Today is obviously the 10-year anniversary of the Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup victory and what is correctly thought to be the greatest day in Carolina Hurricanes history.
But for my personal journey as a Carolina Hurricanes fan for life, I have always thought of the Hurricanes Stanley Cup championship game 7 victory as an incredibly great addition to my broader journey as a Canes fan and that the journey itself, both before and after that day were just as incredible and play a HUGE role in adding context that makes the game on June 19, 2006 more special than just a great night. I have always thought of that game as the third pillar of my indoctrination as a fan who will root for the team for forever.
April 22, 2001 – Game 6 vs. New Jersey Devils (5-1 LOSS)
The 2001 playoffs represented the Carolina Hurricanes first playoff appearance in Raleigh. Remember that the first Hurricanes playoff berth was when the team was still in its temporary home in Greensboro. As luck would have it, the Canes drew an NHL juggernaut in the New Jersey Devils.
After a burst of optimism and joy from the Hurricanes’ faithfuls, the series was more or less over before it even started. The Devils won the first three games by scores of 5-1, 2-0 and 4-0. And it actually was not that fun. Before it started the media unanimously declared the Devils a sure thing to wipe the lowly Hurricanes on the ice. And along the way the Canes were physically beaten in addition to beng dominated on the score board.
In game 2 in New Jersey, Shane Willis was concussed by a big hit by Scott Stevens. Then in game 3 on home ice, Ron Francis was decimated by another big hit by Scott Stevens. Things ultimately erupted into a full ice 5-on-5 fight in which the Canes really did not so much get the better of that either. Leaving the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena as it was called in those days, every bit of the luster of making the 2001 playoffs had evaporated into a hockey and physical whooping at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
At that point, game 4 seemed like a mere formality on the way to being bounced from the playoffs brutally in 4 games. The Canes were significantly undermanned minus their captain and young scorer Shane Willis. The total score in the first 3 game was a combined 11-1. Even a strong character effort seemed destined to fall way short. And New Jersey was rolling.
But the Carolina Hurricanes rose up. Led by a rag tag bunch of whoever was still left, the Hurricanes climbed out to their first lead of the series with an early goal by Sami Kapanen and entered the third period with a 2-1 lead. The Devils tied the game in the third but Rod Bring’Amour scored a clutch goal early in overtime to push the Canes to a 3-2 overtime win. Brind’Amour and Kapanen each finished with 3 points and perfect 2001 Hurricanes hockey community spirit animal Arturs Irbe also played a huge role. After a bitter indoctrination into playoff hockey, Canes fans finally received a taste of the glory of playoff hockey goodness.
To the hockey world’s surprise the Canes went on to win game 5 in New Jersey, making it a series at 3 games to 2 in New Jersey’s favor and also forcing a game 6 back in Raleigh. The optimism, hope and joy that was gained when the team made the playoffs but then lost during the drubbings of the first 3 games had been fully regained. With a win, the undermanned Hurricanes would have won 3 in a row and would force a game 7.
But it was not to be. The Devils jumped out to a 2-goal lead in the first period. A David Tanabe marker in the second period offered hope, but that hope was quickly squelched when the Devils tacked on another goal in the second period and then another fairly early in the third period. By the midway point of the third period, the score was 4-1 Devils, and it was fairly apparent that the Devils would finish the series.
But then my absolute favorite time as a Canes fan happened (yes – even over winning the Stanley Cup). With about 8 minutes to go in the game, the crowd who mostly remained started to applaud the team in appreciation of the season and the comeback effort in the playoffs. What started as a polite murmur grew throughout the remainder of the game as if what was happening on the ice did not matter. After a rough start, the first taste of playoff hockey culminated with a rousing standing ovation in appreciation of our team. The comeback and the special appreciation showed in that game on April 22, 2001 played a role in the special bond between the team and the community and also set the stage for the second pillar of my complete indoctrination as a Canes fan nearly one year later.
April 24, 2002 – Game 5 vs. New Jersey (3-2 OT WIN)
The Hurricanes built on their 2000-01 playoff season with an even better 2001-02 campaign. In the regular season, the Hurricanes won the Southeast Division and earned a #3 seed in the 2002 playoffs for their work. As luck would have it, the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils lost their division and fell to the #6 seed setting up a rematch from a year earlier. The hockey media again wrote the Canes off and pretty much unanimously picked the Devils to again advance to the next round over the Canes.
With the Hurricanes winning their division (despite the Devils having a better record), the Canes had home ice advantage. Things started incredibly well with games 1 and 2 in Raleigh. In game 1, the Canes shot out of the gate with Rod Brind’Amour to open the scoring followed by another first period goal by Erik Cole. Arturs Irbe was a wall stopping 34 of 35 shots to make it hold up and staking the Canes to a 2-1 win. Game 2 was another tight-checking affair that finished regulation tied at 1 goal apiece. When Bates Battaglia scored in overtime, the Canes were up 2-0 and seemed to be on their way to a much better series outcome than the previous year.
Entering game 3 in New Jersey, things could not have been better for the team and as a Canes fan. But the fun path to a 2-0 series lead hit an obstacle after that and it hit it incredibly hard. Game 3 saw New Jersey utterly dominate in a 4-0 pounding that really was not even that close. New Jersey took charge right from the opening whistle, chased Canes starter Arturs Irbe by early in the second period after scoring 3 goals on 12 shots and never looked back.
