Monday, September 5, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Seth & the Carolina Hurricanes

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 18 of 30: the Carolina Hurricanes


Carolina had a disappointing ending to what had been a very positive season for their team. The All-Star Game in January had provided a lot of positive exposure and press for the Hurricanes, not only proving that Raleigh/Carolina has, in fact, become a hockey market - and one that players are very dedicated to - but that hockey can succeed in an untraditional, sunbelt market.

The Hurricanes, like the Dallas Stars, missed out on their first playoff appearance since 2009 due to a loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning in game #82. (Tampa Bay, of course, went on all the way to the Eastern Conference Final). The team won the Cup in 2006, but have only been to the playoffs in one of the subsequent seasons.

Carolina's brightest spot is Jeff Skinner, who walked away with the Calder Trophy at this year's NHL Awards. Fresh off the 2010 Draft, he made an immediate impact with the team. His outstanding rookie year coupled with his strong work ethic means that Hurricane fans should expect exciting things out of Skinner for years to come. Sophomore slump? Don't even think it.

Hurricane icon Rod Brind'Amour was named to team development coach; he'll also be an assistant coach for the team along with Dave Lewis. Ron Francis became the team's Director of Hockey Operations.

Have we mentioned team loyalty? It shouldn't be surprising. In the team's previous incarnation as the Hartford Whalers, both the players and the fan base showed a strong loyalty to the team despite the team's ability to be playoff contenders. (Three of the team's four UFAs opted to re-sign with Carolina; the fourth - Cole - went to Montréal for more money than Carolina could offer.)

Little wonder that the Hurricanes should evolve the same way; a good number of their players have been on the roster for several years. During the All-Star Game, interviews with past and present players spoke glowingly of the fanbase (nicknamed the "Caniacs") and the franchise. Finally, the rest of the league sat up and took notice.

Carolina had relatively little turnover this off season. Tomas Kaberle was a late-season trade from Toronto to the Boston Bruins; he went on to help the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, so for the Hurricanes, he'll be bringing both playoff experience and a solid scoring touch to Carolina's blue line. Likewise, Brian Boucher brings a lot of playoff experience and will be a solid backup to franchise goalie Cam Ward. Boucher will no longer have to deal with the stress of the goalie-go-round in Philadelphia; this should solidify his play for the season. Anthony Stewart had a career year with the Atlanta Thrashers last year; he ended up not becoming a Winnipeg Jet and instead became a Hurricane.

In addition, the team has some nice talent coming up the pipeline from their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers - players like Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk and Justin Faulk. While some of these players might make the Hurricanes out of camp, the Checkers are rich with talent. With the Checkers' move to the newly restructured Midwest divison of the AHL, their AHL affiliate will spend most of their season playing against future Blackhawks, Blues, Canucks, and Predators - which can only strengthen the Charlotte players.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Brian Boucher (PHL), Tim Brent, Tomas Kaberle (BOS), Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart (ATL/WPG)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Erik Cole (MTL), Joe Corvo (BOS), Bryan Rodney (ANA), Corey Stillman

Carolina is a team that combines a good core of players with a lot of young talent. Expect the Hurricanes to strongly contend for a playoff berth this year, and for the team to make regular post-season appearances for the years ahead.

* * *

For the Hurricanes, we talked to Seth, who can be found on Twitter as HTFDWhalers and writes the blog "Some Like It Blue". He's been a fan of the Hurricanes for 18 years.

Let's talk a bit about your fandom.

I write for; this is actually a Rangers blog, but I only really write about the Connecticut Whale, the AHL team from Hartford that happens to be the Rangers affiliate. The Carolina Hurricanes are my favorite NHL team; the Connecticut Whale are my AHL team.

I've been a fan since they were the Whalers when I was a very little kid, about 18 years. I've been a fan since they were the Whalers. It happens that the day I was born, the Whalers played the Bruins in Boston and beat them. When I was three, I needed a winter jacket and the one Whalers jacket was $10 less than all the Bruins jackets, so that was what I got. It kinda stuck. They moved to North Carolina when I was 8, and I was too young to understand anything besides "Oooh, new uniforms," so unlike most Hartford fans, I love the Hurricanes.

photo courtesy of Seth/SomeLikeItBlue
My most special memory was my first NHL game, in late 2005 in Boston. Obviously, I rarely got to see the Hurricanes on TV since I live in Massachusetts, and therefore I followed the team on via the radio broadcasts. As a result, I was an avid fan of Chuck Kaiton. I decided to run around the (now TD Garden, I don't remember what it was called then) building to try to find the broadcast booth, and somehow got past all the security to get up there and actually met Chuck. He was very kind, and signed my jersey. The 'Canes then won the game, and my favorite player, Erik Cole, scored a beautiful goal; newly acquired star Doug Weight hit the winner in the shootout.

