With the Carolina Hurricanes up a goal late in the second period, after a prolonged sequence of offensive pressure, the team was ushered into a timeout by spontaneous cheers.
It wasn't nearly as loud as the Hurricanes probably deserved, outplaying one of the NHL's best teams on its way to a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators, but it was the best an announced crowd of 9,161 could do Tuesday - a figure that has become all too common for a team that ranks 29th out of 30 teams in attendance this season, thanks to fewer discounts and complementary tickets off the ice and a general lack of interest in the team on the ice.
These are unusual times. The Hurricanes hadn't had a decent-weather crowd in four figures since 2003. (The blizzard-brave 6,896 in January 2010 clearly endured exceptional circumstances.) They have had two in the past three weeks. As the momentum of the Stanley Cup win in 2006 has ebbed, along with the playoff runs that bookended it, so have the crowds. A few years ago, an audience this small would have been unthinkable.
"It was a little sparse," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "But the people who were there were into it, energetic."
Never miss a local story.
To underscore those circumstances Tuesday, the man who coached the Hurricanes to the Cup was behind the bench of a first-place team: Peter Laviolette, off to a near-flawless start in his first season with the Predators. Two other members of that 2006 bunch were with him, assistant coach Kevin McCarthy and center Matt Cullen, part of so many good memories here, typically in a much fuller building.
The Predators have been the NHL's bellweather small-market, non-traditional franchise, weathering attendance woes, ownership uncertainty and a general lack of playoff success year after year, but almost always making the playoffs, at least until the past two years.
They bottomed out to grab defenseman Seth Jones in the draft when they missed two years ago, then brought in Laviolette after missing again last year. Back on stride this season, they continue to deliver competitive consistency, in direct contrast to the Hurricanes' boom-and-bust history.
If the question facing a market outside the Hockey Belt is whether it's better for business to be good most of the time but rarely great, or great once in a while but rarely good, these franchises epitomize the extremes.
Tuesday's crowd reflected the general lack of optimism surrounding the Hurricanes' current fortunes. That may change soon. Either the Hurricanes will either catch fire and make a run at the playoffs, or new general manager Ron Francis will pull the trigger on what's probably an inevitable fire sale. Either way, that should raise an eyebrow or two - as would the addition of a franchise player with a top-three pick in June's draft.
At the moment, the ennui remains evident in the stands. While weeknight games against non-marquee opponents are always the toughest sells, they have been historically sparse this season. Monday and Thursday games one week last month drew 19,911 fans combined.
The low-water mark in Hurricanes history remains the 7,016 who came out on Halloween 2000 to see the Hurricanes face the Tampa Bay Lightning. The novelty of the new arena had worn off. The team had missed the playoffs the year before and was expected to do the same again. That isn't how it turned out.
The attendances in the 8,000s ended in 2003, thanks to a season-ticket base that even in these doldrums is drastically healthier than it was a decade ago, but it certainly isn't what it once was. This is what's left: A chilly Tuesday night for the die-hard and the curious, a fan base in hibernation waiting for a reason to awaken.