Noah Hanifin mostly remembers being crushed.
Hanifin was 12 years old in 2009, a diehard Boston Bruins fan. That his Bruins were beaten in the Stanley Cup playoffs, losing a Game 7 in overtime at TD Garden, had him close to tears.
Scott Walker scored on the rebound of a Ray Whitney shot, slapping the puck past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, and the Carolina Hurricanes were moving on to the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. Boston’s season was done.
“It was brutal,” Hanifin said. “My face was in my hands and I was about to cry. I was in my cousin’s house in Boston watching this small little TV and all my cousins had slept over. It was a fun series to watch but it was pretty devastating the way it ended.”
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And seven years later?
“Pretty ironic, isn’t it?” Hanifin said, smiling.
Hanifin is a rookie defenseman for the Hurricanes. Because of the NHL’s quirky scheduling, the Canes’ game Thursday against the Bruins will be their first in Boston this season, finally giving Hanifin the chance to return to his hometown, to play at TD Garden.
“It’s going to be a pretty special moment and pretty cool experience,” Hanifin said.
It’s also one, Nathan Gerbe said, “He’s talked about for a long time now.”
Gerbe should know. He and his family have Hanifin living with them as a house guest during his first NHL season.
But Gerbe also can understand. He grew up in Detroit, a Red Wings fan. His first NHL game in Detroit, in Joe Louis Arena against the Wings, was different than the rest.
“It’s tough to keep the emotions in check, especially when it’s a team you idolized as a kid,” Gerbe said. “It’s exciting to play but sometimes you forget to stay focused.”
Playing hockey every day and not going to school is pretty cool.
Canes defenseman Noah Hanifin
Hanifin said he has enough tickets for his family and friends. He said there are two suites reserved, one by Bruins great Bobby Orr, whose Orr Hockey Group represents Hanifin.
Bob Hanifin, Noah’s father, once took him to Bruins games at TD Garden. He’s the one who got Noah started playing the sport, who carried him to rinks, who has always been supportive.
Bob Hanifin also has been a big inspiration for his oldest son. He was diagnosed with colon and kidney cancer when Noah was 13, undergoing chemotherapy treatments for a year. He has been cancer-free for about five years, Noah said.
“It really motivated me to become a man, and I learned how to deal with adversity when I was pretty young,” Noah Hanifin said.
The game Thursday will be Hanifin’s second against the Bruins. Boston won 4-1 on Feb. 26 at PNC Arena, although Hanifin scored the Canes’ goal on a power play, his shot missing the net but bouncing off the ends boards, off a Boston defenseman and into the net.
But this is going home.
“It’s going to be real fun moment and a proud moment for his family,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Wednesday.
A year ago, Hanifin was a freshman at Boston College. Seventeen when the school year began, he was one of the youngest to ever play for longtime BC coach Jerry York.
An English major at BC, Hanifin said he enjoyed writing. In one seminar, he said, he could “basically write about any topic we wanted.”
“But now, playing hockey every day and not going to school is pretty cool,” Hanifin said. “I’m pretty happy.”
The Canes made him the fifth pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, then signed him to his entry-level contract, ending his college career. He was in Carolina’s lineup on opening night, an 18-year-old rookie.
Hanifin trained with Gerbe, a former BC standout, in the summer and the veteran forward invited him into his home this season. Gerbe, 28, has served as a mentor of sorts, while Hanifin kept Gerbe engaged with all the team’s doings after Gerbe suffered an ankle sprain Nov. 22 that sidelined him 25 games.
“I’ve tried to help him become a better player,” Gerbe said. “I think he’s grown a lot. I know there’s still a lot more potential, and that’s stuff we try to talk about each day.
“If you look at how he’s playing now, and the confidence he has, obviously being as young as he is it’s a big learning curve. He’s picked things up pretty quickly.”
And he’s finally going back to Boston.