Jeff Skinner – Rookie phenom, dynamic scorer and fan favorite before his time

Jeff Skinner – Rookie phenom, dynamic scorer and fan favorite before his time

Jeff Skinner was drafted with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Picked that highly, people had fairly high expectations for the player he might become, but no one could have guessed how quickly he would get there. He entered the Hurricanes 2010-11 training camp with the chatter being an undersized skill player, Skinner’s development might be best-suited playing another year in Canadian juniors partly because of his size. But he looked reasonably comfortable notching a goal and an assist in four preseason games and at least earned the chance for the nine-game trial before heading back to juniors. In the first nine games, his scoring totals were modest (had only one goal and three assists in first eight games), but Skinner showed the offensive flare that caused him to be drafted so highly. With the chatter still ongoing about whether he should ultimately stay in the NHL, he busted out for two goals and an assist in his ninth and final tryout game. No one knows for sure if that game was the deciding factor, but soon after it was announced that Jeff Skinner would remain with the Carolina Hurricanes. In his next six games, he scored three goals and had five assists, threw his hat in the ring early for the Calder Trophy race and launched what would become one of the most scintillating individual seasons in Carolina Hurricanes history. Most memorable from his first impression was his crazy ability to score from anywhere on the ice, on any shot and at any time. As an 18-year old rookie, he was arguably the most dynamic goal scorer...
Erik Cole – Conductor for Cole train that rode deep into 2002, 2006 and 2009 playoffs

Erik Cole – Conductor for Cole train that rode deep into 2002, 2006 and 2009 playoffs

Erik Cole’s Carolina Hurricanes career saw him arrive, play, depart, re-arrive, play and depart again. But whenever the ‘Cole Train’ was in Raleigh, hockey times were mostly good. He is one of only three players (Rod Brind’Amour and Niclas Wallin are the other two) who were part of the 2002, 2006 and 2009 playoff runs. Cole was drafted out of Clarkson and after one year developing in the IHL, he burst onto the scene for the 2001-02 season. That season he vaulted to the top of the depth chart and won an NHL roster slot with his hard-skating, forechecking, powerful brand of hockey. My lasting image of him will always be the move where he had the puck toward the outside of the faceoff circle to the right of the net and then barreled at an angle straight toward the net. His ability to stay on his feet and keep the puck while seemingly at a 30-degree angle to the ice and usually with a defender draped over him hitching a ride astounds me to this day. He finished the 2001-02 regular season with a very respectable 16 goals and 24 assists in 81 games. More significantly, he quickly established himself as a rugged, physical, difficult to play against power forward with speed to boot. He also settled in with similar big warrior-like line mates Rod Brind’Amour and Bates Battaglia. The trio’s lunch pail and hard hat style of play captured Hurricanes fans’ hearts and made their ‘BBC line’ nickname common terminology around Raleigh during playoffs in the spring and summer of 2002. To this day, my favorite memories...
Justin Williams – Scorer of the empty-netter that clinched the Stanley Cup

Justin Williams – Scorer of the empty-netter that clinched the Stanley Cup

Justin Williams was the scorer of one of the greatest goals and calls in Carolina Hurricanes history. Chuck Kaiton’s famous call went, “He won the Stanley Cup. Justin Williams has won the Stanley Cup for the Carolina Hurricanes…” This was obviously the call for the Stanley Cup-clinching empty-netter by Justin Williams in Game 7 on June 19, 2006. Justin Williams’ Hurricanes career started during much lesser times when he was obtained in a trade for Danny Markov in early 2004. After a short run getting his feet wet at the end of the 2003-04 season and a year in Sweden for the lockout, he hit the ground running for the 2005-06 season. Pretty much from the start, Williams was paired with Rod Brind’Amour to make up two-thirds of what was one of the best shutdown lines in the entire NHL. In addition to stellar defense, each member of the duo scored 31 goals, doing their part to lead the Canes from a projected bottom five finish to a place atop the NHL in the regular season. He finished the 2005-06 regular season with a career-high (as of August 2015) 76 points in 82 games. He was just as good in the playoffs. With a lesser role on the power play, Justin Williams finished tied for third in scoring with 18 points and finished tied for first with an impressive plus 12 in 25 playoff games. Put simply, the Canes won when Williams was on the ice. He was good throughout the playoffs but was arguably at his best in the Eastern Conference Finals versus Buffalo. In that series, he scored...
Tribute to Josef Vasicek

