There they were, back again, all the old names and faces that came to mean so much – and not just to each other.
In the middle of a conversation with a fan at a pregame meet-and-greet Friday, Chad LaRose turned to his wife, incredulous: “He named his dog after me!”
It was the kind of team that spawned that kind of devotion. Ten years have passed, but those 2006 Carolina Hurricanes built uncommonly strong bonds among themselves and with their fans. Bonds that remain as strong as ever a decade later, long after just about everyone on that team have gone their separate ways.
Togetherness helped make that team what it was. Getting together now, that hasn’t changed. These names, engraved next to each other on the Stanley Cup, will always mean something special to the players and the fans who never forgot them.
Craig Adams. Kevyn Adams. Rod Brind’Amour. Erik Cole. Mike Commodore. Bret Hedican. LaRose. Niclas Wallin. Aaron Ward. Doug Weight. Glen Wesley. Ray Whitney.
The team showed the old highlights on the scoreboard before the Hurricanes took on the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday. They played Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” and it tugged at all those old memories the same way seeing all the old faces did when they were introduced moments later.
Ten years. It feels like yesterday and so long ago at the same time.
“After playing 23 years and realizing how hard it was to win it and not coming close again, it makes you realize winning it is something incredible,” Whitney said. “But when you win it with the people you did, those people will always have a real special place in your life, and their families too, especially the way we did it.”
Twelve players were represented Friday, with Andrew Hutchinson arriving Saturday. That number was inflated by a few other members of the 2016 team who participated unofficially, from current players Eric Staal and Cam Ward to Penguins forward Matt Cullen – who taped a video message to the fans – to Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who planned to remain behind even as his team left after Friday’s game.
There are clear fan favorites on this year’s Hurricanes team – Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk come to mind. But in 2006, it felt as if just about every player on that team was a fan favorite in one way or another.
Ten years hasn’t changed that. The absences of those who aren’t here are felt acutely. Some are active players, such as Andrew Ladd and Justin Williams, some had other commitments, such as Peter Laviolette and Cory Stillman and, most of all, Josef Vasicek, who died tragically young.
“When you go through what we went through with this group of guys, even if you don’t talk daily, you’ve gone through so much and there’s such a great bond there,” Kevyn Adams said. “To have this time together is pretty special.”
So many members of that team moved into jobs in the hockey world that there are smaller, one-on-one reunions happen all the time, in press boxes, at morning skates, on airplanes. But that’s not the case for all of them. Rutherford said he was looking forward to seeing LaRose and Commodore, neither of whom work in hockey, and Wallin, who went home to Sweden.
“I feel the same way about all the players that I deal with,” Rutherford said. “Once I have that relationship, I feel it lasts forever. But there’s more memories with this group. I’m sure we’ll stay in touch longer, because now there will be a 20-year reunion, and all those things. You don’t have a reunion with other players.”
They came together to win the Stanley Cup. Now the anniversary of that championship brings them back together this weekend, back here to where it happened, back home for the Hurricanes.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock