As much as I enjoy writing about our beloved Carolina Hurricanes, I have thoroughly enjoyed not having to come up with a post at the end of the work week for Saturday morning’s daily post. But after a crazy busy week personally on top of a voluminous mid-June news surge out of the 1400 Edwards Mill Road offices, I actually wanted to invest a few minutes writing an extra post this week while the dust is still settling on a busy week overall and Cam Ward’s re-signing yesterday.
I and many others have addressed the Cam Ward contract and situation in every way imaginable. Ward’s stats, other goalies’ stats, goalie alternatives, the trade market and expected cost, Ward’s recent play, projections for Ward’s future play and just about everything else related to Ward’s time on the ice in a Hurricanes uniform has been addressed at this point.
Exactly one day before the 10-year anniversary of the Carolina Hurricanes championship that saw Cam Ward win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL playoffs MVP, I wanted to take a few minutes to step back from all, step off the ice so to speak and write about Cam Ward’s place in Hurricanes history and our hockey community.
Cam Ward’s desire to stay is meaningful to me
In the article penned by Michael Smith for the team’s web site, Cam Ward was quoted as graciously saying, “I’m real thankful that Ron (Francis) and the organization are giving me another opportunity to stay for two more years.”
He went on to say, “My family, we consider Raleigh home. I want to be here to play hockey, and there’s also a family side to it, too. This is where we would like to be.”
At a very basic level, Cam Ward wants to be here and is appreciative of the opportunity. That is a tremendously good thing and not unlike the feeling that many other non-native North Carolinians and adopted hockey fans have.
In some ways our Raleigh hockey market has come a long way since our awkward adolescent days during the playoff runs in 2001 and 2002. But in other ways, the recent challenges for the team very much have us back to trying to build or perhaps rebuild our non-traditional hockey market. Though it might not be as vital as when first Ron Francis and then Rod Brind’Amour did the same thing, Having a classy individual like Cam Ward want to remain a part of it despite the challenges means a lot to me. It also speaks to how special what we have is even in down times.
On how lucky we have been with the character and quality of the players who have been part of our community
Certainly, getting the best players and figuring out how to win games, especially playoff games, is part of that. But through thick and thin, one of the things I am most proud of as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes hockey community is the overall quality of the people who have been part of it. Nearly unanimously, the Carolina Hurricanes roster has been stocked with quality individuals who it was easy to root for.
And even among that impressive group, Cam Ward ranks near the top.
The pioneers had to deal with 2 years playing games an hour from home in Greensboro making entire seasons seem like road trips. Founders like Glen Wesley, Kevin Dineen and shortly thereafter Ron Francis were tasked not just with being professional hockey players but also building a market. The players stepped down from their elite professional athlete pedestals and along with team ambassadors Chuck Kaiton and John Forslund tirelessly invested time and energy being building the fan base in North Carolina one friendly interaction at a time.
NHL hockey is significantly different from more well-known US professional sports like football, basketball and even baseball which feature mostly US-born players. Canes hockey brought us a tremendous collection of lovable personalities from across the globe ranging from Arturs Irbe, Sami Kapanen, Niclas Wallin and Josef Vasicek in the early days with Vasicek and Wallin also being part of the 2006 Stanley Cup championship team. The magical 2008-09 season and playoff run featured a trio of humble and lovable Fins in Joni Pitkanen, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen.
Early Hurricanes history also featured established NHL stars in Ron Francis and Rod Brind’Amour making the choice to play in Raleigh and helping validate the market in the process. Canes history has since featured other stars, characters and stories. Who could forget Ray Whitney’s unique combination of playful humor with the photobombing (probably before it even existed) of Tripp’s pre-game interviews and his steely resolve when the puck dropped? Or Chad LaRose’s incredible underdog story making the team and becoming a fan favorite from completely off the depth chart during the 2005-06 season? Or Mike Commodore and the legendary red afro and bath robe? Or the Jeff Skinner’s magical rookie season that culminated with one of our hockey community’s proudest moments hosting the 2010 NHL All-Star Game and completely nailing it? Or of course the utter elation that everyone felt pouring out of Rod Brind’Amour and filling the then RBC Center when he lifted the Cup almost exactly 10 years ago.
