RALEIGH, N.C. – It may not be the most packed arena in the National Hockey League (NHL), or at least it hasn’t been up to this point in the season, but those sitting around the Carolina Hurricanes’ home ice sheet at PNC Arena have made it sound like it is.
That’s what the players said when asked about it following the pregame skate and before the Hurricanes extended their current win streak at PNC to seven games with an eventual 8-6 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
Playing four of its next five games in its home rink leading into the Christmas break, alternate captain Jordan Staal pointed out the positives of Carolina continuing its success in front of the local crowd.
“It’s a lot of home games which is good,” Staal said.
“I think we can take advantage of that part. We’ve been playin’ pretty well here in front of our fans. Playing at home is always comfortable. For us, Wardo’s been really good; we’ve found ways to feed off the crowd and play some good hockey. Hopefully we can continue to grow the crowd and continue to play well in front of them.”
With 11,721 in attendance when the Hurricanes outgunned the Canucks, the noise level and intensity they presented made it sound like the place was sold out.
And, there’s the rub.
What the naked eye can’t see and what those viewing from afar don’t realize is, that what Hurricanes fans – the diehards, the Caniacs – don’t show in numbers, they show in intensity of commitment to their team and the game.
To those who know this fan base, that’s not a shocker or newsworthy – it’s who they are and what they do.
They cheer for their team – loudly.
While the optics of many empty seats have continued to spur discussion and propaganda of the team moving, particularly from those in Quebec who want a franchise back there desperately, Caniacs have begun to make a compelling case that their team matters and that it has and will always belong in Raleigh.
Even while majority owner Peter Karmanos, Jr has put his stake in the team up for sale, any talk of the team being sold and moved is still at this point speculation – even if some apparent hints of truths are buried within it, depending upon who you talk to.
Yes, this team has not made the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons and currently ranks last in average attendance, but with an 8-3 home record, the players and their fans are making it that tough place to play in for other teams.
While visiting players have indicated that not much of an atmosphere exists when they play a game in Carolina, forward Lee Stempniak, new to the Hurricanes this season after playing with nine other clubs, sees it differently.
He didn’t fully understand how committed Caniacs were to their team until he began playing here.
“It’s definitely got a different feel here, coming from it as an opponent here,” the 33-year old veteran stated.
“I don’t know – it’s not usually a packed building, but it’s a pretty loud building. I think that for us, the thing that jumps out to me is that it’s a loud building for the number of fans that are here.
“I think the quality of fan makes it loud. I think they’re knowledgeable when it comes to the game, more like traditional hockey markets where there’s shifts in momentum or a good penalty kill. The fans here know that. The penalty kill’s been unbelievable this year, and when those guys have a big kill, the fans really get into it, and that’s something we feed off of. I think it’s a very knowledgeable fan base despite not many sellouts.”
Heading into a back-to-back set against the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres on Friday and Saturday before hosting the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, every player appreciates the comforts of home, particularly support from their fans.
“It’s always nice to come home,” forward Jeff Skinner said.
“It’s always helpful when you’re in your home town, your home routine, so everything’s familiar. You’ve got your home fans. That’s why they call it a home-ice advantage. It’s definitely better to play at home. Whenever you’re at home, you’re in your locker room, everything’s where you expect it to be, and as an athlete that’s comforting. On top of that, you’ve got the home fans cheering you on.”