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Wake Competition Center gives Hurricanes a practice home to be proud of

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We got to see the inside of the new Hurricanes’ practice facility, and it’s impressive, to say the least.

Kaydee Gawlik

The Hurricanes’ additions to their roster this offseason have been limited by the NHL’s flat salary cap, but the team did make a massive upgrade earlier this summer: the opening of its new space and practice facility as part of the Wake Competition Center in Morrisville. And it’s a beauty.

In addition to two NHL standard ice rinks, one of which can seat 1200 spectators, and the other 500, the Hurricanes’ portion of the facility is home to a host of amenities. There’s a spacious, open players lounge that includes space to relax and watch television, and a kitchen, right next to a large gym space adorned with Hurricanes murals and signs on the walls.

Part of the Hurricanes’ new workout space at the Wake Competition Center.
Kaydee Gawlik
Kaydee Gawlik

The Hurricanes have a state-of-the-art locker room that is very similar to the team’s home dressing room at PNC Arena. There’s also team meeting rooms, a coaches’ office, a general manager’s office, a training room, medical and recovery rooms, a sauna, hot and cold tubs and more.

The Hurricanes’ new locker room at the Wake Competition Center.
Kaydee Gawlik
Kaydee Gawlik
Hot and cold tubs are some of many amenities at the Hurricanes’ new facility.
Kaydee Gawlik
Part of the equipment room at the Hurricanes’ new practice facility.
Kaydee Gawlik
Kaydee Gawlik

For Jeff Ammons, the president of Ammons Building Corporation, which constructed the Wake Competition Center, the Hurricanes are but one piece of the puzzle. The facility is also home to a sports academy in partnership with the Accelerator School, and will draw large amounts of revenue from events such as public skating nights (in “normal” times, of course).

But they are nevertheless an important piece.

“The Hurricanes are very important, because it brings a lot of notoriety,” Ammons said. “It puts a flag down for who we are and what’s going here. It helps brand the whole center. … We love having them. [Don Waddell] and [Tom Dundon], my experience has been amazing with them. They’ve done everything they said they were going to do, and I think it’s a reflection of us. We kept up our end of it also.”

When it comes to hockey, the new facility will be very important for growing the game locally, as the Hurricanes will be far from the only users of the two rinks.

Among others, the rinks will host rec and youth hockey events, and being able to fill the stands for those games will also be important.

Kaydee Gawlik

“What I’m most proud of is a lot of these kids that get no glory, work really hard at their sport, come here and practice every single day, eventually, when this works the way it’s supposed to, they’ll have fans, they’ll be streamed, and they’ll feel good about the place,” Ammons said.

The hockey facility has 14 locker rooms in total, which includes the Hurricanes’ locker room, rec locker rooms, Duke’s club hockey team, a U19 girls team, two locker rooms for the USPHL Premiere Junior Hockey Team and a beautiful locker room for the NC State club hockey team.

The college club hockey teams will also be key tenants of the new facility.

“I think I’m very proud of the college club team to have 1200 fans in here, to have the [old PNC Arena organ] playing, to have their parents follow them,” Ammons said. These kids have played hockey a long time and it’s an expensive sport. You’d hate to see them go cold turkey at 18 and quit. But to come here and play for State, it doesn’t matter if there’s 1,000 or 20,000, they’re all cheering for you and screaming. It makes a good atmosphere. So it’s really just kind of seeing that come to fruition for a lot of them.”

The old PNC Arena organ has found a home at the Wake Competition Center.
Kaydee Gawlik

One of the locker rooms will be a dedicated locker room for girls who are playing on coed teams, an amenity Ammons is proud of and one that a lot of facilities don’t have.

“It’s accommodating to so many teams now having girls on their team,” Ammons said. “And the girls have to play with the boys. They don’t want to go in the boys locker room. Most of the time they’re stuck changing in the car, the locker room, the bathroom. So to have a dedicated girls’ locker room, just for when they come to be part of another team, is just another one of those boxes I think we check that really make the place complete.”

The facility, which also includes soccer fields, volleyball and gymnastics facilities, should help more kids get into sports, especially through the sports academy. The academy offers “blended learning,” from middle through high school, and kids train in the morning before heading upstairs to classrooms and an online learning platform, with teachers to guide them.

Already, the sports academy has seen kids cross training with friends between different sports.

“I understand the place sports has, and at the end of the day it’s still sports,” Ammons said. “But the self esteem I think it has for a lot of people, the lessons they learn playing here, I think it’s critically important. One thing that’s interesting here, I think, is the mix of sports. I remember the teacher in the academy said the first or second day of class, all the soccer kids sat on one half and the hockey kids sat on the other half. One of the soccer kids joked about ‘Well, we play the real sport.’ And then the hockey kids stood up and the soccer kids were like ‘No, we don’t want to mess with hockey kids.’ But we’ve now seen some of the hockey kids training for the soccer because it’s good for them to do something else. I think it’ll be interesting to see that mix of people crossing up their sports a little more. Because everybody will tell you, up to 15 or 16, they need to play multiple sports.”

For Ammons, what sets the Wake Competition Center apart from practice rinks in other NHL cities is that the Hurricanes’ practice facility is but a part of a larger whole.

“I have a figure skater daughter and a hockey player son, so I’ve been lucky enough to drive around to a lot of the rinks,” Ammons said. “I feel like ours is as good as any. I’ll just kind of leave it at that. Doing things that make it look like this a really long time, I think is important. The sound system, the PA system, I would put up against anybody’s. I think what’s unique about what we have here is that when I go to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ rink, which is amazing, and I’ve been to the Detroit practice rink, and the St. Louis practice rink. All of those are amazing. They are amazing, but there’s nothing else with them. So if you look at our rink and say it’s comparable to those and then look at the campus of all the sport-minded kids and the parents here, I think that’s what really separates this place as far as being real flagship.”

Flagship is definitely the right word to describe the Wake Competition Center, a facility that will be an important part of growth for the Hurricanes, the local hockey and sports communities for years to come.