Old Memories, New Experiences: New Experiences

Old Memories, New Experiences: New Experiences

By Chris Cole

January 13, 2019

Regardless of if the Canes season is going to be mediocre, good, great, or supreme I have decided that the 2018-19 season was going to be the season that I try my best to attend games of all sorts of levels and experience in North Carolina.  

There is no reason I (or any of you reading this article) should not branch out and watch as much varied ice hockey as possible.  To me, I just enjoy hockey. Period. Whether it’s being up in Canada watching Junior B or Major Junior hockey or watching the Australian Ice Hockey League during our summers.  As long as the games are exciting it doesn’t matter to me if the game is fast, hard-hitting, or full of mistakes. With that said, I have had two such experiences this year, one with the NC State Wolfpack club hockey team and the other with the Fayetteville Marksmen of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).

NC State Wolfpack

The first time I went to a non-Hurricanes game in North Carolina in years was to see the Wolfpack play the UNC Wilmington Seahawks at the Raleigh Iceplex.  My first thought when I sat in the stands was “wow, there are actually a lot of people here!”. Within a few minutes of the faceoff I was enamored by State’s movement of the puck and the hits they were dishing showed why they have been so dominant in the ACCHL this year.  At the time of this writing they have played 15 games and have won all of them scoring an average of seven goals per game.

Their play, their age, and their uniforms of black, red, and white evoke a lot of memories for when when I would go with my family up to Niagara Falls to visit relatives and watch the Canucks of the Junior B Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.  While the play was similar to what I saw in Canada, the atmosphere was completely different.

Everybody there is for the hockey, but they are also there for the party.  The main thing I noticed for the crowd at NC State hockey games is the party atmosphere which is aided by two things: a great team and a BYOB policy.  The beer-drinking college kids liven up the games for sure, but sometimes can get out of hand. Case in point: at the game against UNC Charlotte there were some students shotgunning beers directly behind a mom and her young kid.  I’m sure they weren’t expecting that.

Beer aside, the games are great.  I have been to two of them so far, both obviously wins, and plan to go to more in the future as well as to other college teams within decent driving distance.  As the ACCHL promotes: club hockey is college hockey.

Fayetteville Marksmen

Back in December I made my first trek to Fayetteville to see my first minor league hockey game in North Carolina since the Raleigh IceCaps moved to Georgia over 20 years ago.  I went during their Operation: Sellout promotion against the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs on December 26 in which 5,444 fans attended the game. It was loud, the hockey was great, the non-hockey entertainment was fantastic, and even better: I was front row against the glass.  

The Marksmen before this game were not doing so well as they had lost six straight games.  A lot was riding on the Marksmen to perform not just well, but strong against Roanoke in front of the biggest crowd of the season.  Luckily for the fans, the team, and the organization, the Marksmen came away from that game with a 5-3 victory and won their next six games after that.  If they can keep it up they will be the team to beat when the post-season rolls around in the SPHL.

Harking back to the segment about the subject of memories when talking about NC State this single game brought back a lot of feelings from my childhood.  Knowing that these guys are playing for the love of the game and still hoping to go up the rungs of professional hockey and the smaller, more intimate arenas provide an experience that encapsulates the main sports history of North Carolina which is minor league sports.  Yes, we have the Hurricanes, Panthers, and Hornets, but NC is a college and minor league state. We love seeing players develop and giving stories about seeing them before they reached the top of their respective sports.

Besides seeing players develop, you get to experience and be a part of the community that supports the team.  There’s a closer connection to the teams that you can sense even if you only get to go to a couple or a handful of games a season between the players and the fans.  Even when at the NC State game, the players and their fellow college students have that bond that makes the game more memorable to witness first hand. If you haven’t given a second thought about attending a hockey game below the level of the Canes and NHL then you really should.  You’re missing out on a whole other world.

You can follow the author on Twitter: @HockeyNC