Noah Hanifin stepped off the ice Saturday, taking a few moments to take a long look around Raleigh Center Ice.
“Some special memories here,” the defenseman said, almost wistfully.
For the past three seasons, Hanifin dressed on the Carolina Hurricanes end of the rink. Drafted in the first round by the Canes in 2015, he spent his first three NHL seasons with Carolina, putting in numerous practices at RCI.
So did Bill Peters. He coached the Canes the past four seasons. But so much has changed since Peters and Hanifin were last in the facility.
Peters brought the Calgary Flames into RCI on Saturday for a practice, preparing for Sunday’s game against the Canes at PNC Arena. His team, which leads the Pacific Division, includes Hanifin and forwards Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan, like Hanifin both former Hurricanes.
“It’s exciting,” Peters said. “It’s a great, great city and a fantastic area and unbelievable people, as genuine as they come. We just enjoyed our time here, four really quality years.”
Had the Canes reached the playoffs during those four years, Peters might still be in Raleigh. But a change in ownership by the Canes resulted in other changes -- to the coaching staff, to the makeup of the team. Peters resigned and was named the Flames coach. Lindholm and Hanifin later were traded to Calgary and Ryan signed as a free agent.
No one’s complaining. While the Flames were beaten 4-3 on Friday by the Washington Capitals in their first game after the All-Star Game and bye week, Calgary is 33-14-5 and leads the Western Conference with 71 points.
Lindholm, who left Saturday’s practice early, already had set career highs in goals (22), assists (37) and points (59).
The Flames and Canes faced off Jan. 22 in Calgary, the Flames taking a 3-2 win in overtime. The scouting reports are fresh.
“They work really hard,” Hanifin said. “They’re fast, obviously got a really good D corps. We’ve got to work hard or we’ll be trouble.”
Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour was an assistant coach on Peters’ staff for four seasons before taking over this season. He praised Peters’ attention to detail and how he “just drilled it home, every day,.” saying it influenced him in how he has gone about things in his first year as a head coach.
“I knew he would be successful going over to Calgary,” Brind’Amour said. “That to me is the perfect team for him. A little more veteran group. We were a young group here. We still are.”
Peters, in turn, said Brind’Amour, after a great playing career, has the chance of being equally as good as a coach. “He means a lot to this community and cares deeply about the Hurricanes, which is wonderful, right?”Peters said.
While Peters is a meticulous coach when it comes to preparation, he did plan on spending a leisurely afternoon Saturday. His daughter, Aleze, attends East Carolina and he was headed to Greenville. Buy her a new cell phone, maybe take in a movie and dinner, Peters said.
Joked Peters, “She misses her mom, she doesn’t miss me.”