Carolina Hurricanes outdoor game sign of franchise rebirth

A crew works to install lines and logos as preparations continue for the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stadium Series game against the Washington Capitals on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

A crew works to install lines and logos as preparations continue for the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stadium Series game against the Washington Capitals on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.


Outdoor Hockeytown, USA

On Feb. 18, the Carolina Hurricanes will host an NHL outdoor hockey game for the first time at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, don’t miss out on the festivities surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes outdoor game.

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When the NHL played its first game outdoors, in Edmonton in November 2003, the Carolina Hurricanes were busy muddling through another lost season, their second after their historic run to the Stanley Cup final.

Three weeks after that game, they would fire Paul Maurice, officially ending any optimism that 2002 was the beginning of some kind of dynasty and not a one-off fluke, as if finishing dead last the year before hadn’t driven that point home. As it turned out, the coach they hired to replace Maurice, Peter Laviolette, would lead the franchise to the Stanley Cup.

But that lay in the uncertain future, and the jokes made then were entirely in jest: “Hey, maybe someday the NHL will play an outdoor game at Carter-Finley.”

Ha ha. Yeah, right. The idea was as far-fetched as living on Mars.

Whatever list there was, the Hurricanes weren’t on it, only a few seasons removed from the Greensboro debacle. And even if they somehow were, the Hurricanes and N.C. State were busy feuding over the color of the seats and parking and naming rights and every other petty little thing they could. The Hurricanes were more likely at that point to play a home game across the border in Canada than across the road at Carter-Finley Stadium.

No chance. Not in a million years.

It only took 20.

For much of the wide span of most of the Hurricanes’ history, what’s actually going to happen Saturday night wasn’t just improbable, it was impossible. This Stadium Series game against the Washington Capitals is not merely a triumph, it’s a miracle.

It wouldn’t have happened without a compelling hockey team and the support that has grown — regrown — around it, snapping up every ticket for this game every time any were made available. It wouldn’t have happened without a better relationship between the Hurricanes and N.C. State, one that will have to become even stronger as the land around PNC Arena is inevitably developed into a mixed-use urban hub over the next decade.

And it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of hard work and belief and prodding, not only by Tom Dundon, who set this as a goal from the moment he closed on his purchase of the team in 2018, but by Rod Brind’Amour applying defibrillator paddles to the franchise, and through the staunch belief of so many of the 57,000 fans who will be in the stands Saturday night.

“We have such a good location for it,” Dundon told the News & Observer. “It was really just about convincing everyone that people would show up. Until the tickets went on sale, I imagine there were still some questions about that. It was a little bit of a leap of faith.”

You earn the right to host the big playoff series — conference finals, Stanley Cup finals — on the ice, as the Hurricanes have several times. There’s no neutral site. It’s entirely based on merit. As it should be.

The NHL Draft and the All-Star Game, in 2004 and 2011, were promised as a contingency, the keystones of a ticket-sales campaign designed to build a foundation for a franchise that was struggling, at the time, to put down roots here.

By the time the All-Star Game finally arrived, the Hurricanes had earned it. Their playoff success in 2002 and 2006 and 2009, and the atmosphere that developed inside and outside the building with that, made that event a celebration of everything not just the Hurricanes but their fans and the market had become. (And were in the process, over the course of a dismal decade, of trying to destroy, as it turned out.)

This is different. There’s no question this wouldn’t be happening if Dundon hadn’t bought the team and pushed for this game, with the NHL inclined to go to lengths to keep a new owner happy. But the NHL also isn’t in the business of giving out handouts, especially when it comes to a major television event like this.

What’s happening Saturday night is a recognition from the league and the hockey world at large that the team’s recent success has proven the market was dormant, not dead, and even still the NHL has clearly been surprised by the reaction — the incredible demand for tickets, the way the Triangle has embraced it, the attention this has gotten even in the heart of college basketball season.

Something that was once barely the punch line to a joke is actually going to happen, in real life. This is more than an outdoor game. This the culmination of the Hurricanes’ rebirth.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock joined The News & Observer in 2000 and has covered six Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He is the current president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, was the 2020 winner of the National Headliner Award as the country’s top sports columnist and has twice been named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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