under three minutes left in the game.
In the playoffs, tensions and stakes are higher as no team wants to be blown out to a margin like that. An altercation would arise between two former teammates, Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward, in front of the Bruins net. Scott Walker would soon take charge and reinforce his teammate and not only get in the face of Ward, but put a bare fist to it as well. Like Manny Pacquiao, Ward would drop to the ice after a quick right from Walker that had many up in arms with the "sucker punch".
Two games later back in the TD Garden, both teams would take part in overtime to decide who would move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ray Whitney would take a slapshot from the top of the right circle only to have Walker crash the net and push the rebound past Tim Thomas with 1:14 left to advance to the Conference finals.
5. Rod Comes to Raleigh
One third of the BBC line in 2002 and given captaincy of the franchise prior to the 2005-2006 season, Rod Brind’Amour is one of the most imperative pieces to grace the franchise. On January 23, 2000 Brind’Amour, Jean-Marc Pelletier, and a 2000 2nd round draft pick from the Philidelphia Flyers came to the Carolina Hurricanes for Keith Primeau and a 5th round draft pick.
After acquiring a 97-point season in 93-94, Brind’Amour would leave a legacy of leadership and admiration. A well-known workhorse in the weight room, he was just as much of one- if not more- on the ice and in the locker room. His finesse wasn’t comparable to Francis’, but his poise was. His vision of the ice and unselfish ability to dish the puck for model scoring circumstances could equate to Ronny Franchise as well.
Brind’Amour always rose to the occasion and felt little weight on his shoulders carrying the team as he sought the fitting reward for his efforts. In several scenarios during the 2006 playoffs, the two-time Selke winner would magically find the puck on his stick at the right time and place. A story like Brind’Amour’s is what makes sports monumental.
4. Jokinen Goal
Many things can occur in a tenth of a second. Time tells everything and in sports, it can be the make-or-break factor.
Game four of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, the Carolina Hurricanes held a 3-0 lead against the New Jersey Devils. However, a sudden collapse at the end of two periods would cause the Hurricanes to give up three unanswered goals.
With the game knotted up going into what looked as extra time, Jussi Jokinen was in impeccable placement to screen Martin Brodeur on a blast from the point by Dennis Sidenberg.
Time happened to be on the Hurricanes side, as Jokinen would tip the puck past the legendary goaltender with 0.02 left on the clock. Once the goal was confirmed, Brodeur lividly battered his stick against the glass and stormed off the ice.
3. Molson Miracle
Down 2-1 in the series, the Carolina Hurricanes made their way to the Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec Canada for game four of the second round. Down 3-0 in third period, Sean Hill broke the goose egg on a one-timer, 5-on-3 powerplay goal with 16 minutes left in the period. Feeding off the momentum of Hill’s goal with sufficient time board, Bates Battaglia would rip a slap shot past Jose Theodore from the top of the circle to make the gap tighter.
Less than a minute to play in the game and an extra attacker on the ice, Erik Cole would dig the puck out from underneath Theodore following a Brind’Amour shot from the far boards only to have it cross the goal line with 40 ticks left on the clock. Invigorated from the previous events, the Hurricanes would rally in overtime thanks to a Nick "The Secret Weapon" Wallin shot from the point that would trickle past Theodore to tie the series. The Hurricanes would move forward eliminating the Habs two games later.
2. First Stanley Cup Appearance
In the time span of five seasons since relocation, the Hurricanes had three Stanley Cup Playoff runs, two Southeast Division Championships, and were to appear in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time against the Detroit Red Wings on June 4, 2002.
It was before the Babcock era in Detroit as Scotty Bowman stood behind the bench, but with the deck stacked as ever. And wouldn’t you know it, the Hurricanes stuck with them as well as they possibly could. Names like Yzerman, Draper, Robitaille Federov, Datsyuk, Hull, Chelios, Shanahan, took the ice and a guy named Dominik Hasek mended the pipes. But the Hurricanes forced four overtime periods in just five games. One of them happened to be a triple overtime in game 3. Exceeding 114 minutes played, Igor Larionov eased around a prone and sliding Bates Battaglia, crossing in front of the crease and backhands it past a diving Arters Irbe glove side to cement the game.
Two games later the hurricanes would fall 4-1 in the series as the Detroit Red Wings would hoist their tenth Stanley Cup.
1. 2005-2006 Stanley Cup Champions
It was a year of unexpected success. Not for the Hurricanes - who went into the season with as much determination as any other professional hockey team – but for media critics. After making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final as a franchise in 2002, they finished dead last in 2002-2003 and sat 11th in the conference in 03-04.
Eric Staal was drafted in ’03 and played a big part in getting the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Finals finishing seventh in the league in scoring with 100 points. Carolina was one of the best scoring teams in the league that year with 3.49 goals per game.
As the season ended, the Hurricanes finished fourth in the league in points securing a number two seed in the conference as well as the Southeast Division Championship.
The first series included a run in with the Montreal Canadiens, a familiar roadblock on the path to the Stanley Cup. It took six games for the Hurricanes to conquer the Habs after going down 0-2 in the series. However, it was the series that showed that the 22-year-old rookie goaltender Cam Ward was ready to be put on center stage.
Two division champions squared off in the conference semi-finals as the Hurricanes took on the familiar rival, New Jersey Devils. Leading 3-0 in the series, Carolina looked to sweep the Devils but came up short losing 5-1 in New Jersey. It was only when the Hurricanes returned home for game five that they were able to end the series.
In the Conference finals, the Buffalo Sabres would push the Hurricanes to their first seven game series. Until game six, Eric Staal had a fifteen game point streak as the Hurricanes were held to only one goal that game.
Game seven at the RBC center had a palpable energy of belief. The Hurricanes were the first on the board only to have Buffalo counter going into the third period 2-1. Doug Weight answered with a goal early in the third only to have the final decision boil down to the concluding minutes.
An idle, loose puck sitting just above the crease was managed by Rod Brind’Amour and put past Ryan Miller on a power play goal. Brind’Amour’s goal would be the cementing moment to put them in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The calendar changed to its summer months, as the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes would take part in a seven game series. It was a series with twists and turns that ultimately had fans on their toes. Even with Dwane Roloson injured, the Oilers put up a piercing sprint to the finish line as they shut out the Hurricanes 4-0 in their home at Rexall Place. However, the Hurricanes did what they were most noted for doing that season, come back. Game one of the Stanley Cup finals they overcame a three-goal deficit to win 5-4 and then shutout the Oilers at home the next game. It was a boxing match where both teams traded blows, and ultimately the Hurricanes delivered the one that stung the most.
Aaron Ward blasted a shot from the point early on in the first period to give the 'Canes a 1-0 lead in the first. Frank Kaberle put the Hurricanes up by two in the second and Justin Williams put insurance on the game as he made it 3-1 with an empty net.
The rest is history; the greatest moment in Hurricanes history was Rod Brind’Amour hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head and making the Carolina Hurricanes the first professional team in North Carolina to win a major championship.
Also, who could forget this? Cam Ward. Enough said. It could be a moment on its own.
I was there, were you?
Honorable Mentions: NHL All-Star Game, Ron Francis retirement, Rod Brind'Amour retirement, Wallin OT goal 2006 against NJ, Comeback against Devils '09 playoffs