You always hear that the Carolina Hurricanes are special because they’re able to bring UNC, Duke and State fans together.
It’s such a tired take at this point because it implies that cheering for the Canes is something that area fans do in their spare time, and completely ignores the large-and-still-growing population of people in our area who identify as Canes fans first.
In reality – something that struck me last night as it became evident that the Canes would fail to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals – it’s not about Big Three (sorry, Wake) fans putting aside their differences to agree on a hockey team, it’s that being a Hurricanes fan brings together aspects of being a Duke, Carolina or State fan into one consolidated fan experience.
There’s the “we’re getting screwed” mentality of State fans, which, like with NC State, has gotten to the point where it becomes more difficult to pass off as a baseless conspiracy theory. From the “let’s bring in Mark Messier and see if anyone notices” to the more subtle pro-Rangers, anti-Canes touches on the ESPN broadcast, it was painfully obvious that the worldwide leader had no interest in broadcasting games to fans of both teams. Rangers fans were getting a home broadcast. Canes fans were allowed to watch.
And that’s not even getting into the three most controversial calls of the series … all involving Jacob Trouba … that all led to series-changing power play goals for the Rangers in critical moments. A hit on Max Domi that could/should have been interference, boarding, charging or roughing that ended up being a Rangers power play for a laughable instigator penalty on Steven Lorentz, a clown-show dive from a very soft crosscheck that should have been 4 on 4 instead of 5 on 4, and then a game 7 changing high, late hit that knocked out Seth Jarvis leading to a too many men penalty because Jarvis was physically incapable of getting to the bench while play continued.
All of these things – oh, and I forgot to mention the display at the NHL offices featuring the last four teams standing … Tampa, Edmonton, Colorado and New York … WHILE THE CANES HELD A 3-2 LEAD IN THE SERIES – check all of the boxes for the State fans’ “everyone’s out to get us” mentality.
And they way they’ve been talked about locally … well that brings us to the Duke and Carolina portion of this observation.
What Duke and Carolina fans lack in anger, they make up for in loads of insecurity. Simply put, the fans of “the blues” cannot handle any negativity or criticism thrown towards their favorite team, and the real kicker, any absence of praise or recognition is decoded as negativity or criticism.
A fun game that local talk radio likes to play is digging into that insecurity to generate a reaction, which usually plays great during college basketball season when one team’s fans can enjoy watching the other team’s fans get worked up into a childish frenzy. But local radio is incapable of breaking out of this formula when everyone’s on the same side of the insecurity, so while every other market gets homers and water-carriers that play to the fanbase instead of against them, Canes fans are left with small market lifers who aren’t knowledgable enough to disagree with the biased national discourse about the Canes, or who only have one tool in the chest when it comes to turning the screws to purposefully play against the inherent insecurity of sports fans.
As a result, we’re left with one feeling after one of the most successful seasons in franchise history by wondering if it’s ever going to feel enjoyable to be a Canes fan.
One place that COULDN’T have felt enjoyable last night was PNC Arena. Watching from home, it was disgraceful to have the season end on home ice with “let’s go Rangers” echoing through empty red seats. It’s easy to blame the fans who left early, but it’s also easy to understand why they would. At those prices, those weren’t the fans who love this team through thick and thin. Those fans were mostly priced out, or saw an opportunity to sell their seats to help fund season tickets in 2022-23. Instead, PNC was packed with Rangers fans who could travel to NC and buy a ticket for less than the cost of a seat in MSG, or Canes fans willing to pay the “I was there” premium for playoff tickets. For those fans, the commitment wasn’t there to justify sticking around in parking lot traffic, and for the remainder of the Canes fans in attendance, it wasn’t worth being outnumbered by blue shirts in their own arena.
I don’t blame the fans at all. I blame the ticket prices and the arena for allowing the decision to leave to be so easy considering the negative experience of sticking around to cheer their team off of the ice.
In general, the one consistent safe space for Canes fans to feel welcome is Bally Sports where Mike, Tripp, Shane and Abby have demonstrated a deep understanding of the culture and exceptional talent in speaking WITH their audience instead of the speaking down to, or making fun of that Canes fans get elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s also the least accessible space for Canes fans due to the availability of the network, and it’s rumored to get even worse next year as Bally threatens to switch to an expensive one-off subscription model.
So again … the morning after one of the best seasons Canes fans have ever experienced … the general feeling is “why do I put so much into this team when it’s pretty clear that no one wants me to?”
So what do we even do from here? Some suggestions …
1. Try to remind yourself that you don’t need anyone else to be a Canes fan
It would be AMAZING to get consistent praise and fairness from the national media and have voices locally who haven’t lost all perspective on what it means to be a fan. It would be outstanding if it felt like the league and their broadcast partners cared enough about your team to avoid things like calling them the Carolina Panthers during the NHL expansion draft. But they’re all nice-to-haves. All you need to be a Canes fan is 1) the Canes, and 2) other Canes fans.
2. Curate your media options
There are plenty of sources of information out there who do a great job of connecting fans to what’s going on with the team. Some are beat writers, some are podcasters, some are just fans, some are employees of the Canes. Find them and enjoy them, and thank them for what they do.
3. Start looking towards next year
No way around it … the Canes were built to challenge for the Cup this year, and they fell short largely because our best players disappeared in the Rangers series. The bright side is that they’re all capable. In a way, it might be easier to know that your best wasn’t good enough because you could go out and make your best better with off-season roster moves. But the core is young, locked up for a long time, and was a top 3 team in the league in the regular season so the talent is there.
4. Prepare to be pissed at the front office, but give them the benefit of the doubt
Lorentz, Necas and DeAngelo are all restricted free agents. Nino and Trocheck are unrestricted free agents. Any combination of possible moves is going to make a subset of the fanbase mad. A case could be made for signing or bailing on each of those five players.
The one thing we know about the decisions that will be made, Dundon/Waddell will invest money with a future return in mind, while fans often want them to award money for what’s already been done. Have each of those players done something in a Canes uniform that have earned them a future contract? Absolutely. And as fans, that’s what we focus on while the decision-makers have to project what a player will do to earn they money they’d be getting. These two ways of thinking often directly oppose each other, but they’ve been more right than wrong and there’s no reason to expect any different.
5. Watch, or re-watch, Shoresy on Hulu
No reason. It’s just a good show. And you already like hockey and I’m assuming you like laughing.
6. Let the Canes know what you want
The playoff ticket prices and the role they played in a depressing final 10 minutes of the season aside, the Canes have consistently shown that they want you as fans. They might not always give us everything we want, but they always listen. Don’t be afraid to contact your ticket rep or anyone in the front office and have your voice heard.
Until then, we’ll see you in the fall. Be nice to each other. Go Canes.