In North Carolina, it’s not out of the ordinary to have the kind of mild weather that allows you to play golf and (outdoor) hockey on the same day, even in February. The Carolina Hurricanes took a hack at it, anyway, on Saturday.
In keeping with what has become an instant NHL tradition, the Hurricanes arrived for Saturday’s Stadium Series game in themed outfits suitable for hitting the rink or the old-timey links: plaid tam o’shanter caps, white shirts, plaid ties, V-neck sweaters, plaid plus-fours, navy socks and white golf shoes. Nobody would say whose idea it was, but after it won a team vote, Stefan Noesen was responsible for procuring all the gear on short notice.
A few players carried golf clubs along with their gear. Stormy came dressed in a Masters caddy jumpsuit with a golf bag filled with hockey sticks slung over his shoulders, and a few of the Hurricanes’ trainers wore green caddy vests from Old Chatham Golf Club as the team walked between two walls of fans between PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium after being bused in from their practice rink with a police escort.
“It’s normal up until getting on the bus there and getting to the rink and walking through that, I don’t even know what you call it,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook said. “My cheeks hurt already. It’s been a good day so far.”
The Washington Capitals leaned into the football theme, dressing like high-school lettermen and arriving on yellow school buses.
“I haven’t done that in a while,” Capitals (and former Hurricanes) coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was really cool. The police escort in, and the police did a great job because there were a lot of people trying to get into the building from the outside.”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Derek Stepan may have as much on the line as any of the Hurricanes on Saturday. He’s got a perfect record in outdoor games — 3-0 in the NHL, all with the New York Rangers, and 1-0 in college at Wisconsin — including a famous penalty-shot goal at Yankee Stadium against the New Jersey Devils.
This fourth NHL game will tie him for 15th all-time in outdoor appearances. If there’s one thing he’s learned, other than that eye black works, it’s that there’s a trick to playing outdoors: “Being downwind.”
When Stepan was playing at Wisconsin, the Badgers faced Michigan at Camp Randall, with a stiff breeze at their backs in the third period. Then-Michigan coach Red Berenson wanted to switch ends midway through the third, but Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves declined … and the Badgers scored twice late in the third to come back and win 3-2 on a pair of goals by (former Hurricanes defenseman) Brendan Smith.
But if there’s one thing that all outdoor games have in common, it’s the sound, Stepan said.
“It feels like you’re so far away from everybody but that’s not the case,” Stepan said. “The noise is different. It’s a different noise in stadiums. It’s just outdoor vs. indoor noise. It’s more of a roar, rather than a cheer.”
FLIPPING THE SWITCH
With all the hype leading up to the game — from Friday’s family skate to Saturday’s outfits and arrival to the sheer magnitude of the scene inside Carter-Finley Stadium, it’s easy to forget sometimes that not only is there a hockey game to be played, it counts in the standings between two teams that could end up seeing each other again in the postseason.
“We definitely are going to have to get focused,” Brind’Amour said. “Clearly right now that’s not happening. It’s a gong show, I’ll just throw that out there, and that’s OK. That’s what it should be. At some point, when we’ve done all this, and they’ve done all they’re stuff, we’ll start putting stuff on and we’ll have to flip the switch. In a perfect world, if we were playing over there (at PNC), that’s not how this should go. But when we’re in here, this is exactly how it should go.”