Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. said the epiphany came midway through Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
The Hurricanes were facing the Edmonton Oilers. The arena – then called the RBC Center, now PNC Arena – was rocking and the tension palpable.
“I realized every single person in that arena had been standing since the start of the game,” Karmanos said Thursday after his selection for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. “They didn’t sit down until the game ended. I thought that was a tremendous tribute to ice hockey, because as some remember we were pretty well criticized for moving hockey to North Carolina.”
It was Karmanos who brought the NHL to the state, relocating the Hartford Whalers to the Raleigh in 1997. There were many skeptics who believed he could not make an NHL team viable in an ACC sports hotbed, but the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup – topping the Oilers 3-1 in the deciding game – and have firmly established the sport in the community and the state.
Joining Karmanos in the 2013 class for induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame were former NHL forwards Doug Weight and Bill Guerin; former Michigan State men’s coach Ron Mason, and Cindy Curley, who has been called one of the pioneers of women’s hockey.
Karmanos’ contributions to hockey are considerable. He has funded youth hockey programs in the Detroit area for decades. He owns the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.
“I’ve been a hockey fan since my mother turned on an 11-inch Zenith TV in 1951 and I got to watch the third period, (in) black and white, of the Detroit Red Wings playing the Montreal Canadiens,” Karmanos said. “I’ve been fascinated by hockey ever since. When I got old enough to be able to develop hockey programs I did it without hesitation.”
Karmanos joined the late Thomas Thewes, a business partner and co-founder at Compuware, in buying the Whalers in 1994. Once in North Carolina and renamed the Hurricanes, the team played two seasons in Greensboro while the arena in Raleigh was being completed.
The Canes reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 2002, losing in five games to the Detroit Red Wings. Four years later, they were holding up the Cup.
Weight was a member of the championship team, coming to the Canes in a January 2006 trade with the St. Louis Blues. While a former NHL All-Star and U.S. Olympian, he was seeking his first Cup.
“I didn’t know what to expect, going to Tobacco Road,” Weight said Thursday. “You don’t know what the fans would be like. It is an unbelievable place, something I’ll never forget.”
A separated shoulder kept Weight out of the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final. But he found enough strength to get the Cup over his head after Game 7.
“It was an incredible feeling,” Weight said. “It was an amazing run.”
Karmanos had a Cup and the state its first major-league champion. The Canes, who had hosted the 2004 NHL draft, also reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2009 and were chosen to host the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend.
In 2009, ESPN ranked the Hurricanes the top hockey franchise and second-best overall pro sports franchise based on on-ice success, impact in the community impact and fan experience.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction,” Karmanos said. “It was nice to be able to prove what a great sport it was when you’re moving right into the center of ACC basketball.
“We were able unite the area, which was split between three different colleges. I’ve heard people say over and over again that hockey was the thing that allowed the Triangle to be united. It was just affirmation of what a great game hockey is.”
The date and location of the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will be announced later in the summer.
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