Entering game 4, the Canes were still in decent shape but needed to answer New Jersey’s surge. They did not. Irbe was again chased at the end of the first period after yielding 2 goals on 8 shots as the Devils picked up right where they left off in game 3. The Canes lost 3-1 in a game that again was not that close. After surging to a 2-0 series lead, the Canes were suddenly knotted at 2 games a piece and significantly on the wrong side of any momentum heading into game 5 in Raleigh.
After Irbe was pulled early in consecutive games, the question was being asked who would start game 5. Coach Paul Maurice was mum on the subject. I am not sure if there was some kind of announcement shortly before game time while I was making my way to the arena, but I learned that Kevin Weekes would be the starter when he led the team onto the ice. To this day, I can close my eyes and remember the conflicted feeling anxiousness, optimism and sheer terror that I had at that point. As the Hurricanes road a hot Arturs Irbe down the stretch, Kevin Weekes had played exactly once in March and once in April making a total of 2 games played in the past 70 days. The range of possibilities at that point seemed immense. Was he rusty? Would Irbe rebound if given the chance? Was New Jersey just too good at this point anyway?
Weekes seemed to settle in quickly and was good early as the team in front of him tried to recover and get their footing. He held the fort until New Jersey scored first in the second period and played one of his best games in a Carolina Hurricanes uniform. Even with Weekes’ strong performance, the game was tight and New Jersey eventually pushed to a 2-1 lead with a goal by Patrick Elias with only 8:14 remaining. As time wound down things became increasingly desperate until Jeff O’Neill notched a huge power play marker with only 1:29 remaining to tie the game at 2-2 and push it to overtime.
With tension on the rise, the game ended with two of my favorite plays in Carolina Hurricanes history. First Kevin Weekes made what in my opinion is the greatest save in Hurricanes history with a lunging glove save to snare a shot that was certainly headed into what looked like an empty net. The image of Weekes skating defiantly off to the corner with the puck in his glove is etched on my memory for forever. The save was followed shortly by Josef Vasicek retrieving a puck in front of the net and beating Martin Brodeur through a screen to win the game and post the Canes to a 3-2 series lead.
While the win in game 7 in 2006 is probably the greatest game in Carolina Hurricanes history, to this day I argue that this win is the single most important. Without this win, the Canes were seemingly destined to go to New Jersey on a 3-game losing streak and likely be closed out by New Jersey. Though there were moments of goodness, all of the hockey greatness of the long 2002 playoff run would have never happened. No Jeff O’Neill black eye game. No Martin Gelinas game-winner to push the Canes to the Finals. No Miracle at Molson. No epic three overtime thriller in Raleigh’s first Stanley Cup Finals game. And so on.
Game 5 against New Jersey in the first round of the 2002 NHL playoffs on April 24, 2002 was in my opinion the foundation upon which the second level of Hurricanes hockey was built when it was the starting point for the bevy of playoff highlights that followed.
June 19, 2006 – Game 7 vs. Edmonton (3-1 Stanley Cup-winning WIN)
For the epic game 10 years ago today, I could recap the events and detail the scoring plays, but for me the absolute greatest part of days like this is equally the wildly different individual perspectives on the game and when those memories are shared with other people. Over the years, I have talked to so many people about that game, and the absolute best part is the individual tidbits. I have talked to people who know what they at for dinner that day, how they payed hundreds of dollars to fly home a day early from a business trip and still nearly missed the game, etc.
A few of my memories from that day are as follows:
–I remember not being able to sleep the night before and also to going to work, honestly trying to stay focused and productive but failing miserably. From when I woke up at some crazy hour like 5am (and I am NOT a morning) person, I remember being a ball of stress and tension just trying to somehow keep from exploding before 8pm.
–I also remember being a bit sad that it was going to be the end either way. My oldest son who was in preschool at the time and I attended every home playoff game. (My wife and two younger sons went to many but not all of the games.) The schedule was reasonably friendly with his 3-day per week school schedule and 9:30am start time, but it was not perfect for a 4-year old regardless especially with some of the later start times. I did not think we were going to make it when looking bleary-eyed and tired eating breakfast after a late third round game, he started murmuring “Miller…Miller…You suck!”. My wife was NOT impressed, but we persevered and pushed forward to the Finals.
–I also remember frantically changing diapers for my younger sons and trying to keep them entertained so they could make it through games (not all of them but enough) and so that I missed as little of the game action as possible.
–I remember getting cotton candy for my son in an early-round game that ended well and then needing to do that for the entire rest of the playoffs.
–I remember nearly falling to the row in front of me in section 333 when Justin Williams hit the empty net and shortly thereafter when the Canes employees from the video booth or whatever was above us handed champagne down that was being passed through the crowd.
–To this day, I get chills every time I hear Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’ which was the on-ice montage shown each game and can still picture the big Stanley Cup that covered the entire ice at the end of it.
–And of course I remember Rod Brind’Amour hoisting the Stanley Cup on the ice in our arena in Raleigh, North Carolina!
Recognizing that there are other places for it and also that much of it happens on Twitter these days, I would LOVE if it others would share their crazy memories from that magical time 10 years ago today.