No players – but fans show up big at Caniac Carnival

By Chip AlexanderSeptember 30, 2012 

— There was a Jokinen and Pitkanen sighting Sunday at PNC Arena during the annual Caniac Carnival.

Not Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen, mind you. It was two Carolina Hurricanes fans and friends – Charles Alford and Adam Collins – wearing Jokinen and Pitkanen jerseys, not the two Hurricanes players.

With the NHL mired in a players lockout, there were no players making appearances Sunday. There was no autograph session with players. There was no preseason exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Lightning to give fans a look at the players on the ice. There was no ice.

Some wondered why the Hurricanes would hold the Caniac Carnival during a work stoppage that already has wiped out all of the NHL preseason games and now threatens the start of the regular season. But a crowd of about 3,000 turned on out a sunny Sunday, with kids enjoying the inflatable rides and interactive games.

Inside the arena, Alford and Collins were among those playing street hockey, albeit a bit bigger and older than nearly all the others.

Corey Bryant and his 4-year-old son, Evan, were wearing red T-shirts with “Skinner 53” on the back. Both are Jeff Skinner fans, while realizing they may not get to see their favorite Canes forward play this season.

“We’re really hoping for a season,” Corey Bryant said. “I’m optimistic. I really hope so. It would be pretty sad if we don’t have a season of hockey.”

Bryant, 35, said he and his family recently moved to Cary from upstate New York. He said he’s not much of a basketball fan, so he’s relying on the NHL and NHL Players Association to solve their stalemate on a new collective bargaining agreement and end the work stoppage that began Sept. 16.

And if the CBA impasse continues and the entire hockey season is lost, in a repeat of 2004-2005?

“It would crush us,” Bryant said.

Alford, 20, said he’s a season-ticket holder and is excited about the Canes’ offseason acquisitions such as Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. He purchased a new Jokinen jersey Sunday at The Eye, the Canes’ merchandise store at the arena, and gave his old Pitkanen jersey to Collins, 18. “It seems like this would be prime time for this team, that we’ve got such a great team compared to the past couple of seasons,” he said.

But Alford, who is from Apex, said he wasn’t sure when he’d get to see the new-look Hurricanes play a game at PNC Arena. “I feel like the NHL and NHLPA are just dragging their feet (on a CBA),” he said. “It’s not looking good.”

Collins, from Fuquay-Varina, said he was hoping to see the Canes and Lightning play Sunday. Instead, he had to be content with some street hockey and listening to the performance of the band Spivey’s Corner.

“With the lockout, it’s all disappointing,” he said. “If they don’t have a season, it’s going to be hard to get a season going next year, too.”

The league and union wrapped up three days of talks Sunday, primarily on such non-economic issues as health and player safety. The NHL regular season is scheduled to begin Oct. 11.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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