Ten years ago, Ron Francis was a recently-retired hockey player, not yet ready to move into management.
Ten years ago, Eric Staal was 20 years old, veteran of one NHL season, 11 of his 312 career goals to his credit.
Ten years ago, Cam Ward was a 21-year-old rookie, yet to make his NHL debut.
Ten years after the training camp that ended with Rod Brind’Amour lifting the Stanley Cup over his head after the Game 7 win over the Edmonton Oilers, Brind’Amour is an assistant coach, Francis is the general manager, and Staal and Ward are the only players left from that championship team. Even the uniforms are different.
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So much time has passed, it’s easy to forget how that memorable season began with little fanfare. Peter Laviolette was entering his first full season as coach of the Hurricanes. Change was everywhere.
Since the last time the Hurricanes saw the ice, a full 17 months earlier, before before the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, only 13 players were still with the team. It was the first training camp in 10 years someone other than Paul Maurice running the show, the first in seven without Francis as captain. Of the 40 players in camp, half weren’t with the organization in the fall of 2003 – and for good reason.
Since the run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 provoked a blossoming of the fan base, the Hurricanes had finished dead last in the NHL, missed the playoffs by 16 points and sat out an entire season, a state of affairs which contributed to the team’s marketing tagline that season: “Here to play, here to stay.”
Expectations were low, but there was also a burgeoning sense of optimism on several fronts: Laviolette’s aggressive mentality, the dominant play of Staal and Ward in the AHL during the lockout, the potential of Martin Gerber to replicate his part-time form as a full-time starter with the Hurricanes, the belief that Staal and Justin Williams and Erik Cole were ready to become impact players, the arrival of several veteran forwards as free agents including Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney and a completely retooled defense featuring Oleg Tverdovsky.
As things turned out, the optimism was well placed on all fronts except Tverdovsky, who was no more than a high-priced bit player as Frantisek Kaberle and Mike Commodore turned out to have far more impact among the new acquisitions.
That September, those developments were all down the road, although not the degree to which Laviolette successfully anticipated the impact of the NHL’s post-lockout rule changes to open up play, which the Hurricanes deliberately and carefully exploited better than any other team in the league. After only the second preseason game, it was clear they were on the right track, enjoying a 31-14 power-play advantage.
“I don’t know what it’s looking like from the outside, but the people we have here are the people that we wanted,” Laviolette said during training camp. “Watching practice, maybe I’m the only one who sees it.”
The Hurricanes lost their opener at the Tampa Bay Lightning, after sitting in their dressing room as the Lightning raised their 2004 Stanley Cup banner. A year later, they would be the ones looking to the rafters.
Stanley Cup champs: Where are they now
Bench and front office
Peter Laviolette, head coach
▪ Head coach of the Nashville Predators
Kevin McCarthy, assistant coach
▪ Assistant to Laviolette with the Predators
Jeff Daniels, assistant coach
▪ Spent past seven seasons as coach of Hurricanes’ American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte and Albany, N.Y., now a professional scout for the Hurricanes
Greg Stefan, goalie coach
▪ Spent last season as pro scout for Hurricanes, contract was not renewed
Jim Rutherford, general manager
▪ Retired from Hurricanes in April 2014, resurfaced as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins five weeks later
Wally Tatomir, equipment manager
Skip Cunningham and Bob Gorman, equipment managers
▪ Still with team
Pete Friesen, trainer
▪ Still with team
Chris Stewart, assistant trainer
▪ Head trainer for Pittsburgh Penguins
▪ Still with Hurricanes
▪ Still with Hurricanes
▪ Was not re-signed by Penguins after last season, currently a free agent
▪ Suffered another neck injury while playing for Detroit Red Wings in April, currently unsigned, likely to retire
▪ Reunited with Rutherford with the Penguins after signing as a free agent this summer
▪ Playing for Kloten in native Switzerland
▪ Won 2010 Stanley Cup with Chicago Blackhawks, now Winnipeg Jets’ captain
▪ Won Stanley Cup with Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, signed with Washington Capitals as free agent this summer
Working in hockey
▪ Director of Buffalo hockey academy
▪ Hurricanes assistant coach
▪ Penguins player development coach
▪ Hurricanes director of forward development
▪ Assistant coach and assistant GM for the New York Islanders
▪ Hurricanes director of defensemen development
▪ Newly retired, joined Hurricanes’ pro scouting staff
Working in broadcasting
▪ Radio analyst for San Jose Sharks
▪ Studio analyst for Canada’s TSN network
▪ Died in 2011 plane crash while playing for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in Russia
Mike Commodore, Andrew Hutchinson, Frantisek Kaberle, Chad LaRose, Oleg Tverdovsky, Niclas Wallin
DeCock: @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947