Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday. I was busy driving home from North Carolina, where I had the pleasure of attending this year's NHL All-Star Game.
This is going to sound a little strange, I think, but I saw a lot of similarities between Flyers fans and Hurricanes fans this weekend. I guess I'll start the comparison by quoting myself in a story I wrote at SBNation.com this morning.
This weekend, as the "Caniacs" welcomed the hockey world to what they proudly call "the loudest house in the NHL," it was time for their coming out party.
Thanks largely to the persistence of owner Peter Karmanos, the Hurricanes and their fans have built something special here over the last 11 years. They did it up this weekend unlike any other American city has done in recent years for an event like this.
From the signage literally everywhere you looked in the Triangle to the hundreds of people scattered downtown in hockey jerseys to the temporary ice rink set-up (it was 60 degrees on Sunday) to the fireworks show on Friday night, the people in Raleigh took complete advantage of their opportunity to go big this weekend, proving to the hockey world that yes, they are a hockey town.
The overwhelming point here is that it took 11 years for hockey to really catch on in Raleigh. Recall that it took quite a few years for hockey to catch on here in Philadelphia, too.If you haven't read Gene Hart's Flyers bible, SCORE! My Twenty-Five Years With The Broad Street Bullies, you need to leave work right now, go buy it, and read it cover to cover, non-stop. Here's an excerpt:
The next night the Flyers made their home debut in the Spectrum, which was also my debut as their P.A. announcer. Commemorative coins were given out to the seven thousand or so in attendance as a memento of the occasion. For many Philadelphians, that first Flyers home game was also the first hockey game they had ever seen, and as a P.A. announcer, I tried my best to introduce the new fans to the rules and nuances of this new game in town, ice hockey.
Now re-read that and replace the proper nouns to ones that describe North Carolina. It fits, doesn't it?
We like to think that since hockey has been here so long and that our franchise is such a storied one, we didn't go through the same type of growth that a place like Raleigh has experienced. Oh, the Flyers have always been so successful. It's a great hockey town, always has been.
Nope, that's just not the case. It took several years for the Flyers to really become part of the fabric of Philadelphia, and that was obviously helped by the fact that Ed Snider was able to put a winning team on the ice in those early years.
It's been a similar situation in Carolina. After the team settled in Raleigh in 1999 (they played a few seasons in Greensboro while the new arena, now known as RBC Center, was built), it took a few years for the team to start winning. By 2006 when the 'Canes won the Stanley Cup, the foundation was built. They've been building on that for years, and this past weekend was their coming out party.
They love hockey down there now. It's the only professional sport in town, but you don't just think of the area as college basketball paradise anymore. There's something else there, and that something else is the NHL. In 40 years, I wouldn't be surprised if we're talking about Raleigh, the hockey town with the storied history.
It's totally plausible. Just because it's the South and just because hockey is relatively new there doesn't mean that it doesn't belong and that it can't succeed.