[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]
#1) Why celebrate a mascot when you can roast him?
It’s the fall of 1997. Peter Karmanos has ripped out the hearts of every ESPN employee with box seats, and the Carolina Hurricanes are getting ready to make their debut in their temporary home in Greensboro, NC.
Playing 90 minutes away from their home base in Raleigh, the team prepared to debut their new mascot during a preseason game against Detroit. There is no real good way to have a natural disaster as your mascot (unless it’s these guys).
So, as a nod to local hog farmer Wendell Murphy who had donated large sums of money for the naming rights to the soon to be built Entertainment and Sports Arena, the Hurricanes chose a hog as their mascot. The plan was to have the not yet named ‘Stormy the Ice Hog’ make his debut to the fans by popping out of the Zamboni to the delight, and squeals, of kids all around the arena.
Well, this is where it gets weird.
What happens when you stuff a mascot and some dry ice inside of a Zamboni so that he can pop out to his adoring fans? Well, you get a mascot who was asphyxiated by the lack of oxygen due to the dry ice and the ice-resurfacer fumes.
As a professional hog caller calls the Zamboni out on the ice – yes you read that right – all you see are two twitching feet sticking out the back of the Zamboni as the Canes first mascot has a seizure right there in front of excited fans and families.
We’re happy to announce though that the mascot from that evening escaped without significant injury. The Hurricanes re-debuted their mascot after the regular season started, and we have it on good accord that there were people there to see it.
To this day, we enjoy celebrating our beloved Ice Hog, and even roasting him, preferably with a nice vinegar sauce.
#2) The Legend of Willie Lack
Through the years, the Carolina Hurricanes have had their fair share of characters.
Ray Whitney was famous for his pregame drive-bys of interviews in progress. Jeff O’Neill had a lot of fun during the early years and honed his Leafs Lunch banter in just about every watering hole in town. But it was a father of a lovable Swedish goaltender that took the cake this past season.
The Canes were in the midst of their annual Dad’s road trip where many of the players’ fathers joined them on the road for a trip. This year’s trip was a jaunt to St. Louis where the Hurricanes have traditionally been, let’s just say, poor.
That night, Eddie Lack received the call from coach Bill Peters to backstop a club that was definitely out-performing expectations. Intrepid and lovable sideline reporter Michelle McMahon took it upon herself to check in on the dads during a scoreless first period. Michelle had the opportunity to speak with Willie Lack, Eddie’s father, a few weeks before, and the Caniac Nation immediately fell in love with him.
But tonight, Willie was a bit looser. His son’s team was on the verge of playoff spot and for Canes fans, talking about the playoffs with any semblance of hope in January can make us nervous. But you see, Willie was a little more than just nervous.
During the first intermission, when Michelle went to interview Willie, this happened.
— Ryne (@rynemcclaren) January 15, 2016
That’s right…Willie Lack dropped a #shitlessnervous on the Hurricanes broadcast.
Now, had it just been that, it would have been funny, but hockey Twitter is a weird place. So naturally, #shitlessnervous became a trending topic in Raleigh.
Thankfully, Eddie Lack backstopped the team to a huge 4-1 victory over the Blues that night, and Willie’s level of anxiety could be quelled.
But, who are we to let a good thing die? Next home game, this pops up on scoreboard:
So whether you are #shitlessnervous or #shirtlessnervous, just know that if you go live to a lovable Swedish goalie’s dad for an intermission interview, you’ll never know what weird stuff you may encounter.
#3) ‘Mr. Karmanos, your lawyer is on line one…’
Every team has weird ownership stuff, right?
Peter Karmanos has a certain way about him. As any good owner who is reaching a certain age would do, Mr. Karmanos is planning his estate and as part of that has shared his interest in selling the Carolina Hurricanes to an ownership group dedicated to keeping the team, right here, in Raleigh, North Carolina (cheap pop).
Did we mention that Pete wants to sell the team, but wants to keep managing control of the team while someone else pays the bills? Yeah, that happened. That was made public in 2014.
