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

Feb 1, 2011, 2:17 PM EST

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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.

  1. tcclark - Feb 1, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    Hockey is not even close to being popular in North Carolina. I live in Raleigh and I’ve walked into the RBC Center with several different people who have lived in North Carolina for their entire lives and they look around and have no idea that there’s a hockey team in Raleigh. People in North Carolina tailgate for EVERYTHING. Its not because they love the Hurricanes so much. Half of them don’t even care about the game. A lot of “fans” go to the games as an excuse to tailgate. I know that at least half of the people tailgating at NC State football games don’t even go to the game. Theyre just there to tailgate. People were excited about the All-Star game, but it’s only because nothing ever happens in Raleigh. The fans showed so much support for Eric Staal, Cam Ward, and Jeff Skinner because they’re the only people they’d heard of. I’m pretty sure a large percentage of the audience at the Skills Competition thought the P.K Subban was Jeff Skinner…. that’s why he got such a big applause. Hockey in NC is a joke. most fans will admit that the only time they’ve ever gotten excited about the Hurricanes was when they won the Cup. I’ve been to multiple Flyers v. Hurricanes games and the atmosphere is just sad. Those are the quietest games I’ve ever been to and the Flyers fans easily outcheer the Hurricanes fans. I’ve even talked to the original Mascot for the Hurricanes who’s now the Game presentation director for the Flyers and he even said the fans are a joke. They come to the game for a theatrical experience….. not hockey. I’m hoping things change, but no one in North Carolina cares about the Hurricanes.

  2. virusgvr - Feb 2, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    Thanks for the long post broski!

  3. tcclark - Feb 2, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    you’re welcome. I had a lot to say

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