Luke DeCock

DeCock: Stanley Cup nostalgia hints at what once was, and can be again

Scenes from the reunion of the Stanley Cup Champion Hurricanes

Members of the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup Champion team gathered for a reunion on Saturday, February 13, 2016 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Hockey fans had a chance to meet and greet former players, collect autographs, and have th
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Members of the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup Champion team gathered for a reunion on Saturday, February 13, 2016 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Hockey fans had a chance to meet and greet former players, collect autographs, and have th

They stood at center ice with the Stanley Cup above their heads one more time, just as they did 10 years ago under very different circumstances. Mike Commodore wore his famous robe. Doug Weight and Kevyn Adams lifted the Cup without the pain of wounded limbs this time.

Rod Brind’Amour spoke for those members of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes who joined him this weekend to celebrate that triumph, and his words carried the weight not only of then but now.

“As an organization, you can’t live in the past, but you have to look back at the successful past because it gives you a blueprint for the future,” Brind’Amour said, the captain of that team and an assistant coach of the current one.

For the fans in attendance Saturday night, those memories of the Stanley Cup remain as fresh as ever. For many of the current players who sat on the bench and watched the ceremony, 2006 is a hazy blur, buried somewhere in the back of their minds. They were children then, hockey fans to be sure, but with no connection to the team for which they would one day play.

“I don’t know if I remember it, or I’ve just seen so many replays,” said Jeff Skinner, who was 14 when the Hurricanes won the Cup.

It seems that way for everyone now. So few highlights have been created to replace, or at least supplement, all of those from 2006 that remain in heavy rotation.

So how do the Hurricanes get back there? They may never win another Stanley Cup, but surely there’s a path back to relevance, back to prominence?

There is, but it won’t be easy. The men in charge – owner Peter Karmanos and general manager Ron Francis – will have to make tough decisions. What they decide will determine whether 2006 remains an aberration or becomes just another chapter in a proud, if short, history of hockey here. That’s how it looked in 2006, coming off playoff appearances in 1999 and 2001 and the run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002. Now, it has never seemed farther away, even if this weekend’s reunion brought it all back.

It was impossible to shake the collision of then and now, perhaps no more than when New York Islanders assistant coach Doug Weight hugged Cam Ward, his 2006 teammate and Saturday’s starting goalie for the Hurricanes, then skated directly to the visiting bench.

And yet even as the present intrudes upon the sepia-tinted glow of glories past, this weekend demonstrated how this remains a slumbering hockey market that can reawaken, given the right encouragement. It’s only a question of whether that encouragement will be forthcoming, either in the form of a franchise sale that brings in new owners with a new commitment to the market (the best-case scenario) or a trade-deadline fire sale that continues the influx of desperately needed talent.

There are only 12 players on these current Hurricanes who have even appeared in a playoff game. They live among so many reminders of 2006 in the Hurricanes’ dressing room. The players can’t help but see them as they go through their day-to-day business.

“You walk around and you see (Cam Ward) on the wall or (Eric Staal) on the wall,” said Chris Terry, who was 17 and playing junior hockey in Michigan in 2006. “Chad LaRose was really good that season. To some extent, what you see in those pictures, you can’t really replicate that. But you can use it as motivation, what kind of team we could be. We’re not disconnected from it. That’s the tradition here, winning the Stanley Cup.”

Let these flashbacks to 2006 serve as a reminder that it can be done, that with the right leadership, it should be done – if not another Stanley Cup, at least playing for it on a regular basis.

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

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