Old Memories, New Experiences: The Canes Take Over

Old Memories, New Experiences: The Canes Take Over

By Chris Cole

January 13, 2019

With the minor league teams of Greensboro and Raleigh out of the way the Canes started their new venture away from Hartford in the south, but still in the Northeast Division.  How did it go? It may sound familiar: last place in their division and missing the playoffs. It wasn’t all bad though as they made the playoffs three times in their first five years in North Carolina, going all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002 only to lose four games to one to the Detroit Red Wings.  They would miss the playoffs the next two seasons and no one knows how they would have done in the 2004-05 season due to the lockout. The 2005-06 season though… those are what dreams are made.

The lockout ends and things change: penalty shoot-outs instead of tied games, no more two-line pass calls, and a salary cap.  Another thing changes: the Canes are extremely good.  So good in fact that they finish first in the Southeast Divisions, second in the Eastern Conference, and make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in five years.  Unlike in 2002, they go the full distance and defeat the Edmonton Oilers in seven games to win their first (and so far only) Stanley Cup. Raleigh, the rest of the State, and myself were buzzing at the prospect that the state finally having a major league championship and that this would finally be a prosperous time for pro hockey in North Carolina.

Oddly enough, the Canes would do the exact same thing they did after the 2002 Stanley Cup run: miss the playoffs for the next two seasons and then go deep into the playoffs.  The only difference this time was that they were stopped by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final instead of making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. This playoff run in the 2008-09 season would be the last time (as of right now) the Canes made the playoffs.  This is the wilderness, and it was at this time that my frustration with the team boiled over on many fronts.

At some point during the wilderness years I started to feel that owner Peter Karmanos and General Manager Jim Rutherford were treating the team like a giant PR stunt.  Whether it was sending players to other teams only to eventually trade for them back or acquiring every Staal or Sutter that they could get their hands on to ensure that tickets were sold and butts were in seats.  The problem though is that they kept players that couldn’t produce and most importantly: the team wasn’t making the playoffs.

I grew up a Canadiens fan because of my dad, but when the Canes came to town I would follow both, but would (as many fans still do here in NC) cheer for Montreal when they came to Raleigh to play.  At this point though, I couldn’t stand the Canes. I wasn’t going to give in to the snake oil they were selling and vehemently cheered against them no matter who they were playing. I was fed up and I wasn’t the only one.  The crowds were staying away and a half-filled barn has become commonplace. To me, as long as Karmanos and Rutherford were continuing the drive the bus off the cliff every season then I was going to stay away. Luckily, things started to sway in the direction I hoped for when Rutherford became the GM for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tom Dundon became the majority owner of the team.

The one thing I have liked about Dundon is that he has stated multiple times that he hates losing with a passion.  And that’s the thing, he has passion and a competitive spirit that felt lacking by the previous owner. As long as he is the owner of the team he wants the Canes to achieve what they haven’t been able to in the past decade which is making the playoffs and eventually hoist a second Stanley Cup.  Optimism among those who have endured the pain of constant disappointment from the organization started to rise. Success will not be immediate, but at least myself and the rest of the fans feel that there will be something to show for all the changes in the near future.

This optimism has had a bigger effect on me personally as it has become the lynchpin for me to become more invested in hockey.  Not just in the Canes, but in the other organizations that play in North Carolina. This had led me to renew old emotions that I haven’t felt since I was a kid in the new experiences that I have encountered so far.

You can follow the author on Twitter: @HockeyNC

PHOTO: Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images