Home > Sports > Raleigh, NC – Ground zero for hockey?

Raleigh, NC – Ground zero for hockey?

Tomorrow, I attend the first game of the 2006 NHL finals. That’s right, Lord Stanley’s ostentatious silver monstrosity now goes through Raleigh. And Edmonton. At least one of those makes sense.

When NHL hockey moved to North Carolina, I was among those who said, “This is cute… um, but will this affect college basketball at all? No? Gooooooooooal! Wait, that’s from soccer? Oops.” OK, maybe that wasn’t the exact statement, but that’s the overall thinking. For most North Carolinians in 1997, the priority chart for sports went college basketball, college football, the NFL, high school football, high school basketball, the NBA, the MLB, midget league dodgeball… need I continue?

Now? I’m guessing NHL is now fifth or sixth overall in the state (beaten by some combination of NCAA hoops, NFL, high school football, college football and high school basketball for the minds and hearts of the average North Carolinian). In the Raleigh area, it might be a second, albeit disant, to our beloved NCAA basketball. Not too shabby. What’s more, it’s abso-freakin’-lutely astonishing how fast things have recovered since the NHL strike. Winning does remarkable things, I guess.

But here’s the thing I worry about. The Hurricanes got to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002 and this year. So, it’s a very successful franchise on the ice. And the fans will keep showing up, especially when the games are meaningful and the stadium is filled with a buzz every night. Here’s the $64,000 question, though. What will happen when the wins stop coming?

Not sure why this is coming to me on the verge of the NHL finals, but it is. I just looked a decade down the road and I’m not sure about the future for the Canes. If the Ws stop, the transplants from up north will continue to show up, but the locals… the Southerners… who didn’t grow up with hockey? Who could easily do without the Hurricanes in their life? We’re fair-weather fans, many of us, and we’re not going to pay to see the “fourth major” sport — even in our backyard — to see a bad team play. See, if I’m representative of many natives, I’m just not hooked.

First, a little backtracking. I’m not condemning the sport. It’s a helluva thing to watch, but to me, hockey peaked with NHL 1995 on the Sega Genesis. I understand all the rules, but it’s not part of me. I vividly remember sitting in my living room as a kid watching football, basketball and baseball (the trinity, as it were), but hockey didn’t really show up as something to watch until much later. Tennis and golf were always there, but beyond early SportsCenter replays of Gretsky’s heroics, the NHL seemed to be a thing very foreign, frozen and fleeting.

(Oddly enough, I get all amped up for the World Cup every four years. Seriously. If you think I had little exposure to hockey as a kid in eastern North Carolina, soccer was even less a factor than that. My soccer knowledge as a high school student could be summed up in one word. Pele. Heck, I knew more about Australian rules football than I did about soccer. So, I changed in regard to the “beautiful game.” See, I’m not a narrow-minded twit. Just a regular ol’ twit.)

The true test for hockey in the Carolinas will be what happens during — and after — a nice last-place finish. After a few of them. After trying a bunch of different general managers and coaches, but things keep spiralling downward. After every wannabe NHL market begins to clamor for the Hurricanes franchise — just like we got this franchise from Hartford. After the fans finally get tired of Ric Flair’s screaming on the jumbotron (Wooooooo!).

If that were to happen (or when that happens, given the way that all franchises eventually trail off), I give the Canes a 50-50 chance of survival. The transplants and the converted natives might be enough to make a go of it. But, in a few years, the relatively new RBC Center will be antiquated (see the Charlotte Hornets to learn how fast that can happen). The key factor will be if the Hurricanes can become part of the fabric of the Raleigh area before the owner pulls a “build me a new stadium or I’m gone” ploy.

Again, I don’t know. For now, I’m riding the wave. Damn the future! The present is pretty exciting. We have a chance to bring home the most noteworthy trophy in all of sports. To sip champagne from Lord Stanley’s oversized goblet. Let’s do it!

Plus, as long as I can hear “Rock me like a hurricane” 30 times tomorrow night, it’ll be all good. Now, try to get that tune out of your head. Gotcha!

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Categories: Sports
  1. exnygal
    June 5, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    First, hockey is here to stay possibly for the reason of so many transplants from the North but also because it rocks! I say people need to be more open to another sport in the region besides ACC basketball. Even Roy Williams goes to the games. And last week, Kid Rock was in attendance.

    And really can anyone get sick of Ric Flair’s Wooooohoooooo!?!

    Your point is a good one though. The Cup games sold out in two hours. People were at the doors lined up even if they haven’t been to a game all season. (BTW that is infuriating to those of us who go all season and now cannot get a tix to save our lives–not bitter though). Only time will tell what will happen when they aren’t winning anymore. However, I don’t see that happening any time soon with our young and fast players.

    Go Canes!

  2. June 20, 2009 at 8:29 am

    It’s not often I find a really good football article online, most are the same ole’ thing just rehashed.
    Thanks for posting something I could really sit down and read.

    Dave

  1. June 11, 2006 at 1:57 pm
  2. June 28, 2006 at 10:57 pm

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