Cup a long time coming for Canes, not Carolinians
June 20, 2006
So it’s settled. The Carolina Hurricanes are the kings of the new NHL. The sweetest part of the ‘Canes’ Cup victory may be that a handful of old-school veterans finally got to hoist Lord Stanley’s hardware. Players like Glen Wesley, Rod Brind’Amour, Bret Hedican, Doug Weight and Ray Whitney have been waiting their entire careers to engrave their names into hockey history. And even before they broke into the NHL, these guys spent their childhoods dreaming of one day playing in the NHL. For these guys, the Cup is all the more meaningful.Take Wesley, for example. The Red Deer, Alberta, native (the town rests halfway between Edmonton and Calgary) logged more than 1,300 regular season games and 160 playoff games during 18 years before he touched the Cup. He actually played for the Hartford Whalers. I don’t care if he won the Cup with a team from Botswana – I’d still be happy for the guy.Now, let me say that the Hurricanes fans don’t know how good they’ve got it. Most of the people in the arena for Monday night’s Game 7 win likely didn’t know what a puck was growing up. I’m sure Raleigh residents know that Mike Commodore isn’t the inventor of the Commodore 64 computer, but a defenseman who looks like a lumberjack. This may not have been the case had Carolina not advanced to the finals in 2002, or won it this year.It’s always great to see a sport expand into new geographical areas. I’m sure the signups for next years Mite hockey leagues in North Carolina will have a few more names than in year’s past. But it pains me to see a relocated team (I consider a team that has been in a city for less than 10 years relocated) win a championship when there are other storied franchises who have yet to do so. I know that any plea of a mandatory championship waiting period is falling on deaf ears in Colorado (The Avalanche claimed the Cup in its first year in Colorado), so I’ll stop before I harangue any further.But before I fully depart from the subject of entitlement, let me present a counterfactual. Had the Edmonton Oilers, or say Buffalo Sabres (and yes, even San Jose Sharks) won the Cup, there would have been absolute mayhem in the streets. Had the Hurricanes lost Game 7, I don’t think there would have been as many grown men sobbing in Raleigh as there surely were in Edmonton. In Raleigh, hockey seems to be a new, hot commodity. For a city like Edmonton, hockey is a way of life.
Hockey traditionEven the staunchest hockey purists can take some enjoyment out of Carolina’s win. The Hurricanes play a clean, hard-working brand of hockey. There aren’t any whiny superstars on the roster. These guys wanted to get on the ice and play no matter what – just ask Eric Cole, who came back after breaking his neck earlier in the season.And who can argue with a series that goes the distance? Game 7 of the Stanley Cup oozes excitement regardless who is playing. Edmonton deserves a majority of the credit for making the finals something to watch. The Oilers lost goalie Dwayne Roloson in Game 1, and still managed to win three games without him. And the Oilers had the harder path to the finals, having to beat Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim.Carolina had to play 25 games en route to the winning the Cup, but I think it had a few gifts along the way. The Hurricanes took the Montreal Canadiens in the first round after the Canadiens lost star Saku Koivu. Then, in the second round, Carolina drew a New Jersey Devils team that seemingly gave up. And in the conference finals, the ‘Canes took on a Buffalo Sabres squad without leading scorer Tim Connolly and four starting defenseman.
MVP?Carolina goalie Cam Ward had a good run in the playoffs. Still, I don’t think he deserved to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the playoffs. Goalies are disproportionately chosen Conn Smythe winners. Ward’s statistics were impressive (2.14 goals against average and a .920 save percentage), but he also got pulled in two games. Brind’Amour may have only registered 18 points, but he won countless key faceoffs and drew the opposition’s top defenseman. And Eric Staal scored a point in 15 straight games, tops for a rookie and three shy of the NHL record, and led the playoffs with 28 points. Ward was great in about half the games he played, while Staal and Brind’Amour were solid in almost every game they played.Before anyone lauds Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette for his leadership, I’d like to bring up a patriotic beef I have with him. I, along with millions of Americans, felt embarrassed to be a U.S. hockey fan during the 2006 Torino Games. Laviolette was as useless as his players, and the team went 1-3-1.
OK, I had to get that out of my system.So until next year when the Hurricanes hand over the Cup to another team (preferably the Sabres), I hope the fine citizens of North Carolina relish what some have waited all their entire lives to claim.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com, and isn’t bitter that the Sabres lost to the Hurricanes.Vail, Colorado
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