DeCock: A great day for hockey in so many ways

ldecock@newsobserver.comJanuary 6, 2013 

— It was going to be a day for hockey in the Triangle anyway, the arena roused from its season-long slumber by a visit from the Carolina Hurricanes’ top minor-league affiliate. By the time Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose woke up, his phone buzzing with texts bearing the big news, it was a great day for hockey

“It’s a great deal for everyone,” LaRose said Sunday. “The fans get to watch us play hockey again. That’s the most important thing.”

What might have been the only hockey to grace the ice of PNC Arena this season instead became an appetizer for the main course. Mere hours before the Charlotte Checkers took up temporary residence Sunday to host the Norfolk Admirals, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association settled in principle on a new labor agreement. It only took about four months longer than it ever should have.

Still, if the long-term timing was miserable, the short-term timing of the one-day visit of the Checkers, the Carolina Hurricanes’ top AHL affiliate, couldn’t have been any better, with a boisterous crowd cheering not only the minor-leaguers but every mention of the major-leaguers.

“It was good news with the game here,” said current Checkers and soon-to-be Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk. “I think it helped with the crowd, too.”

The Hurricanes’ scouts and coaches had gathered from across the continent to watch the game anyway. Now, they’ll stay for training camp, which is likely to start with physicals on Wednesday and the first practice on Thursday. The season could begin as soon as Jan. 16, depending on the final schedule format.

The feeling of relief and anticipation was palpable within the arena, where the fans weren’t the only ones celebrating and the Hurricanes’ Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan, watched the Checkers’ Staal brother, Jared, knowing they’d soon have games to play as well.

“At this point, I’m just excited it’s all over,” Eric Staal said.

Everyone was adjusting on the fly: Faulk has to go back to Charlotte and get his car, but he’ll be back in Raleigh shortly along with a few of his Checkers teammates yet to be determined, while Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, who has been following the Ducks’ minor-leaguers on the Admirals, left after the second period to catch a hastily arranged flight back to California.

There’s so much yet to be determined, from when the season will start to how many games will be played to how many teams will make the playoffs. There will be a season, though, albeit a truncated one that’s still better than nothing.

And now that the business of hockey is concluded, we can get back to the real business of hockey: Who makes the team, who does the hitting, who scores the goals, who stops them. For Hurricanes fans, there’s as much to talk about going into this season as there ever has been.

There will be resentment among fans for the emotional tug-of-war they have endured for four months. That is only to be expected. It is completely and utterly justified. But there will be excitement, too, at a hockey season too long delayed that has finally arrived, excitement shared by fans and players alike.

“To have the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup again, that motivates me more than anything,” LaRose said. “Maybe it’s because I’m older now, but to have that opportunity means everything.”

LaRose has that chance now. The Hurricanes have that chance. Their fans have that chance. Sunday’s game won’t be the only pro hockey game played in Raleigh this year, just the first.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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