RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes are now a week into training camp and have already played two preseason games, and prepare for their third against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena on Friday.
Gearing up for the upcoming National Hockey League (NHL) season happens at a quick pace these days, and as a result, a lot of energy and vigor is needed to get up to game speed.
It seems that it is a young man’s game now, and perusing over the 51 players still on the Hurricanes’ current roster, you can’t but notice how strikingly reflective the team’s make-up is of that fact.
This is a really young group compared to recent years.
Twenty-six on of them are draft picks selected over the past five years, and more than likely will return to their respective junior teams or comprise the foundation of the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
Those who will top the roster when the season opens on Oct. 13, will still possess a youthful look; albeit more grizzled with facial hair and possessing a history of on-ice success and injury recovery to their credit.
Forward Jeff Skinner is entering his seventh season at 24 years old while defenseman Justin Faulk, also 24, begins his sixth.
Both are now the faces of the organization – their images greeting visitors to PNC, and adorning a multitude of printed promotional and media relations material.
Playing in a geographic area with three Power 5 schools in the vicinity, it’s not surprising that the area’s highest-profile professional league team’s identity has now mirrored those institutions’ athletic teams.
Having missed the playoffs for the past seven seasons, you would think that fans would be livid and tired of not duplicating the success of 10 years ago when Carolina brought the Stanley Cup to the Triangle.
Instead, it seems that the opposite is true – at least judging by the current vibe captured along various social media.
Many are excited to see the potential that this current group has to break the trend of not making the playoffs, and seem forgiving in doing so.
The Hurricanes have been afforded the opportunity to begin the season with much less pressure than an NHL team lacking that much postseason history should have.
Credit to forgiving fans and a relentless public relations plan that has fallen in line with executive president and general manager Ron Francis’ focus on developing the team from the ground up, ‘the right way’ as he has referred to it.
As youthful as they are in age and looks, Skinner and Faulk realize that they must now carry the responsibility of getting the Hurricanes into the postseason, and also know that they will bear the burden of not doing it as well.
The level-headed attitude and approach they exhibit in preparing themselves for each season allows them to keep a positive mindset and focus.
“You have to come to the rink and be a good pro, and do everything that you can do,” Faulk said.
“Every year you have the same feeling,” Skinner added.
“Guys are excited to see the new faces, and see how they jell. Players are just trying to go out there and prepare themselves as best they can and try and get better every day.”
The excitement over cuteness and attraction will eventually fade into reality if they do not accomplish the task.
So what must the Hurricanes do to be successful and make the playoffs?
“We’ve gotta start playing well early,” Faulk said.
“We can’t be doin’ this thing where we’re not good in October, November, part of December, and all of a sudden we’re a good team. It’s just so hard to come back from. That’s tough to do. If you have a good start, it’s gonna put you on the right path. There’s gonna be ups and downs, there’s gonna be stretches when you’re playin’ good hockey and grind it out. But you can’t have that big lull, especially early in the season. If we can get off to a good start, I have no worry that this group can’t be able to make the playoffs.”
A simple, clear, and concise answer from a young veteran player, and one who continues to grow up quickly playing in today’s NHL.