Tudor: Big changes have occurred since Canes' last home game

ctudor@newsobserver.comJanuary 22, 2013 

Charlotte resident Pat McCrory was seeking employment in Raleigh and Bubba Watson was a 35-to-1 long shot in the Masters golf tournament when the Carolina Hurricanes last played a hockey game in the PNC Center.

Much obviously has changed since the Hurricanes defeated Montreal on April 5, 2012.

On the sports front, a significant slice of that change occurred within yards of the PNC ice on which the Hurricanes, 0-1 in the 2013 abbreviated regular season, will entertain Tampa Bay at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

When the Canes ended 2011-12 with a 4-1 loss at Florida on April 7, Tom O’Brien was head football coach at N.C. State and wrapping up spring drills in anticipation of his most successful season yet with the Wolfpack.

By Dec. 2, when the Canes should have been several games into their 2012-13 schedule, O’Brien had been fired and replaced by Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren. O’Brien has since relocated to the University of Virginia to work as an assistant in the same program that years ago helped prepare him for the head coaching job at Boston College.

The Canes’ home opener falls two days after the Wolfpack basketball team ran its record to 15-3 overall and 4-1 in the ACC with a win over Clemson in the PNC.

It was only a year ago that first-year Pack coach Mark Gottfried had set his team’s goal as winning often enough to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. His team got that bid, won two tournament games and began this season as the preseason ACC favorite.

What else has changed since April? Well, there’s:

•  UNC football, which seems to be stabilizing under coach Larry Fedora, who won his first game (62-0 over Elon on Sept. 1) and led the Tar Heels to an 8-4 record.

•  Duke football has really changed. The Blue Devils beat UNC, finished the regular season 6-6 and went to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. Although a loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl left the team 6-7, Duke coach David Cutcliffe was voted ACC coach of the year.

•  After Watson overcame those odds to win the Masters, the second golf major of 2012 was claimed by Raleigh native Webb Simpson on June 17 in the U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club.

•  That same June 17 afternoon, stock car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a four-year win drought by prevailing in a race at Michigan. The low point of his season hit in October when a concussion sidelined the popular Earnhardt for a Charlotte event.

•  UNC basketball coach Roy Williams was a big winner long before the Tar Heels initiated their 2012-13 season with a victory over Gardner-Webb on Nov. 9.

On Sept. 12, Williams underwent the first of two kidney tumor surgeries. Doctors found no malignancies. “I’m a blessed human being,” he said.

•  Notre Dame announced Sept. 12 its intentions to join the ACC in all sports except football, and East Carolina accepted on Nov. 27 an invitation to play football in the Big East.

•  Sept. 12 turned out to be an important date for the Hurricanes, too. Former star and current member of the ownership team Ron Francis became the first hockey player elected into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Francis is scheduled to be inducted May 2 in a class that also includes former UNC basketball coach Bill Guthridge.

On the other hand, some things seem to never change. UNC’s women’s soccer team, on Dec. 2, won the NCAA title for the 22nd time.

The Canes have one Stanley Cup, but who knows? In that championship 2005-06 season, they opened their regular season in October with a loss to a team in Florida and didn’t stop playing until they beat Edmonton on June 19.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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