And this is despite the fact, the games are played just less than a 100 miles away from Rockingham - the NHL playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes, the Stanley Cup winners in 2006, are battling the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Boston Bruins in the conference semifinals. The Hurricanes tied the series at 1 game apiece after blanking the Bruins 3-0 Sunday night.
Earlier this year, the Hurricanes appeared to be on life-support and in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. But instead of hitting the golf course, the team sprang to life after general manager Jim Rutherford fired Peter Laviolette and replaced him with Paul Maurice on Dec. 4.
If this sounds familiar it should. Rutherford fired Maurice in 2003 and hired Laviolette as Maurice’s replacement. This is like the George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin relationship of the 1970’s, where the New York Yankees biggest success came under Martin, but Steinbrenner wasn’t available to live with his manager or without him.
Maurice was able to guide the Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup finals but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in five games. After missing the playoffs the following year, the Hurricanes started the 2003 season with an 8-12 record when Rutherford let Maurice go.
Following the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Laviolette took the team to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals where they knocked off the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. But since then, the Hurricanes have been afterthoughts in the Eastern Conference.
In 2007, The Hurricanes became the first Stanley Cup winners since the 1938-39 Chicago Blackhawks to have failed to qualify for the playoffs the year before and year after winning the title.
And last season, the Hurricanes appeared to have the Southeast Division title in hand, before the Washington Capitals roared back to win the crown on the final day of the regular season.
While the Hurricanes’ success has been fleeting from season-to-season, it appears as if they are set for another deep run in the playoffs. If the team can get past the Bruins, then they would face the winner of the Pittsburgh-Washington series. And when you face a team in a seven-game series, anything can and usually will happen.
Everyone in the Great White North (Canada) scratched their heads when the Hurricanes moved to North Carolina from Hartford, but slowly hockey fever has caught on around Raleigh. But it needs to catch on in other parts of the state as well. The Charlotte-area has the Checkers which plays in the Time Warner Arena and does well attendence-wise, thanks to a large amount of northerners who work (or worked) for Bank of America and Wells Fargo (Wachovia).
It is a hard sell to try to get people to watch a sport like hockey because sometimes the rules and officials’ calls are difficult to follow, but if you can watch an entire game (especially at this time of year) one gets hooked on the sport.
If you don’t have anything else going on tonight put it on the Hurricanes’ game against the Bruins. You may have another sport to watch.