The bracket is exactly as titled with a few wild cards thrown in for fun. Whereas the first bracket (and the others on the way) was largely a set of players to be evaluated on their merits, this bracket includes three quirky wild cards:
1) Coach matchup-Peter Laviolette vs. Paul Maurice: Mo vs. Lavi in a throw down between the only two coaches who really figure in Canes history at this point. Muller’s stay was too short and minus playoffs. And while I hope Peters’ dominates, the 2025 10-year anniversary of this event, he is not there yet after only one season.
Laviolette’s contribution to Canes history is obvious and discounted by virtually no one. But here is an interesting question – Is there one person who epitomizes the Canes journey since 1997 including its ups and downs more than Coach Paul Maurice? He was at the helm during two of the three thrilling playoff runs. And he always was at the helm during many of the lowest lows. He saw the curtain in Greensboro and also the packed ESA, RBC, PNC. Though it is not all happy sunshine, Maurice is rooted deep in Canes history, and I say that makes him one of us. (Important: I am not in any way advocating for a third stint as head coach.)
2) Enforcer matchup-Jesse Boulerice vs. Kevin Westgarth vs. Stu Grimson vs. Darren Langdon: With that role rapidly disappearing from the NHL and seemingly on the path to extinction, my thought is that someday we will tell our grandkids stories about a different era in NHL hockey, the crazy ‘enforcer’ role and some of the Canes from the 90s and 2000s who filled this role. These players actually do get a decent amount of attention for their exciting role, but are still unsung heroes in the sense that I am not sure us regular people truly appreciate what it takes to take the bench before the first period knowing that there is a good chance you will later find yourself toe to toe with someone.
3) Announcer matchup-Chuck Kaiton vs. John Forslund: Canes fans have been truly spoiled in this regard. It is only those with paid league TV packages or those in other markets who can appreciate the consummate professionals that both Chuck Kaiton and John Forslund are. Chuck Kaiton is already a hall-of-famer from his radio work, and John Forslund is equally good.But ironically, I think their biggest contribution to the Hurricanes hockey community happened outside of their formal jobs. The way they both interacted with fans in the early years was huge. Both were a huge part of the social outreach in the early days. Their ability to take each fan wherever they were (ranging from two weeks into hockey to lifer who moved from up north) and sincerely engage them was marvelous, and it was a vital part in establishing a unique relationship between the team and its fan base.
Past the wild cards, the bracket is a little lighter on raw star and scoring power than some of the other brackets, but that matches its Unsung Heroes name.In the mix are two low-scoring defensemen who both played crucial roles in both of the 2002 and 2006 playoff runs in Bret Hedican and Aaron Ward. In ‘The Adams Family’ (Craig Adams and Kevyn Adams) there is a pair of 4th-liners who played together in both the 2001-02 and 2005-06 seasons (Craig was mostly a scratch in the 2002 playoffs). And to bring one more current player into the mix, there is Jiri Tlusty who was a long-time ‘complementary player’ with the stars and amassed some respectable scoring totals in the process.The top seeds include all-time greats Glen Wesley and Ray Whitney along with Aaron Ward. (Write ups for all three will be posted in the second round.) Without spilling all of the details on the remaining two brackets, Aaron Ward is one of only two (Wesley is the other) of the top 12 seeds who is a defenseman. I selected him as a representative from the maybe underappreciated top 4 blue liners in the first two playoff runs. The options were Ward or Hedican both of whom were in the top 4 both in 2002 and 2006 and actually played together during the 2002 run.
If we do a similar event in 15 years, I expect that some of these Unsung Heroes will be surpassed and swept away by bigger starts and more stats, but at this early juncture of Hurricanes history making, it is great to include both players and non-players who were instrumental in building NHL hockey in North Carolina.