In honor of the game itself, I will write up NC State’s 3-1 win over UNC-Chapel Hill in the “Backyard Brawl” similar to how I yammer randomly about details in Hurricanes’ games.
But starting there would completely miss the much bigger story on the absolutely wonderful night for local hockey. For someone who pours so much time into Canes hockey that I really do not spend as much as I would like with anything else including the broader NHL and the local hockey scene, I arrived at PNC Arena for Thursday’s game expecting an atmosphere that was fun but nothing special and an intensity level that was greater than rec league but nothing like ‘the real thing.’
I COMPLETELY underestimated my night watching the highest level of amateur hockey in North Carolina.
A special atmosphere and incredible showcase for local hockey
The atmosphere was absolutely electric. When I arrived at about 6:15pm for the 7pm start, half of the lower bowl was open and there was a reasonable smattering of people in each section. The original seating area was bounded by the NC State band in the corner which was also a nice college touch. As the clock pushed closer to game time, the original seating section filled in. And then through the first half of the first period, the crowd started to wrap its way around into the end zone and 3-4 sections farther as additional buses of students arrived and filled up additional sections. And though not the capacity of a basketball game, the estimated 6,000 attendees very much brought the intensity level that goes with any red versus blue match up in central North Carolina. NC State had the volume advantage and were vocal throughout, but UNC was well-represented considering the farther trek to get there. And the crowd was every bit the loud and boisterous variety one would expect with bragging rights on the line.
The game was physical and intense. From the opening face-off, the game was physical. If there was a check to be finished, it was. And if there was a piece to be taken of an opposing player it was. And if there was cause for some jawing and even a bit of extracurricular activity it occurred. At the top level, the game was very much a showcase for local hockey bonding together. But on the ice, it was very much 2 rivals going at each other at maximum intensity level.
Then there is purity of the game itself. I obviously love Hurricanes hockey and just about everything about it. And I appreciate the elite skill level of the NHL game. But there is something incredibly pure about college kids playing simply because they love the game. For anyone who has played a sport, it is why we start playing and also why we keep playing. As Canes fans, we do have the Jorge Alves story as proof that anything is possible, but the odds of any of today’s players playing club hockey as an 18-22-year old ever being played to play professional hockey is as close to zero as you can get. And there are no scholarships or any fame like that heaped on the big Division I sports. There are just practices when other college kids are lounging around. There are 10pm Friday games when the rest of your friends are partying. And there are weekends away via car without any of the luxuries of scholarship athlete travel. But there is also the chance to play a game you love and to do it on a team with other people who love it like you do. And in that there is a purity that is contagious as a fan in attendance and worth supporting as a local hockey person.
This needs to be even bigger next year
For those in attendance, I do not need to say anything, but those who were not, it bears repeating that Thursday night was an absolutely incredible atmosphere and fun time. Between periods, I was brainstorming with Cory and Andrew about the possibility of doing something like this even 1 bigger next season.
Imagine a “North Carolina Hockey Day” at PNC Arena. There is a run of 45-60 minutes youth league games starting at COFFEE time maybe 8am-12pm. Then at something like 12pm and 2:30pm some combination of UNC, NC State, Duke and another local school (maybe Wake Forest) square off in a frozen 4. And of course the night concludes with a Hurricanes game at 7pm. The amateur hockey would wrap up at about 5pm to allow time to clear the arena before the Canes game and also offer time for anyone who wanted to grab dinner elsewhere or tailgate. A Hurricanes ticket gets you into the event for free with the team making a couple $ donation to whatever charity the event supports, and those without a Hurricanes ticket can pay $5 like tonight.
Sign up Canes and Coffee to be the event’s media sponsor and to do pro bono work to market this event to put it in front of every single hockey fan in the Triangle such that we at a minimum completely fill the lower bowl.
Recap of NC State’s 3-1 win over UNC
And in addition to the tremendous atmosphere, the hockey itself was worth watching. As noted above, the physicality, intensity level and later chippiness was on par with a good NHL game in those areas. Not a check went unfinished as a physical tone was set early. The Tar Heels were the better team out of the gate. The men in blue tilted the ice into the offensive zone early and earned 2 power plays in the process. Wolfpack goalie, senior Calvin Stone from Raleigh, was tested early and often without any time to ease into the game. He was the Wolfpack’s best player early and really throughout the first period, as NC State tried to dial up to UNC’s fast start. UNC did strike first when senior captain AJ Hamel received a pass just behind the defense at the offensive blue line and made a nifty move to beat Stone off the rush. But despite being outplayed early, Stone kept the Pack within striking distance while his teammates got their feet under them and gradually climbed into the game.
