Today marks the third article in our reader week takeover of the Canes and Coffee site. You can find the first 2 posts here:
Today’s reader post
Submitted by Bill Dowey
Bill grew up in the Atlantic City, NJ area and has been a hockey fan since he was old enough to skate. He has had a varied career that finally brought him to Raleigh, NC about 28 years ago. Bill looks forward to a day when he can retire and live off the revenues earned by his writing (he wrote an autobiography that has been published and about which a movie producer has expressed interest). Until then, he works as a chauffeur.
I have been a hockey fan for most of my life. My brother and I started playing the game when we were little boys. Growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, we followed the pros with our father. Back then, we had to settle for newspaper accounts as well as my Dad’s many interesting stories of his observations of his favorite teams; the New York Rangers and the Atlantic City Seagulls. There was no internet. There was no cable or satellite TV. The NHL had only 6 teams, and the one closest to us was the NY Rangers. New York City was too far away for us to pick up any of the game broadcasts on our roof mounted television antenna.
In 1967 the NHL expanded from 6 to 12 teams. Philadelphia was the home of one of those 6 new teams; the Flyers. We bought season tickets. We suffered for years while the Flyers bumbled and fumbled trying to learn how to win. The Flyers followed a difficult path to success. At first, scoring was a problem. Then, we discovered that all the other teams in the league enjoyed bullying and beating up our players. The St. Louis Blues had 4 defensemen who terrorized the Flyers. Barclay, Bob, and Billy Plager were mean and nasty. But they were powder puffs when compared to the vicious giant, Noel Picard. In one game, Picard picked a fight with the Flyer least capable of defending himself in a fight, Claude Laforge. Laforge was hospitalized with a broken jaw, among many other things. Flyers’ management vowed that this would never happen again. Through drafts and trades they acquired such players as Dave “the Hammer” Schultz, Don “Big Bird” Saleski, Bob “Mad Dog” Kelly, and Andre “Moose” Dupont. Schultz seemed to make it his mission to attack each player in the league who had victimized a Flyer. On one occasion, I watched Kelly commit “boarding” infractions on three different opposing players in the same shift. With this kind of inspiration, other Flyers became belligerent. Ed Van Impe, Bobby Clark, and Gary Dornhoeffer all discovered the fun of beating opponents to a pulp. Yet, the Flyers had talent as well. In the season of their first Stanley Cup win, the Flyers boasted a roster containing six players who each scored more than 30 regular season goals.
We rejoiced through the “Broad Street Bully” years, winning 2 Stanley Cups.
After that, my career had me moving around the country. But in 1988, I found a home here in Raleigh. In 1991, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Raleigh had acquired a professional hockey team. They were called the Raleigh Ice Caps. They played in the East Coast Hockey League. My love for the game was rejuvenated.
Then the Hurricanes came to town. I was delighted. The Hurricanes were not a great team, but they were good enough for me. Early in the year 2000, I began to understand Jim Rutherford’s style as a General Manager. He involved himself in a bitter and rather public battle of wills with Hurricanes’ star player, Keith Primeau. Before long, Primeau found himself with a one-way ticket to Philadelphia, along with Carolina’s 5th round draft pick. In return, the Flyers sent 2 players as well as Philadelphia’s 2nd round pick. . But the player we received in that transaction that mattered was Rod Brindamour. I had seen Brindamour play for the St. Louis Blues as well as the Flyers. Wow!
Brindamour came to us with an injured foot. The fans were so incensed at Rutherford for trading Primeau, the Canes didn’t dare let Brindamour languish in the press box while healing. He played. He did not play well. But during the off-season, his foot healed. He started the new season as a man with something to prove. And prove it he did. It didn’t take long for the fans to forget Primeau and be in love with Rod Brindamour.
In July, 2001 Rutherford did it again. Who the heck is Aaron Ward? Aaron Ward came to us from Detroit in return for a second round pick. Well, he can’t be worth much if Detroit gave him up for a second round pick, can he? As a defenseman on the talent-rich Red Wings, Ward couldn’t crack their top six. But the Hurricanes put him to immediate use. His hockey sense, his heavy slap shot, and his ‘edgy” play made him a fan favorite. With the departure of Primeau, the Canes began to be called the “Candy Canes” around the league. With Ward’s arrival, the nickname was no longer apt.
Rutherford kept at it. Through trades and free agent signings, he was putting together a team that could not only win, but go deep into the playoffs. As we would read about these moves in the paper, we fans were left to ask, “Who are these guys?” He also brought in a coach to replace the very unpopular Paul Maurice. It was obvious to me that Peter Laviolette was something special. In 2003, Rutherford drafted Eric Staal. Staal’s first year was not exactly what was hoped for; he only scored 11 goals. The next year was the lock-out year, so I only saw Eric play in one game. I drove 4 hours to Norfolk, Virginia to see Staal play for the AHL Loch Monsters against the Admirals. I was not disappointed. He appeared to me to be a man playing among boys. He was fun to watch. Also fun to watch that evening was the Admirals’ coach,John Brophy knocking out a referee with one punch.
The season after the lockout was great for me. With men like Ward, Commodore, Boulerice and Cole on the ice, nobody looked at us as the “Candy Canes”. As a fan, I had confidence that even when we were behind by 2 goals, we could win. And win we did. Staal finished that season with a very satisfying 45 goals. 6 Canes finished the season with 20 goals or more. 4 of that 6 scored 30 or more regular season goals.
I recall a preseason chance meeting I had with Jim Cain (the then President of the Hurricanes) as I was walking into the stadium to confirm my choice of season ticket seats. I commented to him that I was impressed with the moves Rutherford had been making. He cautioned me to not expect too much, since everyone else in the league was bolstering their rosters too.
I wasn’t discouraged. I knew that we were going to win it all.
I must admit that the 2 Stanley Cup years with the Flyers were great fun for me. Each season was rife with drama and excitement. But they were nothing compared to that wonderful season when the Canes took the Cup. Throughout the playoffs, I was able to watch each home game with my son and his wife. It was joy like I know I will never experience again. It was my favorite year.
Yet, I am getting that feeling again that we can take it all. Can it happen again?