There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t wake up being thankful for being a sports fan in North Carolina. This November, the SportsChannel8 team and a panel of peers from NC media will be counting down to Thanksgiving with the top 25 things we have to be thankful for in this great state.
As a state, I hope we’re comfortable enough now in our own skin to admit that we don’t know much about hockey. That was an extremely sensitive topic when the Carolina Hurricanes moved from Hartford to Greensboro, and later to Raleigh. Personally, I would get seethingly angry listening to ESPN sprinkle redneck jokes into highlight packages, refusing to even say the word “Hurricanes”, and making jokes about the sparse attendance in Greensboro by referring to the empty seats as “Green Acres”. As we all know in ACC country, ESPN is THE tastemaker in sports, and the obvious butthurt over losing Connecticut’s pro franchise to North Carolina contributed to the construction of an extremely negative perception of the franchise and its fans. In short, ESPN wanted the Hurricanes to fail in North Carolina and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
But let’s be real. Fans didn’t really go to the games at first. And when they did, you’d hear fans screaming “SHOOT” on every power play, even though the four skaters on the penalty kill were completely blocking a path to the goal. You’d hear things like “GET THE BALL OUT” when the Canes were stuck in their own zone. It happened. I was there, trust me. The franchise was smart by hiring “Ron the Ref” who would shoot videos to explain the rules of hockey to fans and make himself available for questions in the concourse. But moves like that, man, it just fueled the fire for those eager to laugh at the Hurricanes fanbase. But there was one area within the organization that no one dared to mock. Three voices, two with universal credibility in the hockey world, and a third playing as the perfect sidekick. Speaking as a fan who hadn’t watched a single shift of NHL hockey before the Hurricanes moved to Greensboro, I’m incredibly thankful for Chuck Kaiton, John Forslund, and Tripp Tracy for teaching me to enjoy the game through play-by-play, analysis, humor, but most of all, chill-inducing excitement.
Chuck Kaiton has been the radio voice of the Hurricanes/Whalers for as long as I’ve been alive. Widely known as one of the best in the game for his attention to detail on player pronunciation to his encyclopedic knowledge of hockey history, what Kaiton brings to a broadcast SHOULD have been completely lost on every listener in North Carolina because we have no interest in who started in goal in Game 2 of the 1979 Calder Cup Finals. It SHOULD have been intimidating for us to have someone with this deep knowledge of hockey history speaking to us. It SHOULD have felt like when your college professor would spend the first day of the semester establishing how much more he knows than you do by lecturing way over your head before sighing and saying “Well it’s obvious I’m going to have to slow down for this class”. But it never felt that way. Every game in the 2nd intermission, “Kaiton’s Corner” answers questions from fans emailed to “Chuck and the letter K” that range from strategy to history to “can you explain icing?”, and he answers each with a heartfelt response that makes fans comfortable asking the questions that ESPN made them feel bad for wondering in the first place. On a personal level, as a toddler, my son fell asleep listening to Hurricanes games on the radio and now we can’t keep him off of the ice. Whatever he turns out to be in the hockey world, whether it’s playing in college or playing in an adult house league, that’s because Chuck Kaiton got him interested.
On the other hand, there are times when you don’t want your kids listening to John Forslund and Tripp Tracy. The TV broadcast team, famous for double entendres, intentional or not, will have you rewinding the call at least once a week with some comment about someone’s shaft or something penetrating something else. But at the heart of the commentary is some of the best work in the NHL, as evidenced by the national exposure earned by John Forslund who is now one of the most recognized voices in all of hockey. Long before fans understood what they were seeing on TV, John and Tripp made them excited about it. There’s nothing I could write here that would do them justice, so here you go …