For those preferring the future over the past, the menu ‘Back to School’ articles features Canes prospects added 2017 Finnish draftees Maki Niemi and Ville Rasanen over the weekend, and the next entry should appear by lunchtime on Monday.
With the 20th anniversary of Hurricanes hockey upon us and the last week of the hockey desert named August in its final week, today’s Daily Cup of Joe diverts from the regular focus on 2017-18 and beyond and instead looks backward over the 20 years of Hurricanes history.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 1 of 4 that names 20 specific days that define Carolina Hurricanes hockey history. The list will work forward in chronological order, so part 1 today features key dates from the move announcement in 1997 through the end of the 2000-01 season which marked the second season and first playoff appearance in Raleigh.
May 6, 1997 — Peter Karmanos announces that the Hartford Whalers are moving to Raleigh
For many including myself, the announcement that Raleigh, North Carolina was getting an NHL hockey team seemed to fall right out of the sky. There were no campaigns, season ticket campaigns or anything. Sure Raleigh was included in a list of five possible destinations for the Hartford Whalers when owner Peter Karmanos was publicly haggling with the powers that be in Hartford, but one had to figure Raleigh for a big underdog and eventual also ran. But on that fateful day, NHL hockey in North Carolina was born.
Related alternate(s): One could substitute the first game in Greensboro (also noted below), but given the struggles attendance-wise and otherwise in the two years in Greensboro, I actually think Wayne Gretzky’s visit on November 21, 1997 might actually be more fitting. The crowd of 19,358 (in a season that averaged barely over 9,000) offered an early glimmer of hope that NHL hockey in North Carolina was possible.
July 13, 1998 — The Hurricanes sign Ron Francis
After a challenging first transitional season in Greensboro, the team entered the offseason struggling in terms of attendance and launching hockey in North Carolina, still a full year away from arriving at its home in Raleigh and needing a spark. That spark arrived in the form of Ron Francis (Francis ‘Memory Lane’). He obviously went on to do much more, but on that first day he brought leadership and took on a leadership role in help building hockey in a new market despite its challenges. Francis helped lead the team to the playoffs in his first year with the Hurricanes and was named its captain just over a year later. It is difficult to project the Hurricanes future without Francis’ role both on and off the ice in the early days.
Related alternate(s): Ron Francis being named captain or scoring in overtime in Detroit in game 1 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals.
January 23, 2000 — The Hurricanes acquire Rod Brind’Amour in trade for Keith Primeau
At the time the deal happened, the Hurricanes faithful had to simply be happy that contract holdout Keith Primeau was gone and that General Manager Jim Rutherford had managed to obtain a good player in the deal despite having minimal negotiating leverage. But in the long run, the deal, like Francis’ deal about about one and a half years earlier, forever changed the trajectory of the franchise. Brind’Amour (Brind’Amour ‘Memory Lane’) is one of only two players to play in each of the four playoff seasons in Raleigh. (Niclas Wallin is the other.) More significantly, Brind’Amour was the captain and (in my opinion) the team’s best and most valuable player when it won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Related alternate(s): Brind’Amour as a free agent choosing to re-sign with the Hurricanes was on par with Francis’ decision to join the team, and Brind’Amour’s many big games (a few will be mentioned later) in the 2006 Stanley Cup run would also be candidates.
October 29, 1999 — The first game in Raleigh
After a road trip that makes even the biggest North Carolina State Fair road trips look like a short weekend trip to the beach, the Carolina Hurricanes played their first game in Raleigh at the then Entertainment and Sports Arena (ESA) on October 29, 1999. The massive 9-game, 22-day road trip while the new arena was being finished (or at least almost finished) seemed like a fitting end after long two-year transition period in Greensboro. The opponent was fittingly the New Jersey Devils who have been a regular part of Hurricanes’ history. The game ended in a 4-2 loss, but more significant was the fact that the game FINALLY launched the team into its home market.
Related alternate(s): One could also pick the first game in Greensboro.
April 22, 2001 — Building the foundation of a special relationship between the team and fan base
After missing the playoffs in the inaugural season in Raleigh (The team did make the 1998-99 playoffs while still in Greensboro.), the Carolina Hurricanes delivered the first taste of playoff hockey in the spring of 2001. Squeaking into the playoffs with the #8 seed, the Hurricanes were slated to face an early 2000’s juggernaut in the New Jersey Devils. No one gave the Hurricanes much of a shot and quite a ways into the series, that assessment seemed accurate. The New Jersey Devils stormed out to a 2-0 lead at home with resounding 5-1 and 2-0 wins. The first home playoff game in Raleigh was even worse. The Hurricanes were drubbed 4-0 and along the way Scott Stevens leveled and concussed a prone Ron Francis. For anyone who was there, the lasting image of Ron Francis stumbling and falling his way to the bench is one that is still not lost. The hit ended Francis’ series and brought Stevens’ knockout total to two counting his previous elimination of rookie Shane Willis in game 1. Game 3 in Raleigh turned into an ugly fight-filled affair that left fans exiting the ESA with exactly zero taste of the goodness of playoff hockey.
But on top of the ruins of what seemed like a dire situation, the first pillar of the special relationship between the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team and its fan base was built. Led by Arturs Irbe (Arturs Irbe ‘Memory Lane’) and a depleted group of skaters, the Hurricanes rebounded to win game 4 in Raleigh and then steal game 5 in overtime in New Jersey setting up a game 6 in Raleigh that seemed impossible only a few days earlier.
New Jersey claimed a two-goal lead in the first period and though the Hurricanes did get back to within a goal early in the second period, the game went the wrong direction. When the Devils scored early in the third to make it 4-1, the game was more or less over, and when they scored with just over five minutes remaining to make it 5-1, it was just piling on. But what happened next is easily one of the most special moments in franchise history. At the point when the building should have been emptying during a late commercial break a small round of applause showing appreciation for the team, the season and the heroic effort in the playoffs started. When it was all said and done, the result was a rousing five-minute ovation that (in my opinion) was the first pillar in building the relationship between the community and its hockey team.
Related alternate(s): Because of how it ended, I am pretty firm in my opinion that game 6 is THE game from that series despite the unimpressive 5-1 loss but the resounding game 5 win would also be a good option.
Feel free to chime in here if you wish, but please also check in at the Monday Coffee Shop that has a similar ‘early days of Hurricanes’ hockey theme with its polls and discussion questions.