DeCock

Canes alumni growing

Staff WriterSeptember 9, 2010 

— It's time to take on the Philadelphia Flyers' Alumni. It's time to go head-to-head with the Toronto Maple Leafs' legends. It's time to see the history of the Carolina Hurricanes in the flesh.

A number of NHL teams have alumni teams that take the ice - or the softball field, or the golf course, or the ping-pong table - for charity. All of them have been around longer than the Hurricanes and have a bigger pool of ex-players to draw upon, but the Hurricanes are catching up.

For their annual media golf tournament Wednesday, the Hurricanes brought out almost as many ex-players as current players - Ron Francis, Rod Brind'Amour and Tom Barrasso, all now working for the Hurricanes.

Throw in Triangle residents Glen Wesley, Aaron Ward and Steve Halko on defense, Steve Rice, Bates Battaglia, Shane Willis and Jeff Daniels at forward and Tripp Tracy in goal, and the Hurricanes have the makings of an alumni team of their own.

"As more and more guys establish roots in the area, we could do something when there's a hockey charity thing or even in the summertime a softball charity thing," Francis said. "The organization has been here long enough that you have guys who are here for the long haul, which is great."

And there's no question people would watch. The current Hurricanes certainly would.

"Maybe they could come out and play a little shinny here and there," Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose said. "We could all go out and watch them, and add their points up on the ice and it would come to like 6,000 or something."

The Flyers, Leafs and Boston Bruins, to name just a few, have formal alumni associations that work closely with their parent team. The Hurricanes have looked into starting something similar, but the initiative is going to have to come from the alumni themselves.

"That idea has actually been raised before," Hurricanes assistant general manager Jason Karmanos said. "In most other cities, it seems like it's something helped along by the team but started by the alumni. We have more ex-players who work for the team, so it's a little different. But it's something we've always hoped for, that it would happen someday."

But even if there's not a former Hurricanes player willing to actually take the plunge and get things started - it may take a few more alumni for the concept to reach critical mass - that doesn't mean the franchise couldn't start working that angle on its own.

In Toronto, where the Maple Leafs benefit from decades of history and a location in the heart of the hockey belt, a former member of the Maple Leafs is honored at every home game, shown on the scoreboard to the strains of the theme song from "Welcome Back, Kotter."

As in-game entertainment goes, that's one the players on the bench rarely fail to note.

"There were a lot of my former teammates," Francis said.

The Hurricanes did something similar when Jeff O'Neill was back in town recently, and O'Neill received a warm reception from the crowd. Now all they need is 40 more alumni willing to come back and watch a game each season.

That may sound like a lot, but think of all the retired ex-Hurricanes out there, from Kevyn Adams and Marty Gelinas to Sean Hill and Bret Hedican to Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes. Imagine the unexpected delight at seeing Tommy Westlund or Darren Langdon on the scoreboard at a game.

"In 520 games with the Hurricanes, he scored 145 goals and recorded 348 points. Caniacs, please welcome back ... Sami Kapanen!"

Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

"Yeah, I think that'd be cool," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "When I get real old, I can say, 'I remember playing with that guy.' "

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947

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