The Carolina Hurricanes may be pulling off the impossible.
It’s the week of the first Duke-North Carolina basketball game of the season, with all its monumental hype, and the Canes are stealing away some of the sports attention, locally and nationally, for some comments made in Canada.
A “bunch of jerks.” That’s what Don Cherry called the Hurricanes in his “Coach’s Corner” segment Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada. Cherry, speaking his mind as if he was defending the honor of the National Hockey League, blasted the Canes for their postgame celebrations after home-ice wins at PNC Arena.
Leaping into the glass, kayaking, hitting a homer, doing the limbo, bowling ... Cherry doesn’t like any of it.
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“This is a joke,” Cherry said. “You don’t do this in professional hockey. ... They’re a bunch of jerks as far as I’m concerned,”
Cherry’s rant, and his choice of words, struck a nerve. ESPN jumped in and did a story. Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports took notice. Cherry’s video went viral on social media.
The Canes quickly followed up, taking online orders for T-shirts with “Bunch of Jerks” on the front. About 1,500 were ordered and the T-shirts could be available as soon as Tuesday at the team store, The Eye, and could move briskly.
Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday that he shouldn’t have to comment on what Cherry said, then did at some length.
“It’s not about anyone else. That’s where they’re missing the point,” he said. “It’s about our players engaging our fans and thanking them for sticking with us and being there, and trying to provide a little levity to a pretty serious game.
“Everything is happening after the game. This isn’t during the game, not before the game. When it’s all said and done and (the players) have put the work in, instead of just a traditional salute to the fans which nobody cares about, they’re just trying to do something a little different. We really don’t care what other people think about it. It’s been pretty positive around here and I haven’t had one fan here say they didn’t like it.”
Or a player. Brind’Amour said there have been no concerns expressed about the celebrations being a little over the top. “I think they love it and it’s their thing,” Brind’Amour said.
Brind’Amour said if captain Justin Williams didn’t believe the players supported it or were tired of it, the celebrations would stop.
“We’re making way too big a deal of it but if that’s the only way they’ll talk about our team that’s fine,” he said. “We’re just got to keep doing our thing. I don’t think the players are going to change what they’re doing. They’re enjoying it. The fans are enjoying it.
“You’ve got to remember that’s what we’re here to do. They’re the ones who are paying the salaries. We have to do things a little different down here to keep people interested. And at the end of the day it’s entertainment. It’s fun, people.”
The Canes also have to win to have a postgame celebration, and they’ve won 16 times this season at PNC Arena, going 16-9-4.
“We’re trying to change the culture a little bit here in Raleigh and trying to have fun,” defenseman Calvin de Haan said.
The celebrations began Oct. 7, after the Canes’ 8-5 win over the New York Rangers, with the players lining up at center ice, breaking into the Viking Clap, then skating to the south end of the rink and leaping into the glass. It was simple, it was fun. It came across as impromptu, although it had been suggested and encouraged in advance, Williams later said.
“It’s all team bonding, stuff you share with the guys and memories you have with the guys,” defenseman Dougie Hamilton said.
There have been different themes since then. One popular celebration had forward Brock McGinn playing the role of Thor and slamming down his stick at center ice. Another had rookie Andrei Svechnikov becoming a human bowling ball and being rolled into the net as his teammates lined the lane.
“It has nothing to do with us mocking any teams, it’s just trying to keep our fans engaged and have fun with them,” forward Jordan Martinook said. “Going forward, I don’t think we’re changing anything.”
The post-gamer that apparently upset Cherry was after Friday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. With Major League Baseball about to crank up spring training, Hamilton played the part of the pitcher and Warren Foegele the hitter. Foegele hit a walkoff homer, skating around the “bases” and jumping on “home plate” as his teammates sprayed him with water.
“Just a spur of the moment thing,” Hamilton said. “Just go out there and make the fans smile. Nobody is rushing out of there. It’s cool to see.”
Not to Cherry, a former NHL coach turned commentator who has a massive TV audience in Canada. Cherry, 85, isn’t the first to complain about the Canes’ postgamers. Another NHL old-schooler, former general manager Brian Burke, lashed out early in the season.
But Cherry’s “bunch of jerks” comment has become a rallying cry among the Canes fan base and within the organization.
“If he thinks what we’re doing down here is such a mockery of hockey he needs to come and watch a game here and see how engaged the fans are after the game and how involved it keeps everybody,” Martinook said. “I think it might change his tune.”