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.