“Young men expressing themselves for joy of winning. You don’t do this thing in professional hockey. What are these guys? Jerks or something?”
“I know what I’m talking about. You never do anything like that. They’re still not drawing. They’re a bunch of jerks as far as I’m concerned. Imagine Justin Williams doing stuff like that.”
Don Cherry is known for his colorful suits that he wears every Saturday during Hockey Night in Canada’s “Coach’s Corner” segment. Who knew he’d be the inspiration for one of the best-selling fashion designs in the state of North Carolina?
Taking to his pulpit on February 16, Cherry railed against the Carolina Hurricanes’ post-win celebrations, also known as the “Storm Surge.” The brainchild of team captain Justin Williams, they were quickly embraced by Hurricanes fans and around the hockey world.
“Listen, things are changing,” Williams told NBC last week. “This isn’t a historic hockey market, it’s relatively fresh. We obviously won a Stanley Cup here, but it’s relatively fresh. This team got here in 1997. It’s not like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadians or the Boston Bruins, an ‘Original Six’ who had decades and decades of hockey history.”
Following Cherry’s yelling at clouds, the Hurricanes acted fast and teamed up with BreakingT to create the “Bunch of Jerks” t-shirts, which sold well and sold out fast. The team store inside PNC Arena is constantly running out of inventory. (An update to the shirts was made after Cherry doubled-down on his criticism by labeling the fan base as “front running.”)
They weren’t popular just with fans, though.
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Curtis McElhinney’s dad ordered a handful and shipped some to his son. Warren Foegele’s friends back home in Markham, Ontario hit him up asking if he could get them a few.
The Hurricanes embracing the “jerks” really blew up the entire “controversy” and emboldened the team and fan base even further.
“I think what I love about it is it could have went a different way when you get criticized for what you’re doing,” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “But the guys, they didn’t. They took it and they ran with it in a positive light and the fans took it and ran with it in a positive light.
“It’s not about everyone else, it’s about our team, it’s about our community, it’s about our fans and we’ve enjoyed this year. That ‘little bunch of jerks,’ whatever you want to call it, has kind of brought us together in a way that’s unified the fans and the players even that much more, which was already a pretty strong bond.”
As the Hurricanes pursued their first playoff berth since 2009, the extracurricular activity excited a fan base that had been patiently waiting for turnaround and helped create a new legion of supporters in the process.
“You know, I think we’ve been kind of irrelevant for a while here in Carolina and that was kind of one way to maybe boost some people in the stands, and obviously get people to think of us of a team that was playing really good hockey throughout the season,” said forward Jordan Staal.
The excitement isn’t contained to solely inside PNC Arena. Dougie Hamilton has noticed he’s been recognized more at dinner or out on the street this season. There’s been a buzz around Raleigh this season as the Hurricanes made their march to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then knocked out the defending champion Washington Capitals in seven games in Round 1.
From the night Cherry entered “bunch of jerks” into the lexicon to the end of the regular season, the Hurricanes were tied for the third-most points (33) in the NHL with a 16-7-1 record. They could have hit back at the longtime commentator, but instead, as they’ve done all season long, they leaned into the negativity and embraced it.
“I don’t want an apology,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said in February via the News and Observer. “He can say what he wants to say. I should thank him. It was good for us.”
Game 3 of Hurricanes-Bruins is Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Watch the live stream here).
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.