Luke DeCock

Unusual trip is unexpected homecoming for Canes’ Malone

The Canes Brad Malone (24) moves the puck against the Bruins David Pastrnak (88) during an NHL game at PNC Arena on March 29, 2015.
The Canes Brad Malone (24) moves the puck against the Bruins David Pastrnak (88) during an NHL game at PNC Arena on March 29, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t plan this trip as a homecoming for Brad Malone, not that he’s complaining about it. Nor was he counting on it.

It has been almost two decades since the Hurricanes last visited the Canadian Maritimes, where they will play two preseason games this weekend, on Saturday against the New York Islanders in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Sunday against the Ottawa Senators in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Malone grew up about three hours from Halifax, in Miramichi, New Brunswick, and goes back there for a few weeks each summer. When he was a teenager, he watched his cousin Ryan play in Halifax with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now Brad gets his chance to play in front of countless friends and family – Malone didn’t have to get them tickets, so it’s hard to nail down an exact amount.

“Obviously, it was kind of circled on my calendar,” Malone said.

Malone’s unexpected trip home is the result of the Hurricanes’ recent attempts to play only two home preseason games, minimizing the financial demands on their fans. Other tweaks included playing a free home game (most recently in 2010) and one game in Charlotte in 2011. Neutral-site games are significantly more lucrative, which spawned a unique home-and-home with the Montreal Canadiens in 2013 that saw the Hurricanes played their “home” end in Quebec City.

This fall, the Hurricanes worked out this deal to play in the Maritimes by a promoter who organizes neutral-site NHL exhibitions (and not as the result of an invitation from former Hurricanes forward Darren Langdon, who returned to his native Newfoundland and lives six hours from St. John’s in Deer Lake).

The Hurricanes last did this kind of junket in 1997, when they played in Halifax and Bathurst, New Brunswick, and Halifax in the wake of their move south to North Carolina and their temporary two-year home in Greensboro. They were a big deal, to say the least: The 3,000-seat arena was about a third full just to watch the Hurricanes practice. The year after that, they did a home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs where the Hurricanes played their home game in Hamilton, Ontario.

In 1999, with what would become PNC Arena still under construction, the Hurricanes played games in Fayetteville, Greensboro, Greenville, S.C., Norfolk, Va., and Estero, Fla. That was the first of the five years when the Hurricanes moved their entire training-camp operation to southwest Florida, where Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos also owns the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.

The team would spend several days practicing at the Everblades’ arena while, in theory, building chemistry during their sequestration. That worked in 2000 and 2001 but not as well in 2003 and 2004 and the team never went back after the lockout.

There isn’t enough time on this trip for any kind of organized bonding or team-building, other than the experience of traveling together with a smaller group that more closely resembles the eventual NHL roster, but it is good preparation for what the Hurricanes will experience in October.

Thanks to the traditional State Fair road trip, the Hurricanes will play eight of their first 10 games on the road, including seven in a row after the two-game opening homestand. So playing the first four preseason games on the road, both in back-to-back situations, is good preparation for the travel hardships ahead.

That’s true for almost everyone on the roster, anyway. For Malone, one is a semi-home game.

“Obviously, it’s still to be determined if I play or not,” Malone said. “But I’ll get the passes for the pregame skate and postgame and get to say hello to everybody. And we get in Friday night so I’ll probably go out to dinner with everybody that’s in town and get to enjoy ourselves for a few hours.”

It’s a rare chance for Malone to play where his friends and family can see him. For the Hurricanes, it’s a rare trip to play somewhere they usually do not.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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