RALEIGH — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Thursday that the 2011 NHL All-Star Game would be hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Or, as a smiling Bettman told hundreds of Canes fans gathered in front of the RBC Center for the announcement, he simply was confirming "one of the worst-kept secrets."
Bettman complimented the Hurricanes for their impressive bid for the game, which will be played Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011. He talked of the importance of the new terminal at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, new upscale hotels in the area and the Raleigh Convention Center in convincing the league that Raleigh was ready.
Bettman also talked of how other NHL cities also put in bids for the game, saying, "Your time will come."
That, in essence, is what Bettman had been telling the Hurricanes, their fans and Triangle leaders for nine years. In 2001, Bettman pledged to bring the All-Star Game to the RBC Center if the team raised its season-ticket base to 12,000.
The team met that challenge, but Bettman didn't deliver immediately on his promise.
The Phoenix Coyotes initially were selected to host the 2011 All-Star Game, but financial uncertainty surrounding the franchise led the league to re-open the bid process. It is believed that at least 10 teams made applications for the 2011 game, including the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who are opening a new arena next season.
The league's decision to bring the game - called the "big stage" by Canes center Eric Staal - to Raleigh comes at a fortuitous time for the Hurricanes.
After reaching the Eastern Conference finals in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, the Canes have a losing record and will not reach the playoffs this season. The team will take a big financial hit, owner Peter Karmanos Jr. has said, and the down season comes at a time when the fans' entertainment dollars are being pinched by a still-soft economy.
But giving season-ticket holders top priority on buying All-Star Game tickets should help next year's sales.
"It's very important to us to build up our season-ticket base, and this certainly will help us do it," Karmanos said Thursday.
Jim Rutherford, president and general manager of the Hurricanes, said the league would set the ticket prices for the game. Ticket information and a complete schedule of events for the 2011 NHL All-Star Celebration, which will include Fan Fest events at the Raleigh Convention Center and a possible concert, will be released at a later date.
The NHL SuperSkills competition will be held Jan. 29.
Rutherford said it was not likely that tickets to the All-Star Game would be made available to the public, but he did not completely rule it out. As many as 8,500 tickets, however, could be set aside for the league.
"There is limited seating," Bettman said.
Staal, who has played in three All-Star Games, earning MVP honors in the 2008 game held in Atlanta, said having the game in Raleigh was going to be, "awesome for our fans and for the whole community.
"It's exciting. You get the best players in the NHL, and the hockey world will be watching, so it's a great opportunity for Carolina and our organization and our fan base to show the hockey world what kind of market we've got here.
"We'll put on a great show and it will be a lot of fun."
For many Canes fans, the All-Star Game is further proof of just how vital the franchise has become to the Triangle.
Mike Finley was among the area fans who flocked to the RBC Center at lunchtime Thursday for Bettman's announcement.
"The fact that they're making a name for themselves, and this is prime college basketball country, says something," said Finley, 38, a season-ticket holder the past two seasons.
"I think it's going to be great for the community," he said.
Staff writer David Bracken contributed to this report.
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