The setbacks are partly what make the successes so special
I believe that the tremendously positive memories that we as a Canes community have shared are made even more powerful by the setbacks that helped build the bond between the team and community. To this day, easily one of my top 5 memories as a Carolina Hurricanes fan was being one of the people standing and cheering our Carolina Hurricanes team at the end of the game 6 LOSS to the New Jersey Devils to end the 2001 season. And awkward though it was, especially for the players, I still remember being at the rally in downtown Raleigh after the team LOST the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit. And though it was more fun after the crazy game 7 road wins to win playoff series in 2009, I am proud to have been one of many who welcomed the team home late at night at the airport after playoff losses too.
From boys to men
And along the way, we have watched kids from somewhere else adopt the Raleigh area as their home and become proud North Carolinians just like many of us did at some point in our lives. Most recently, Noah Hanifin started down this road as likable 18-year old kid from Boston suddenly parachuted into Raleigh by virtue of his hard work and God-given hockey ability. Before him, it was wunderkind Jeff Skinner taking the NHL by storm with his whirling-dervish offensive ability and boyish grin. But the originals were the duo of Cam Ward and Eric Staal. They arrived together to play for a team with incredibly low expectations. Almost instantly, they became NHL stars well before their time when they achieved hockey’s greatest accomplishment while still young enough to easily pass for college kids from one of the local universities.
2005-06 set an incredibly high bar which is both a positive and a negative
That accomplishment exactly 10 years ago tomorrow was both a crowning moment and a level by which future Hurricanes teams would be measured. The inability to return to that pinnacle or even get close to it in recent years has made for up and down and even tumultuous times as a fan base and community. And as leaders of the team, it has placed Cam Ward and Eric Staal in the spotlight during some challenging times. Because of their leading roles, I think it is fair to evaluate them based on the contributions on the ice on a yearly or even game-by-game basis. And at least for Ward, that will continue into the 2016-17.
But I think it is also important to do two other things.
First, I think it is important to recognize Cam Ward and Eric Staal for their contributions to Carolina Hurricanes history regardless of how long ago the best chapters were and without knowing for certain if there will ever be more.
Second, I think it is important to appreciate the quality of person that both Cam Ward and Eric Staal. Having watched the vast majority of Carolina Hurricanes, I have my grumbles about the results and the performance of our leaders for games, stretches of games even whole seasons. But I have ZERO basis for ever thinking that they did not care. And I have ZERO basis for thinking that they did not want the best for the Carolina Hurricanes. It might be boring and predictable around here that Ward and Staal are good people, team mates and class acts off the ice, but a quick look around pro sports makes it abundantly clear that this is not the case with all superstars.
What Cam Ward means to me
I think more than anything even the Stanley Cup run, Cam Ward will always be the 21-year old kid who should have been in way over his head when thrust into a starter’s role for the home opener on October 5, 2005 but was anything but. His astounding calmness as he stoned Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Zigg Palffy in the shootout to win is a leading candidate for the greatest regular season game in Hurricanes history.
Cam Ward will also be the 22-year old who improbably led the team to the Stanley Cup Championship, took Hurricanes hockey to another level and allowed us to experience a championship right here in Raleigh.
I will also always remember Cam Ward will as a player with an uncanny ability to play increasingly better as the pressure grew and the spotlight became bigger. His 4-0 record in the pressure cooker of playoff game 7s is my single favorite Cam Ward stat.
Cam Ward also represents a model of class, humility and just being a good person in the midst of good times and bad and a somewhat rare example of a role model in professional sports.
And for me, Cam Ward will always be a Carolina Hurricane whether he strings together a much longer run of hockey in Raleigh or possibly someday departs.
Be careful what you wish for
It pains me to admit it, but one of the reasons my preference was to go another route for goalie for the 2016-17 season was simply the aim to move forward into a new era with a fresh start. Now 7 seasons removed from the team’s last playoff berth, I fear that another flop in 2016-17 will add salt to the open wounds of the die-hard Canes fans. More significantly, I fear that if Cam Ward is in the middle of it the angst will be 10 times what it would be otherwise. This is not prediction or commentary on what I think will happen but rather an assessment of the aftermath if it does.
But here is the thing…I do not think it is wrong or unfair to evaluate the team including Cam Ward on a game by game basis during the 2016-17. That is what we as fans generally do.
But if you enter the season hoping that Cam Ward fails so that you can be right, I think that says a lot about you as a person wishing failure upon a good person despite him being on your team simply so you can be vindicated.
I for one will be pulling for Cam Ward to make my backseat GM posts on Canes and Coffee look more and more wrong by the game throughout the 2016-17 season. And if that does not happen, I will of course be disappointed but will not forget about the good times or lose track of who Cam Ward is as a person.