Go ahead, tell Larry Putnam how much you hated the drive to Greensboro the two years the Carolina Hurricanes played there. The traffic. The late nights. The hassle. He loves to hear that. And then he gets in his car and drives back to Greensboro, as he has after nearly every game over the 17 years since the Hurricanes moved into what’s now called PNC Arena.
When the Hartford Whalers announced they were moving to North Carolina, Putnam called Connecticut to try to buy tickets before they were even selling them. Three others bought season tickets before he did, but none have held onto them the whole time. He’s the Hurricanes’ longest-serving season-ticket holder, No. 1 on the list, original date June 18, 1997, hours ahead of six others who bought tickets the next day.
If Hurricanes fandom is an epidemic, the retired accountant is Patient Zero.
He’s probably spent into six figures on the Hurricanes over the years, but there’s no way to put a price tag on the depth and breadth of his experience. His hockey commute can take anywhere from an hour and 15 minutes to two hours, depending on traffic.
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“I have talked about giving up my tickets, especially in the last couple of years,” Putnam said. “My wife reminds me how much I enjoy it. She asks, if I didn’t have it, what it would be like? It would be an empty space to be honest with you.”
I have talked about giving up my tickets, especially in the last couple of years. My wife reminds me how much I enjoy it. She asks, if I didn’t have it, what it would be like? It would be an empty space to be honest with you.
Larry Putnam, the Hurricanes’ longest tenured ticket-holder
Putnam, 65, is no transplant who grew up with hockey; he’s Greensboro-born and Greensboro-raised, an accountant drawn into hockey by the sight of Mario Lemieux swooping up the ice with the puck. He went to the occasional ECHL game, but his interest was really piqued when the AHL Monarchs showed up in 1995. Two years later, the Whalers became the Hurricanes.
If Greensboro had been able to bring back an AHL team when the Hurricanes were done there, Putnam might not have kept his Hurricanes tickets. That’s not how it worked out. So all these years later, he’s still making the commute, still has four tickets behind the goal where the Hurricanes shoot twice – he sells two to a friend, annually – still stopping in Hillsborough on the way for barbeque and beer.
“During tax season, I would use this as a relief,” Putnam said. “I would get in the car after a hard day and head down to Raleigh, not turn on the radio, just enjoy going to the game and getting away from anything.”
Befitting his tenure, his experience has been atypical. Putnam became friends with Kevin Weekes when the goalie played for the Monarchs, so he watched Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2002 with Weekes’ family in Toronto. He got an invitation to the White House when the Hurricanes visited with the Stanley Cup through his congressman, the late Howard Coble. He went to Finland with the team when it opened the season there in 2010.
Putnam was at Game 7 in 2006 – with his youngest son, his wife banned after having been held responsible for Cory Stillman’s turnover that led to the Edmonton Oilers’ short-handed game-winner in overtime of Game 5, right in front of Putnam’s seats – and he’s seen the rest of the great, all of the good and all the bad. He likes what Ron Francis has done with the team since taking over as general manager, wishes owner Peter Karmanos would spend more and envies the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, who emerged from their own dismal seasons with John Tavares and Steven Stamkos while the Hurricanes did not.
Over the years, as the playoff drought has lengthened and the traffic has gotten worse, he has considered his options, but he has never wavered, never flinched. So he plans to be there yet again on Oct. 28 when they play their home opener, following the same routine. That’s what he did for the Hurricanes’ first home preseason game on Sept. 30, bringing along an old friend who marvels at his conviction. The team opens the regular season Thursday in Winnipeg.
“Even he kids me about being a Canes fan,” Putnam said. “He says, ‘Are you really going to pull for them this year, Larry? Are you really going to renew your season tickets?’ Yeah, yeah. I’m in.”
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock