The month is January. There’s a light breeze and clear night skies. Carter-Finley’s lights burst down on the temporary ice rink. The stadium is at max capacity; everyone is rocking back and forth causing tremors in the bleachers. Amidst the hurricane warning siren blaring over the PA system, the Carolina Hurricanes emerge from the end zone tunnel to meet the Nashville Predators. The siren gives way to The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” In this moment, where the cardiac pack loyalists of N.C. State meet the fresh and growing #TakeWarning crowd, you realize it. Raleigh, North Carolina is absolutely a hockey market.
Last week, NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, visited Raleigh. Part of his visit was touring Carter-Finley Stadium as a potential outdoor game location. I’ve seen articles talking about the logistics of planning an outdoor game in Raleigh. What I haven’t seen much of is the local fans themselves talking about all of the reasons it would be a giant success. Southerners know how to host an event, and they know how to have a good time. We know best why our city is suited to host an outdoor game, so why not brag on it a little? I’m convinced it would be the best live sporting event I’ve seen, and I haven’t seen it yet. What I’ve got is a list of nine reasons why this game would be great for Raleigh and the NHL as a whole. Let’s get to it.
- The Hurricanes are simply exciting to watch. Sebastian Aho is electric, and undoubtedly, and elite player in the NHL. Teuvo Teravainen is proving he’s much more than just Aho’s sidekick. Justin Williams has taught the team how to balance compete and fun again. Players such as Brock McGinn and Micheal Ferland are hitting everything in sight. The young defense is proving they’re one of the deepest in the league. The story of Mrazek and McElhinney, two supposed backup goalies, coming together to be the backbone of the team is great. Andrei Svechnikov, despite his ups and downs, has shown that he’s the most naturally talented and complete player the Canes have ever drafted. Give him a year or two, and he’ll be terrorizing the league. Put this team on the national stage for all to see, and let the “Wows” commence. Fans love an underdog story, and they also love when a team shows the ability to disturb the status quo.
- Growing youth hockey in the south. The Hurricanes have been doing great work in the community. The most recent event that comes to mind is having 9,000 Wake County Public School System students at practice for the second year in a row. Interactive practices? You can bet good money that a lot of those kids ran home and asked to go to a game or buy their own gear. For me, I was already captivated prior to seeing the Hurricanes win the cup in 2006. The extra events in the community can get kids hooked for good. I can only imagine being eleven again and the excitement of seeing two non-traditional hockey markets on the big stage. It’s a big opportunity for the NHL to grow its brand and reach a larger target audience. It’s one they should work with the Canes to make happen for the sake of the longevity of the sport.
- Hockey culture is changing. May as well embrace it. The days of the true enforcer are long gone. In the game itself, it’s all about speed and finesse nowadays. In terms of business, the NHL will have its loyal “good old boys.” But to maintain and increase relevancy, the NHL has to shift along with culture and society at large. What I mean is, just like the NBA allows for more player personality, the NHL should embrace it too. Why not put two southern-based teams on a pedestal for a night? Both Carolina and Nashville play a fast-paced, new age style of hockey. Both teams have unique personalities. Both are winning now, and thus entertaining. I hope I speak for many when I say that I get it. I get where hockey comes from, and I have a great appreciation for the original six and tradition. No one is attacking sportsmanship or decency. But, let’s do something different. What could be more entertaining than P.K. Subban’s charisma and the country music-embracing Nashville Predators versus Justin Williams’ “Bunch of Jerks?” Not to mention, Williams and Subban are probably the ideal guys to have on the national stage. Williams has been an honest professional (and still is), and now he’s leading and innovating for the Raleigh market. Subban is very active in his community. Most notably, he donated $10 million dollars to a Montreal children’s hospital a few years back whilst playing for the Canadiens.
- A meeting of unique traditions. Country music and hockey don’t really go together, but that didn’t stop Nashville. Choreographed team celebrations and hockey don’t really go together, but that didn’t stop Carolina. Innovation is good. Relating to your own unique fan base is good. It puts butts in seats, and increases brand awareness. It just seems like with how similar, yet unique the Canes and Predators are, there should be a rivalry. They’re cross-conference and only play each other twice a season though, so it’s hard for it to be naturally occurring. May as well turn it into an event! Can you imagine a jam-packed Carter-Finley field doing a storm surge in the event of a Canes win? I get chills just imagining it.
- Carter-Finley would probably sell out. If there’s one thing that Triangle residents know how to do, it is fill up a college sports venue, no matter the event. Carolina versus Nashville is different and intriguing enough to sell a lot of tickets. NC State’s home football field is perfect for an outdoor game. The ice rink would take up two thirds of the football field. Carter-Finley doesn’t do track and field, so predictably, there’s no track separating the ice and the fans. I’ve been inside Carter-Finley many times, and there’s not a seat in the house that’d be too far from the ice, which can be a problem for a baseball field hosting this type of event. Most sight lines would look down onto the rink as opposed to across it. It would feel quite similar to a hockey arena’s lower and upper bowl layout. The size of the venue is about three times that of PNC, and it makes perfect sense.
- NCSU getting national publicity. Okay so obviously NC State doesn’t need any help getting national recognition. They have a well-documented reputation as an engineering school. Exposure is still a positive byproduct of having an outdoor game in Raleigh. NC State does have a club ice hockey team, and any publicity for them is great since the school is better known for its football and basketball programs. Did you know the Icepack went undefeated this season? It’s quite the story. We’re trying to grow the game, after all.
- The weather would likely be tolerable. It wouldn’t be so warm that the ice would be in unplayable condition, but it wouldn’t be so cold that nobody would buy tickets. The odds of facing something like freezing rain are pretty low. Think of one of the colder game days you’ve attended at the tail end of college football season. In Raleigh, NC in January, it’s probably in the low to mid 30s and overcast. That’s ideal outdoor hockey weather. Bundle up, bring a blanket, buy some hot chocolate or booze, and get ready for a show!
- The greatest pre-game tailgate in hockey history. Tailgating is more so associated with football than hockey, but that doesn’t mean we can’t show the hockey world what’s up! NC State fans and Canes fans alike know how to tailgate. If tailgating is unfamiliar to you, allow us to introduce it to you during peak sports season. The timing of the outdoor NHL game would coincide with the college football and NFL playoffs as well as the college basketball season. That’s a lot of passion for sports in one location at one time. Think of the interviews the news crews could get from the fans. Think of all of the different types of food. Think of the corn hole tournaments and the street hockey. But most importantly, think of the sense of community that gets built around these types of events. Our reputation is as a college sports market, but a Carolina-Nashville outdoor game would be a great chance to show the world that we love hockey too.
- Canadian kindness = southern hospitality. Despite the differing accents and mannerisms, at their cores, these two concepts are the same. The only reason that some Canadians act like hockey doesn’t belong in the south or that southerners make fun of Canadians for being too nice is the geographical distance between them. Culturally, both Canadians and southerners care about being warm, welcoming, and good hosts. Regarding hockey fandom, not much is different about us other than rooting for our respective teams in different climates. To me, it seems like we should be striving to build bridges and connect fan bases to grow the game as opposed to feigning superiority based on location.
Give Raleigh a chance to have an outdoor game, and we’ll show a passion for hockey like it’s 2006 again. We’ll bring the same energy and excitement (if not more) as any other hockey city in North America would. We’re eager and ready for it. The puck is in your ice, NHL.