Raleigh shows that hockey in the deep south is doing just fine


There’s something to be said about how things went down in Raleigh for the All-Star Game. So often we’ve read snarky quips from writers both Canadian and American alike about how having hockey in the south is a joke and that it just doesn’t work out the same way it does everywhere else. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else having yelled in the past about how Gary Bettman’s expansion into the south and into non-traditional markets was about the worst thing that could’ve happened to the NHL and that it failing to catch on there is a mark against the league.

Carolina proves that it works and it works just fine where they’re at.

Many have written about their thoughts on the city’s ability to show off not just the Hurricanes as a tremendous success story but also the burgeoning fan base in Raleigh and elsewhere in North Carolina for the team. Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated and Travis Hughes of SB Nation each had great takes on their experiences there. The amount of love and appreciation for the NHL across the city and the whole area was outstanding.

Every radio station couldn’t help but talk about the events and the fans everywhere were decked out in some brand of NHL gear. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Jeff Skinner was the mayor of Raleigh with the number of Skinner All-Star and Hurricanes jerseys and t-shirts there were. The fans are wild about the team and wild about the league.

After all, find me another fan base in the NHL that embraces the team so much they’re camped out in the parking lots of the arena for hours ahead of time to gather with everyone and tailgate like they’re going to watch the Super Bowl. And they do this for every home game, not just for a special one-off big-time event. This makes me envious for having missed out on the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.

It wasn’t just a win for the team though, the city comes out a huge winner as well. With a downtown that wasn’t overwhelming and very negotiable to get around either on foot or by a short drive in a cab or car, Raleigh proved to provide a solid atmosphere once all the events were through. With restaurants, pubs, and watering holes abounding throughout the downtown area if you weren’t able to find something to do or to eat it was your own fault.

Providing this kind of atmosphere for those of us that rarely get to see it up close and person does wonders for the perception of how hockey is handled in places that haven’t had a team for more than 30 years. Seeing the tailgating, seeing the crazed fans, and seeing the amount of love they’ve got for the team not just at RBC Center but everywhere around the city can make even the most hardened opponents of hockey in the south think twice before opening their mouth or lashing out from behind their keyboard.

Hockey may have issues elsewhere in the south (and in some places north of the Mason-Dixon line too) but in North Carolina, the game is just fine and it’s thriving under the leadership of Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos. We know Carolina is basketball and football country generally, but hockey has caught on and it’s going to catch up fast.

Canucks say Markstrom (hamstring) out another week — could it be longer?

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Bit of uncertainty out of Vancouver regarding the health of backup goalie Jacob Markstrom.

Markstrom, a late drop from the Canucks’ 5-1 opening-night win over Calgary, has suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined for another week, the club announced on Thursday.

With Markstrom out, backup duties will stay with AHL call-up Richard Bachman, who served as Ryan Miller‘s No. 2 on Wednesday.

Now, the focus turns to how long Bachman keeps those duties.

Per a Sportsnet report, Markstrom could miss up to three weeks of action with his injury. If that’s the case, Bachman will almost certainly be called into action; the Canucks will play eight games in 17 nights starting with Saturday’s home-opener against the Flames, which includes back-to-backs in Los Angeles and Anaheim on Oct. 12 and 13.

It would be asking a lot of the No. 1, 35-year-old Ryan Miller, to shoulder that entire load.

Bachman does have some NHL experience, with nearly 50 games to his credit. That includes a 3-2-0 record with the Oilers last year, in which he posted a 2.84 GAA and .911 save percentage.

McDavid will center Hall and Slepyshev

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid said he didn’t have any trouble falling asleep on the eve of his professional debut.

But when he woke up on Thursday he said it finally hit him.

“In the days leading up I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” McDavid said. “Kind of when I woke up this morning, I guess that’s kind of when it hit me that I’ll be playing in my first NHL game. I think that’s when I first realized.”

When the Oilers play at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the 18-year-old McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the most hyped player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins made his debut a decade ago.

Speaking in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday following his team’s morning skate, the soft-spoken rookie admitted to having some butterflies but said he felt pretty good and was excited to get going.

“It’s just special,” McDavid said of his NHL debut. “I’m living out my dream, so there’s nothing better than that. I’m just really looking forward to tonight.”

McDavid will be centering the Oilers’ second line against the Blues with Taylor Hall on the left wing and Anton Slepyshev on the right. Hall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, while Slepyshev will also be making his NHL debut on Thursday night.

“We all see what he can do in practice and the games,” Hall said of McDavid. “It’s important to remember he’s 18. I’m 23 and I still have bad games. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and still has bad games. There’s going to be some trials and some errors, but I think that he’s in a position to succeed and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

Oilers coach Todd McLellan, hired in May after spending seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, has already gotten accustomed to receiving questions about McDavid.

The first few questions McLellan was asked on Thursday were about the NHL’s most popular newcomer.

“What I’ve found with him is he’s working really hard to just be himself and fit in,” the coach said. “He doesn’t want to be special, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently but he obviously is. He’s trying to adapt to that and he’s doing a very good job of it personally and collectively I think our team has done a good job around him.”

McLellan said there are three levels of pressure surrounding him.

The first is McDavid’s individual expectations, which he is sure are extremely high. The second comes from the rookie’s teammates, coaching staff, organization and city of Edmonton.

“But where it really changes is the national, international and world-wide eyes being on him,” McLellan said. “How does that compare to some of the other players I’ve been around? I haven’t been around an 18-year-old who has had to deal with that. It’s new to all of us.

“I did spend some time talking to Sid (Sidney Crosby) about his experience and even since then the world’s really changed as far as media and social media and that type of stuff. This is a new adventure for everybody involved. I know Connor has the tools to handle the pressure and we’ll do everything we can to help him.”