Hurricanes radio announcer Chuck Kaiton has no trouble explaining the rah-rah spirit with which sports fans have leapt onto the bandwagon for the team's Stanley Cup run.
In an area of rabid allegiances to North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and other colleges, he says, it's only natural that fans united under the Canes' umbrella would bring to the RBC Center the type of enthusiasm more typical of a campus stadium.
"They may not know the total implications of the playoff beards, the history of the Cup, but everyone gets caught up in the magnitude of the Stanley Cup playoffs," Kaiton says. "I can just tell you, people who recognize me and who want to stop and talk about the game that happened the night before, that's increased tenfold just since the end of the Buffalo [Sabres] series."
Compared with fans in cities such as Detroit and Toronto, where hockey traditions are deeply ingrained, Hurricanes fans are more likely to visibly support their team inside and outside the arena, Kaiton says. Like these fans do for their colleges, they plant team flags and stickers on their cars. They also wear the Canes' colors to games. Fans in other cities are more subdued in their wardrobe choices, he says.
"I don't think there's a place where I've seen more fans wearing their team's jerseys to games," Kaiton says. "I'd say about 80 percent of the fans show up to the RBC Center wearing Hurricanes sweaters or T-shirts. You just don't see that in Toronto or Edmonton.
"People here really show their colors, and that's really a college mentality. It's very unique here."
Another unique fan feature, at least for Toronto native Andrew Stefansky, is the tailgating scene outside the RBC Center before games. You don't see Maple Leafs fans in Toronto arriving at the arena hours before the puck is dropped to grill in the parking lot. You also don't see as many families at games because the tickets are so much more expensive there, Stefansky says.
So instead you see a lot more business executives entertaining clients at Maple Leafs games, and those spectators are hardly the tailgating set.
"The tailgating thing is a great thing to see. I'm telling some of my old friends, 'We've got to bring this back to Toronto,' " says Stefansky, 29, who lives in Raleigh and works for IBM in Research Triangle Park.
As hockey crowds have swelled at the RBC Center during the playoffs, Stefansky says that tailgating has helped generate a sense of community.
"It allows people to gel a lot more," he says.