That was fun.
When can we do that again?
It was one of those nights when everything seemed to go right, from the weather to the hockey to the atmosphere, and somehow this long-imagined, long-anticipated outdoor game at Carter-Finley Stadium managed to exceed expectations.
And not just for the fans, or the Carolina Hurricanes, or even the NHL, which saw this as a gamble in a way that no one in the Triangle did. For everyone.
“Would you have believed 57,000 people would be at an outdoor hockey game in Carolina, ever?” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told The News & Observer.
Not 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even five years ago. But on this night, in this moment, yes.
The fact the Hurricanes won 4-1, dominating the Washington Capitals, was almost an afterthought. They took all the drama out of the game itself, even if there was plenty getting into it, with both traffic and the lines to get into Carter-Finley moving as slowly as feared and foreseen.
This was a leap of faith on the part of the NHL, which had to do things it had never done before, like locating the ice plant far above the playing surface, at the concourse level, a new logistical challenge, and chose to do things it had never done before, like putting N.C. State students on the field.
There were certainly people who doubted, even after tickets were snapped up as soon as they went on sale, even Saturday, that the Hurricanes and the Triangle could pull this off, that this outdoor game would find a way to distinguish itself from its 37 predecessors. But the NHL leaned into the collegiate theme and the game itself — assisted by 40-degree weather that kept the ice in good shape — delivered.
The league got everything it could ever have wanted: A full stadium, a unique experience, a memorable evening, a made-for-television spectacle. Every one of these outdoor games is special in its own way — it’s a delicate dance between filling the demand for them and maintaining their novelty — and once everyone actually got inside, everything that transpired was unforgettable.
It would have been anyway, but a resounding performance by the home team — and the sublime Martin Necas in particular — certainly pushed it over that line. Alex Ovechkin’s absence may have dampened ABC’s mood, with the Capitals star absent mourning the death of his father, but Necas did a pretty good impression with a nasty power-play one-timer from the left circle that made it 4-0.
The Hurricanes scored early and piled on, and as good as they’ve been indoors this season, it turns out they’re even better outdoors.
The only downer was the realization it’s going to be a long time before this happens again, if ever. Unlike a major metro area like New York or Chicago with multiple stadium options, Carter-Finley’s about it. Even Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium will wait more than 20 years to become the first venue to host twice.
“I’m happy for the guys that they get to experience something like this,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It just doesn’t happen very often. Some places it happens a little more frequently. But maybe here now, too. We had to earn our way to get this kind of a game and clearly we’ve earned it. That’s just how I look at it.”
They earned it. We all earned it, this unforgettable night of hockey under the lights, played by a team whose future was once in doubt, but has never looked brighter than this.
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