Then, just this past season, in the midst of expansion votes and relocation rumors, Peter Karmanos was sued by his sons for not paying back the big ole trust fund he had dipped in to to use on his beloved hockey club.
Yup, the man who ripped the hearts out of New England, and wants to maintain control of a club he no longer owns, is being sued by his flesh and blood for over $100-million for failure to repay a loan to the trust that daddy set up for them in the first place.
Having millions of dollars is weird to us, but in hockey circles this feels “Jim Rutherford signs a guy to a contract without a no-trade clause” weird.
For the record, the Hurricanes aren’t moving, and you’re weird if you think so.
#4) The day Tuomo Ruutu arrived and left his mark on the ice
Trade deadline 2008 was well underway and general manager Jim Rutherford hadn’t made a move.
Weeks prior, he sent Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman to Ottawa for Joe Corvo (part 1) and Patrick Eaves, so the Canes were apparently in a selling mood. Shortly after noon, news broke that Carolina had traded promising young forward Andrew Ladd to Chicago for Tuomo Ruutu.
So far, pretty normal, right? Right.
Well, the Canes had a home game that night and less than six hours were on the clock before team warmups. Would Ruutu make it to Raleigh in time? Would we have enough players? Or worse, would Wade Brookbank have to play? Thankfully, the answer to the first question was yes, rendering the latter two invalid.
Everyone in the building kept an eye on warmups for our new Finnish sensation, but there was no #15 available.
Turns out while the team was warming up, Ruutu was sitting in the back of a cop car with Ron Francis (then coach, now GM) getting a crash course on team systems. Their police escort arrived at the PNC Arena, RBC Center, or whatever the heck it was called then, ten minutes prior to puck drop.
When the puck dropped against the Devils, Ruutu made an immediate impact by crushing Colin White into the boards. However, this was far from his most memorable impact of the evening.
Late in the third period, Ruutu took a high stick from Patrik Elias. This left not only a trail of blood across the ice – later dubbed “Ruutu trail” – but also 40 stitches and an eye swollen shut.
This picture became legendary among Canes fans, and those stitches were in his face for many an official photo all thanks to Mr. Ruutu’s Wild Ride.
#5) When that team from North Carolina won it all
Call this a copout answer if you wish, but c’mon, a team in North Carolina winning the Stanley Cup is pretty damn weird. Sure, the ‘Canes made the Cup Final four years earlier, but no one thought they had a chance against those juggernaut Red Wings.
The 2005-06 Hurricanes were a different story.
They had over 100 points, and guys like Mark Recchi and Doug Weight playing on the third line. The lore of Redneck Hockey was born.
The world got to see how a college town in the South celebrates a professional playoff run; it included some of the most epic tailgating ever seen outside of the SEC on a Saturday.
There were pickup trucks with swimming pools in them. There were tailgate parties that started at 9:00AM for a 7PM game.
THERE WAS TAILGATING FOR HOCKEY IN THE MIDDLE OF JUNE IN NORTH CAROLINA, let that sink in.
Even with a great season, the thoughts that the Carolina Hurricanes could hoist the chalice still seemed… weird.
We’ll spare you the recap of each round, but Carolina’s run through the playoffs provided us with what Down Goes Brown called the best Stanley Cup presentation. Every single fan who was in attendance for Game 7 stood for the entire game, and this writer cried like a four-year-old with a skinned knee. Oh, and another classic image from this monumental season:
Mike Commodore and his robe became such a thing in Raleigh that the Canes started selling robes and wigs.
Yes, Commodore Cosplay happened and we’re simultaneously embarrassed and proud. We don’t know that it gets much weirder than that.
Bonus picture time: there’s a reason they called our captain “Rod the Bod.”
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About the authors: Mike and Derek are guys who have had Carolina Hurricanes season tickets for over 30 years (combined, of course). Mike is the leather lung Pollyanna of the group while Derek’s penchant for appropriate grammar makes him a blog MVP. We love the Canes, a quality beverage, and an open tailgate.