Wendy Thomas once watched Erik Cole play college hockey at Clarkson (N.Y.) University while she was attending Cornell, then followed Cole’s NHL career with the Carolina Hurricanes.
On Sunday, Thomas and Cole were together — on the PNC Arena ice, in the Canes’ annual Alumni Game.
Thomas was the goaltender for the Black team and Cole an attacking forward for the White. Cole, ever the competitor, had a couple of goals in the game but Thomas a couple of nice stops on Cole as the Black took a 12-9 victory.
“It was a lot of fun, getting to play a lot of hockey and hang out with some awesome people for a good cause,” said Thomas, a former Raleigh resident and season-ticket holder who now lives in Seattle.
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The Canes’ alumni game wasn’t loaded up with former players. It was nothing like a year ago, when the Canes celebrated the 10th anniversary of their 2006 Stanley Cup championship and the alumni game was the centerpiece of a team reunion.
The Black team had six former Canes and the White team five, and 16 roster spots were filled by Canes fans and hockey enthusiasts who paid $3,000 each for the weekend of activities highlighted by the game Sunday at PNC Arena.
Nathan White got his money’s worth. He had four goals for the Black. But everyone got plenty of playing time and the chance to be on the ice with a Cole, Tim Gleason, Aaron Ward or Bates Battaglia.
“It’s very rewarding to see how much fun these guys have,” said former Canes defenseman Sean Hill, who traveled from Phoenix to play in the game for the first time. “It would probably be a blast for them to skate on the ice surface the Canes play on, by themselves. Add in the fact that we’re out there with them, moving around pretty good and showing them what it’s like. They get the up-close and personal feel for the speed of it.
Hill, smiling, added, “Well, kind of lack of speed of it now.”
John Forslund, the Canes’ TV play-by-play announcer, called the game, adding humor, keeping things light as the players churned up and down the ice. Canes president Don Waddell coached the White team and PNC Arena general manager Dave Olsen the White.
Former Canes forward Shane Willis, the team’s youth and amateur hockey coordinator, organized the game and said it should raise between $30,000 and $50,000 for the Hurricanes’ Kids ’N Community Foundation.
“I would say 80 percent of the guys in this game keep coming back year after year,” Willis said.
And Wendy Thomas. She came back this year and received a puck from Olsen after the game as the most outstanding player.
“She played great,” Willis said. “Unfortunately we broke a few of her sticks, which we feel bad about, but I hooked her up with a brand new Cam Ward (stick). I don’t know if she’ll use that or put it on her wall.”
Thomas might use it. She said she plays hockey in a men’s league in Seattle, laughing and noting, “Being the only woman out on the ice is a feeling that’s normal to me.”
But on the ice with former NHL players like Erik Cole?
“Yeah, that’s a little bit different,” she said, smiling. “That’s definitely a little cool.”