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.
What do you get when you put a commonly-liked winning team in the middle of three passionate fanbases who have spent the last seven months at each other’s throats who suddenly find themselves without an emotional outlet until college football starts again? You get people camping overnight in the box office just to beat online ticket sales, you get miles of unrivaled tailgating, and you get three hours of an ear-splitting soaked blanket of sound in the “loudest house in the NHL”. You get The Caniacs.
You often hear phrases like “you’ve never seen anything like it”, but that’s truly the case with Hurricanes fans. As you’ve seen with the surge of popularity of professional soccer in the US, the temptation is there to mimic what you see on TV from Anfield or Emirates, and American fans flock to MLS games to sing and chant and light flares like their European counterparts do. But when hockey expanded to North Carolina, after a few seasons in Greensboro and one year in Raleigh of getting used to the idea of an NHL team in the middle of North Carolina, a new culture was born in the NHL that wasn’t anything like what you’d see in Toronto or Chicago or Boston. It was uniquely ours.
Hockey tailgating was born, and not just drunk men cooking brats tailgating. All day, full family, toss around the football in the parking lot tailgating. Cheerleaders entertained the crowd during breaks in the action. NHL purists (a.k.a. elitists) mocked what was going on in Carolina, but an unforgettable moment in the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs not only announced to the hockey world that the Caniacs had arrived, but started a love affair between fans and team that unfortunately has become the only reason that people show up to watch during this active six year playoff drought.
After forcing an improbable Game 6 from a 3-0 series deficit, the New Jersey Devils blew out the Hurricanes on home ice to end the series. With about two minutes left and the game well out of reach, the fans stood and cheered, completely ignoring anything that was happening on the ice at the time. A two-minute (and beyond) standing ovation in a blowout loss just to thank the team for the experience officially embedded Hurricanes hockey in North Carolina sports culture, and it would be a relationship that would go on to yield three trips to the conference finals, two trips to the Stanley Cup Final, and one remarkable Stanley Cup championship in 2006 that will forever be remembered as arguably the best fan environment ever in North Carolina.
Turn on any NHL game tonight and you’ll see cheerleaders in the aisles. Walk through the parking lot at the PNC Arena before any home game and you’ll see truck loads of visiting fans soaking in the tailgating experience. Fans from around the league saw the Caniacs and said “hey, we should do what they’re doing, that looks awesome.” Hopefully someday soon, the Caniacs will get to take center stage again on another Stanley Cup run. They deserve it.