Tribute to Josef Vasicek

Here are a couple other Josef Vasicek links in addition to others’ links that I retweeted on Twitter today: 1) My blog on Hockeybuzz on September 7, 2011 upon hearing about Vasicek’s death. 2) Josef Vasicek’s bio for the Canes and Coffee bracket event going on right now. Josef Vasicek was always one of my favorite Hurricanes players which makes September 7 a sentimental day. In Josef Vasicek’s honor and long before his passing 4 years ago, I started using his #63 as part of my digital screen name for hockey-related accounts. I had a few older CarolinaMatt63 accounts when I went to set up my personal Twitter account (@CarolinaMatt63) on September 2, 2011. I briefly went back and forth about whether to keep adding the 63 on the end given that Vasicek had long since departed the Hurricanes before deciding to do so. Five days later, I read the tragic news about his passing.  My daily post “Daily Cup of Joe” is both a nod to the site’s coffee theme, but also not at all accidentally a nod to Big Joe. As any who has been on Twitter knows today is the 4th anniversary of the Lokomotiv Hockey Club plane crash that tragically ended the life of Josef Vasicek and all of his teammates and coaches who were aboard the plane. Josef Vasicek was five days short of his 31st birthday when he passed away. My memory of Josef Vasicek prior to his passing always started from the huge goal that he scored in game 5 of the 2002 playoffs against New Jersey. To this day, I think...
Glen Wesley – Foundational leader

Glen Wesley – Foundational leader

It is hard to picture a Carolina Hurricanes game without Glen Wesley in it. Only Eric Staal has played more than Glen Wesley’s 729 games in a Hurricanes uniform. Wesley logged 70 or more games in each of the team’s first seven years (2002-03 included seven games in Toronto after being traded at the deadline) and finished his career with 64, 68 and 78 games respectively in the final three years of his career. In addition to his steady presence as a rock defensively on the ice, he made a similarly meaningful contribution off the ice. The willingness of Wesley and other early players to interact and sell the game to a new fan base led to a unique closeness between the team and its fan community. The willingness and humbleness with which Wesley as a league veteran did this work set a tone for how the team and its fan base interacted and an example for the rest of the team. The result was a special relationship that is uncommon in professional sports that is at the core of a unique Hurricanes hockey culture. On the ice, he was a rock defensively year in and year out. Wesley was light on scoring stats but heavy on important responsibilities and contributions to the Hurricanes early success. He ate up the hard minutes against the other teams’ best players. He led the penalty kill. And he was a team leader as an alternate captain. For the 2001-02 season that put hockey on the map in Raleigh, Wesley was paired primarily with Sean Hill in the playoffs forming the team’s top...
Ray Whitney – The Wizard

Ray Whitney – The Wizard

Ray Whitney arrived in Raleigh in the midst of the lineup shuffling during the summer of 2005 that was driven by the new salary cap and two years of free agents from the 2004-05 season missed due to the lockout. As a bargain pickup for only $1.5 million per year after his buyout by the Detroit Red Wings, he looked to be good value for the money. But few would have guessed how significant of a role he would play in Carolina Hurricanes history. As part of the 2005-06 Hurricanes, he joined what grew to become a very balanced Hurricanes team and settled in on a third line centered by Matt Cullen. In the new NHL that suddenly rewarded skill and speed by clamping down on previously permitted hooking, holding and obstructing, the speedy duo was a model for the new, faster NHL. With the in-season addition of similarly small and quick Chad LaRose, the trio feasted on lesser defensemen and made the Canes three lines deep. In that season, Whitney scored at nearly a point per game pace registering 17 goals and 38 assists in 65 games. He was just as good in the playoffs and upped his game as the pressure increased. Whitney scored in each of the Canes wins in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Buffalo Sabres and also collected three goals and two assists in the Stanley Cup Finals. In total, Ray Whitney scored nine goals and dished out six assists in 24 games on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. Amidst the many stars created during those payoffs, Ray Whitney was one...