In the second period, the early physical tone erupted into top-level chippiness. The period featured a high volume of all varieties of dislike for players in the opposing jersey. Players got tangled up after checks, in front of the net and just really whenever possible. Checks were finished hard and sometimes a little bit late. And there was some running around to get another hit. The physical play erupted into a run of penalties for the Tar Heels. If my count is correct, NC State had 4 second period power plays. Whereas the first period featured a run of 5-on-5 play that saw the Tar Heels get the better of play, the second period was a story of UNC being shorthanded through what seemed like the entire middle of the period. NC State’s first power play unit of Banasiewicz, Giminez and Biberdorf up front with Farhat and Hudson on the points. With the run of UNC penalties, that unit had a ton of offensive zone attack time and eventually broke through when NC State captain Sam Banasiewicz walked in from outside the face-off circle and sniped a shot into the corner of the net to tie the game at 1-1. From there, NC State’s level of play rose. Both Banasiewicz and line mate Giminez created or received scoring chances as the power play-filled second period wore on, but strong netminding this time by UNC goalie Gabe Harousseau kept the Tar Heels in the game and helped them exit the second period with a 1-1 tie despite playing nearly half of the period shorthanded.
The third period featured some back and forth play, more chippiness with a few penalties and the chase to score the all-important lead goal as the period wore on. UNC Senior Brendan Radatovich seemingly struck first when he made a pretty move to inside out an NC State defender off the rush and then beat the goalie bar down from in close. But the referees waived it off saying the puck did not cross the goal line and play continued at 1-1 with no replay options available in American Collegiate Hockey Association hockey. (Video review from NC State’s coverage later showed that the referee was right. The puck did not seem to cross the goal line.) Play continued deep into the third period before NC State captain Banasiewicz struck again this time making a move off the rush and beating the goalie stake the Pack to a 2-1 lead with less than 3 minutes remaining. Jack MacDonald then scored shortly thereafter to clinch the win for the red side of the red/blue battle.
In post-game interviews Sam Banasiewicz was of course asked about his 2 big goals in the win but seemed at least equally inclined to talk about the great atmosphere saying, “For a kid who grew up North Raleigh, it was incredible to play in this arena in this atmosphere and in front of this crowd.” He also stated that the game was “about growing college hockey in North Carolina.” And when pressed about his tremendous night said about his second goal that “at first he did not realize it went in.” As much as one had to feel for the UNC team when Banasiewicz scored the second goal, the celebration on the ice and on the bench on the NC State side was a highlight of the night. NC State Coach Mike Gazzillo called his team “resilient” and credited them with “being disciplined in the second period.” He also complimented Stone for his strong play in especially early and Banasiewicz for stepping up to lead the team. I also briefly caught UNC Coach Jeff Volkman in the hallway after the game. Rather than running him through some set of questions about minutiae in the game his team had lost, I simply complimented him for his team’s role in a tremendous event for local hockey. Heard from a fan exiting after the game – “They should do this even bigger next year.” I could not agree more.
Sam Banasiewicz: He obviously earned the first star with the 2 goals. His game was a little bit of Erik Cole power forward but also with a bit of Jeff Skinner sniper beating the goalie on both of his goals.
Luis Giminez: He was the Robin to Banasiewicz’s Batman, assisting on both goals and being part of the same power play unit that generated a large percent of NC State’s offense on the night. Giminez impressed me as being a notch higher than most in terms of technical skating ability and also a somewhat Jordan Staal-like ability to carry the puck where he could protect it and keep his feet moving such that he could just keep carrying if he chose to.
Brotherhood: As testy as the game was on the ice, I happened to follow Banasiewicz on his walk through the underbelly of PNC Arena past the UNC locker room after the game where a couple of enemies greeted him and they chatted respectfully for a minute or 2.
Goaltending – Calvin Stone and Gabe Harousseau: I was impressed by the play of both goalies. Calvin Stone was his team’s best player in a slow first period and Gabe Harousseau battled to keep his team in the game in the second period despite its parade to the penalty box.
Brendan Radatovich: Despite it being waived off as no goal, Radatovich’s crisp move and wicked shot off the bottom side of the cross bar still stands out as maybe the prettiest skill play on the night.
Fortuitous seat choice: Another unexpected highlight was a seat choice right in front of where Pack TV set up to cover the game. I was absolutely floored by Drew Blevins, and his ability to flawlessly call the game and felt as if I was listening to Forslund or Kaiton on the radio while watching. Better keep your game up John Forslund. We have a kid in the system who will challenge you if you let up. 🙂
If you were there, you know how great of a night this was. If you were not there, you now know that you should be next year.