It’s not easy starting a hockey season on the road, especially at the Winnipeg Jets’ raucous MTS Centre.
Nor is it easy playing the first six games on the road.
But that’s what the Carolina Hurricanes have in front of them. No other NHL team has the same schedule, the same challenge as the Canes, who open the 2016-17 season Thursday against the Jets.
“I mean, six in a row and eight of the first 10 on the road, with a young team – that’s not an ideal situation for us,” Canes general manager Ron Francis said this week. “But it is what it is. And hopefully we get out there and get a few wins under our belt.
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“There’s no sense in complaining about what we face. Let’s go make the most of it.”
The Canes put in a practice Wednesday at Raleigh Center Ice before the flight to Winnipeg. Joining the team was defenseman Klas Dahlbeck, claimed off waivers Tuesday from the Arizona Coyotes.
“It has been a long offseason and training camp seems to drag on, and when you get this close you really start getting that adrenaline going and get excited,” Canes center Jay McClement said.
The recent World Cup of Hockey was rewarding for Canes coach Bill Peters, who was on the Canada coaching staff and a part of Team Canada winning the championship. But the event also moved back the NHL schedule, allowing the Hurricanes no leeway in squeezing in a home game before the start of the N.C. State Fair.
There has been some internal discussion of playing a Canes game during the fair in future years, scheduling a weekend game with an early afternoon start. But this season it’s six straight away from home to start.
The Anaheim Ducks open their season with five road games and play six of the first seven away. The Arizona Coyotes have a home opener, then six in a row away.
It’s always exciting at the start of the year, it’s a new beginning for everyone.
Canes forward Lee Stempniak
The Canes, after Winnipeg, will face the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames before coming back East for games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. The home opener is Oct. 28 against the New York Rangers.
“It’s always exciting at the start of the year, it’s a new beginning for everyone,” Canes forward Lee Stempniak said.
It is for Stempniak. The veteran forward signed a free-agent contract with the Canes on July 1, joining a team he believes is on the cusp of becoming playoff-caliber.
“I think it’s been a good training camp, we’ve got a lot of new faces and the guys are ready to get going,” he said.
For the first time since moving to North Carolina in 1997, the Hurricanes will go into the season without a captain. The Canes traded Eric Staal, who wore the “C” since January 2010, before the NHL deadline last season.
Peters said Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk would be alternate captains, and that Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask would alternate in wearing an “A” – Skinner at home, Rask on the road.
The Canes opened last season away from home, losing to the Nashville Predators 2-1. They also lost defenseman James Wisniewski, who played 47 seconds in the game before going out with a season-ending knee injury.
The Hurricanes returned home to lose two straight at PNC Arena. But they were 4-3 in a seven-game road trip during the fair.
“If you start winning games in tough buildings, it’s a good building block and you can have a lot of confidence as a team that you can win in those situations,” McClement said.
The Canes had one of their best road games at Winnipeg last season, winning 5-3 in early February. Carolina took a 4-0 lead in the first, and Andrej Nestrasil scored his second goal of the game late in the third after the Jets had pulled within 4-3.
The MTS Centre can feel claustrophobic. The 15,294 fans are close to the ice and the noise level high.
“We’ve had a hard training camp and the guys have put in the work and prepared the right way,” said goalie Cam Ward, who will start the opener. “Now we’re ready to play for real.”