Even before the Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, it was shaping up to be a good week for hockey in North Carolina, with two arbitrary, but important, milestones. First, Hurricanes radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton was named North Carolina sportscaster of the year in voting by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
Kaiton, already a media honoree by the Hockey Hall of Fame, is a deserving winner of the annual award, and would have been at any point since he and the team arrived, but it would have been very difficult to imagine any hockey broadcaster receiving statewide recognition from his peers for most of that time. Now, it seems entirely understandable.
Similarly, Rod Brind'Amour's selection into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, announced Tuesday, marks the further ingratiation of hockey into the state's social fabric. Brind'Amour will be the second hockey player honored, joining Ron Francis (as well as Brind'Amour's father-in-law, basketball player and coach Eddie Biedenbach).
As the captain of the 2006 Stanley Cup champions, Brind'Amour played as important a role as Francis in growing the sport here, although unlike Francis and Kaiton he has yet to be recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, an oversight that may never be remedied.
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It took the NC Sports Hall of Fame a while to come around to the worthy hockey candidates in its midst – the 2006 team has also been honored – in part because of the newness of the sport and in part because the state has blessed it with a wide pool of candidates, as demonstrated by the quality of the other nine inductees announced along with Brind'Amour on Tuesday.
Given that, it's hard to argue too strongly for more hockey representation in the short term, but there's one more deserving candidate who should go in sooner rather than later. Jim Rutherford, now the general manager of the Penguins, didn't travel with the team to Raleigh but is expected to return next month when the Penguins visit during the 10th reunion of the 2006 Hurricanes team Rutherford put together.
While the team's struggles during his final years in charge tarnished Rutherford's legacy somewhat, there's also no denying his work putting together teams that enjoyed a tremendous amount of success earlier in his tenure – in 2002 and 2006 and 2009, but the groundwork for all three of those playoff runs was laid over a longer period of time while working under draconian financial restraints (with the notable exception of 2006, the first year of the salary cap).
Francis and Brind'Amour are paragons of the kind of character players in whom Rutherford invested heavily, and they rewarded him with unprecedented success. Just as they deserve their recognition by the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, the man who brought them here deserves no less, sooner rather than later.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock