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Military connections an important part of the Hurricanes’ culture

With Veterans Day upcoming, the ties that the Hurricanes have made with the armed forces continue to generate appreciation on both sides.

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Kaydee Gawlik

It started as a single night honoring the military.

In 2003, the Carolina Hurricanes introduced Military Appreciation Night, an opportunity for the club to pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces. It made sense, given Raleigh’s proximity to major installations of all branches of the United States armed forces, and gave the team a chance to introduce itself to a transient-by-nature population, many of whom settle in North Carolina when their military career comes to an end.

Sixteen years later, Military Appreciation Night has become a staple on the Hurricanes’ annual calendar, but the team has expanded far beyond that initial foray. Now, at nearly every game, including Monday’s Veterans Day matchup with the Ottawa Senators, at least one member of the military is honored in some form for his or her service to the country.

It’s important to the team that the honorees feel comfortable enjoying the game. If you’ve ever noticed that very few of them wear their uniforms when they are recognized, that’s by design, according to Jon Chase, the Hurricanes’ vice president of community outreach. “We want these to be organic and meaningful,” says Chase. “We want them to be our guests, so they’re dressed comfortably and we get them four (lower-level) tickets so they’re with their friends or family.”

According to Chase, the honorees who are selected for recognition typically have received a recent honor, or because of a recent act of heroism or change in status. They can be longtime fans - some dating back to when the Hurricanes first moved to Raleigh and had seen other military members similarly honored - or relative newcomers stationed in North Carolina only briefly, some of whom have never attended a hockey game before.

Kaydee Gawlik

Prior to going out on the ice, the Hurricanes staff prepares the guest of honor for the brief ceremony, either on-ice prior to the national anthem or during a media timeout. They know that the crowd’s applause will be meaningful to the honoree, but when the video board goes live, it goes to another level. “Then you see it’s usually a 20-30 second standing ovation, and the emotion comes over their faces with appreciation. You can tell how powerful a moment it is for them,” says Chase, noting that it’s “always a little more than the individual thinks.”

The outreach that the Hurricanes undertake with the military community has resulted in the team visiting Fort Bragg multiple times, including last season, and led to the team pitching in to prevent the closure of the post’s Cleland Ice Rink in 2013. Rod Brind’Amour has visited the base as both a player and as a coach, and for him, it’s a reminder that sports play a role in connecting people who may be thousands of miles apart.

“People are sacrificing for all of us,” says the Hurricanes head coach. “You sit down with them for lunch, they’re from all over the U.S. and their families are [elsewhere] and they’re here, eating lunch by themselves. You come away with a grander appreciation for everything that we have, and for those people and what they’re doing.”

The tradition of supporting the men and women of the armed forces at Hurricanes games has been passed down among players through the years, and it’s common to see the players themselves stick-tapping in support of an honoree. For players who typically make a big deal out of eliminating all distractions during a game, it’s a noteworthy sight.

It’s something that Brind’Amour, for one, hopes remains a part of the cultural fabric of Hurricanes hockey.

“I don’t think we do enough in this country for [the military]. Not just the soldiers; it’s their families, your kid’s going off to serve. That, to me, is really what makes this country great, that there are so many people who are willing to do that. We do need to recognize that.”

Join the Hurricanes as they honor members of the armed forces at Monday’s Veterans Day game against the Ottawa Senators. If you don’t have seats yet, you can pick them up on StubHub.

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