You're a broadcaster for a college hockey team - can you tell us a little about that?

I'm actually the play-by-play voice of an NCAA Division I team, the AIC Yellow Jackets. It's my college's hockey team. We compete in AtlanticHockey, the least publicized of the five NCAA conferences, and the least respected, but it's great hockey. AIC is actually normally a Division II school (competing in the Northeast-10 for all our other sports) but we play up because there's no DII hockey. Our school, with an undergrad population of 2500, has to face the likes of UConn, Air Force, Robert Morris, and Army every night. We don't always win, but we can compete with anyone; last year we beat Air Force--who won the conference and went to the NCAA Tournament--at their home opener, beat RIT, who went to the Frozen Four the year before, and then beat Army in their building to knock them out of the playoffs.

The AHA deserves more respect than it gets. I love being part of a team, though. I'm not athletic, so this is a perfect way to be involved, and the guys treat me like I'm one of them. It's also nice to be able to bring the game to the parents, since some of our guys are from Canada or California, and we had two guys who are from Slovakia as well! Overall, it's a lot of fun to do. I'm looking forward to my fifth season with the team.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Anthony Stewart excites me. He'll bring grit to the team and some good offense as well. I'm also happy to have Brian Boucher, to take the load off of Cam Ward a little.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I think the team is relatively even with where it was last year--losing Erik Cole hurts, and I don't think the defense has improved much, but the depth at forward in general is better. I really hope that they fire Paul Maurice, though--I hated it the moment they brought him back. My dream scenario has Ron Francis deciding he wants the job after all and getting it, but anyone is better than Mo at this point.

Raleigh got a lot of attention last season as hosts of the All-Star Game. Let's talk about the Carolinas as a hockey market.

It's plain to see that Raleigh was a good choice for an NHL team. People finally realized it after the 2011 All-Star Game, but there were all kinds of signs before that. The 2002 Cup Final run was crazy--Don Cherry said he'd never heard a building as loud as the RBC Center, and he's been to Montreal a thousand times. Same in 2006--we broke the record for loudest crowd at a game, I think it was about 131 dB. The folks at TSN were all stunned that our fans stood for the entirety of Game 7.

There are good and bad markets in the south, as there are in the north as well. Raleigh is a great one; I think Tampa and Nashville and Anaheim and San Jose and LA are all successful and can stay that way long term. At the same time, Atlanta was a mistake, and I doubt Miami and Phoenix will last much longer either. However, to say that because a few markets failed the entire region sucks is wrong.

Look at Long Island--should we yank hockey out of the entire tri-state area because a team there is sinking faster than a rock in a lake? No, it just means that that one specific market isn't working. Miami and Atlanta tend not to support any of their teams well unless they're winning, and Phoenix just hasn't worked for some reason, but Raleigh and Tampa and Nashville have been successes and will continue to be.

Do you think Hartford will ever get an NHL-level team again?

I think it's a matter of when, not if, the Whalers return. I mentioned Nashville above and the success they have had, and of course Raleigh; both of those markets are around 1.5 million people in the county they're in and the surrounding counties. Hartford County and the six surrounding counties have over 3 million people, and are close to other major cities like Boston, Providence, and New York. There are 4 AHL teams competing for the same area that could be consolidated into one NHL market. We have fans, we have an owner who is treating the AHL team like an NHL team--we have a radio deal with a major FM station and a TV deal coming as well.

Hartford WILL work as a market. My only problem then will be who to root for when the Whalers play the Hurricanes. I hope they never meet in the Conference Finals, because I'd probably tear my hair out.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

I think they'll sneak in, 8th in the Eastern Conference, so long as Ward stays healthy and Skinner keeps improving.

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

I'd get rid of the trapezoid and the instigator rules. They both hurt the game. The trapezoid rule is just silly, and actually decreases scoring since most goalies handle the puck like a live grenade. I also think the rash of dirty hits in the last decade or so has to do with the instigator--if players knew they would repeatedly get beaten up for cheap shots, they wouldn't do it. No one took runs at Gretzky because Semenko would have beaten them senseless, and guys like Howe and Richard would have whipped anyone who tried the kind of crap that players like Matt Cooke regularly do. Dump the instigator and the cheap shots drop as well.

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