Back about the time the Hartford Whalers decided to head South and move to Raleigh to become the Carolina Hurricanes, the late, great News and Observer columnist Caulton Tudor wrote a very scathing column about the future of ice hockey in the land of the ACC.
It was typical, I thought, of what some of us in the business call the Raleigh bureau of the Daily Tar Heel when referring to the N&O sports department. It was a very uneducated and narrow view of a sport that’s faster and more rugged than their beloved basketball.
Fast forward to the I told ya so moment — the Canes win the 2006 Stanley Cup, a respected trophy and oftentimes abused cup that is the oldest continually-vied-for mark of sporting excellence in North America.
Yep, the Old Reliable’s very reliable columnist couldn’t grasp there could actually be tailgating before an ice hockey match let alone imagine that the most venerated trophy in all of sports could come to North Carolina.
And now the Canes are on the path to a very real chance of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Jug again. We will see.
Before trudging on, I must say I’m not a Canes fan. Before they were a glimmer on Tobacco Road I had already begun my longtime support of the St. Louis Blues, who finally raised that beloved cup in 2019 — giving me something to smile about in the year of my health struggles.
I just always liked the winged musical note and I am loyal to my teams even when they endure a name change or when others in this area are loyal to the Braves or a new team like the Carolina Panthers come to play. I still support the Washington Football Team and the Dodgers.
To the unaware, hockey is as Southern as biscuits and gravy, sweet tea or the other things I can’t eat or drink anymore.
My first game was in Norfolk at Scope with a group of Royal Ambassadors coming to the arena to watch the Virginia Red Wings and New Haven Nighthawks do battle in an American Hockey League match.
I was hooked. I yelled and screamed so much until my throat became raw and I got sick the next day perhaps not from the screaming but perhaps one of the young’uns in our group was sick and I caught it from them. As much as folks on social media think they’re smarter than doctors I don’t pretend to be that person.
But, yeah, I was hooked and have followed it ever since.
I’ve had the honor of seeing the Rangers play at Madison Square Garden.
I’ve seen the L.A. Kings take on the Soviet Army team at the L.A. Forum.
I have sat in seats handed down from generation to generation when I went to Toronto and saw the Leafs play in another venerated arena — Maple Leaf Gardens.
I touched the Stanley Cup at the hockey hall of fame there.
There have been a couple of trips to D.C. to see Capitals, the Canes when they were in Greensboro and, of course, Raleigh.
My biggest disappointment was when COVID-19 cancelled the Blues-Canes game last year.
My second biggest disappointment was the evening when I crashed my Honda Accord hatchback, complete with a Blues sticker on the side window, while going to see a Hampton Gulls game while home on Christmas break.
It was a very long, miserable bus ride back to Murfreesboro that night although I suggested, “We’re here, might as well stay for the game.”
My cousins thought I was crazy for the suggestion and the mature side of me kicked in and we were off to the bus station.
There have been several minor league games — the Charlotte Checkers and the former IceCaps in Raleigh.
It is a game of grace, speed, and brutality. It has finesse while having bone-crushing hits and it has sportsmanship even after a frequent melee.
And, you don’t have to believe me, because the going trend these days is to not believe anything the media says even if it's a simple statement that a stop sign is red and the green light means go, it has had its place in Southern lore much like that bucolic front porch swing and grandma’s pecan pie.
There’s an interesting read in the Bitter Southerner that shows just how much this rough and tumble sport has a place in the South. It’s about the University of Alabama at Huntsville and how the city known for helping to send men into space also became known as the Hockey Capital of the South.
Imagine the rocket engineers who descended upon Huntsville from places up north and across the ocean and imagine if you will the same thing happening in the Research Triangle.
Yep, as I much as I always enjoyed Mr. Tudor’s insights, I fumed while reading his piece on why hockey was essentially doomed for failure in a state which revels in basketball bragging rights and afflicts so many people you don’t even have to attend a particular school to pledge your undying allegiance to Team A or Team B.
As for me, I’ll take hockey over the ACC tournament and March Madness, I’ll take it over watching a Major League Baseball game on TV and to a lesser extent the NFL.
So while I wish the Canes success, I wish the Blues more and I hope that Southerners like myself will understand its roots here in the South run as thick as molasses — Lance Martin