Koutroumpis: Flyers win over Hurricanes in half-empty building telling

Chris Baird, Triangle Sports Network

Chris Baird, Triangle Sports Network

RALEIGH, N.C. – Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning scored the game-winning goal to carry his team out of PNC Arena with a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

It was a shorthanded effort that with the exception of the local Flyers faithful in attendance who cheered wildly, made a quiet building even more silent.

That’s because an announced crowd of 10,353 was apparently in attendance – barely more than half (55% to be exact) of the sellout 18,680 who showed up for Carolina’s home opener on Friday.

Manning made note of that fact in his postgame comments.

“Back-to-backs are hard and there’s not much atmosphere down in Carolina,” he said.

“They’re a little harder to get up for, but coming off Saturday, I think we had a bit of momentum and a few things to build off of. Our confidence was high tonight and it was a big win for us.”

That statement – ‘not much atmosphere down in Carolina’ – was telling.

If one player on one team, a divisional opponent, who makes a regular trek to Raleigh sees it and says it, the word gets around quickly.

It’s actually not new news, and has actually picked up more credence associated with it in recent years.

Every team coming in knows they don’t have to worry about a home-team advantage coming from the stands – PNC Arena is not a tough building to play in that regard.

At least that’s what they assume because other factors have painted that picture and reinforced it accordingly.

Last season’s final attendance statistics showed Carolina at the bottom of the league rankings.

A cursory look at the numbers tells many players, team executives, media members, and fans around the league that interest in the team, the game, nor the NHL is as high as it used to be in Raleigh.

They’re not winning, or more accurately, not regularly competing in the postseason, so seeing low attendance figures as a result makes sense.

Of course, that thinking doesn’t have any semblance of context associated with how passionate the committed season ticket holders or the budget-conscious selective game attendees are.

However, outside of the Triangle, no one will give that much thought or care.

Optics are everything, and when a team loses a game at home, with as many empty seats as those filled, the commitment of the local fan base is questioned.

There are myriad financially-based reasons why and why not fans attend Carolina Hurricanes games.

That’s not the point here.

What’s more important to understand is that if visiting players recognize the fact that they’re entering a lifeless environment, then think about how those on the Hurricanes roster feel.

Imagine coming off the high of that win on Friday, with as much noise and jubilation that was heaped upon them, to help pull off a tough win over the Rangers, and then step onto the ice two days later, looking up and thinking ‘where is everybody?’.

Sure, they’re pros, and they’ll get out there and play as hard as they can, and they did against the Flyers.

Costly mistakes resulted in a loss, but imagine how much sharper they may have played with another sellout crowd in attendance.

Is there a correlation between attitude and performance as a predictor of success?

Maybe or maybe not, but the increased pressure and scrutiny to be successful usually ensures for the output of a more consistent effort on a day-in and day-out basis.

Don’t think all of this hasn’t had an impact on how this team’s performance has ebbed and flowed in its own building over the past few seasons in particular.

You ask me, “So, you’re saying they turn it on and off, depending upon the crowd in attendance?”

“Yes and no”, I answer.

When combined with the physical wear and tear a full season takes on a player’s body, the psyche and confidence of the individual comes into play.

After talking with the media, trying to explain what happened in the loss to the Flyers, I briefly watched Jordan Staal just sit in the dressing room, frozen and staring downward at the floor.

He seemed lifeless.

Losses have worn on him as with others, but he’s played in the league long enough to know that he has to let it go and show up the next day to get a different result.

Sure, winning cures all, but when you struggle to win, or lose close games, you seek support, not abandonment.

You take your lumps in the public eye for ‘not starting on time, or ‘not playing a full 60 minutes’ by promising to ‘be better’ and ‘finding a way to win’.

But, following that script and having it reinforced with playing in a building in which shots off the boards, glass, and post ring louder than the conversation level of the collective crowd in attendance, eventually a higher level of desensitization sinks in.

That then happens with everyone and everything associated with the team, and the situation inevitably gets worse.

Fans clamor for management to make personnel changes – ‘ get rid of this player for so-and-so – he’ll make us better’.

Unfortunately, don’t be surprised that even when so-and-so is approached with the possibility of playing for the Hurricanes, he declines due to the fact of not wanting to play in such an atmosphere.

Once the rumor is reinforced as holding some truth to it, then there is only one way to refute it.

Not only buy tickets, but make sure someone’s in the paid seat every game and bring friends – many of them.

Is this an indictment on the fan base?

Not necessarily, but if this team doesn’t have a full building of people to equally please and disappoint, they won’t know how important NHL hockey is to those living in the Triangle.

Better to be booed by a full building to let you know you have to play better, than to not get booed at all.

Otherwise, these players will eventually become lifeless pros who go to work and go through the motions knowing that they only have themselves to rely on.

That’s a lonely and helpless place to be.

It’s time for a fan intervention before it gets to that point.

The Carolina Hurricanes are in need of some tough love from their supporters, and the only way they’re going to know the fan base cares is when it cheers for success and voices displeasure over failure accordingly.

That won’t work unless people show up to do so.

There, the Band-Aid’s off now.