National Hockey League team in Raleigh, North Carolina, playing at the RBC Center (formerly known as the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena). Since the NHL's 1998 realignment to a six-division structure, the Canes have played in the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division, with Washington, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta (since 1999) as divisional rivals.
The Carolina Hurricanes were created in 1997, after Connecticut governor John Rowland rejected a proposal for state funding to build a new arena for the NHL's Hartford Whalers. Hartford owner Peter Karmanos, a Detroit native and millionaire through his ownership of Compuware who had bought the Whalers just two years earlier, announced in April that he would move the team. In July Karmanos revealed that the move would be to Raleigh (in an upset over Columbus, Ohio), in a press conference where NC governor Jim Hunt remarked that he had not thought he'd ever see the day when he'd welcome a hurricane to his state.
There was one problem with this move: although three top-flight college basketball teams play in the Research Triangle at Duke, N.C. State and UNC, none of their arenas were usable for ice hockey due to the size of the arenas' floors and lack of freezing equipment in the concrete beneath. The only hockey building in the Triangle was Dorton Arena, a 6,800-seat barn totally unsuitable for any major-league endeavor. A new building was being constructed for State, tentatively called the Entertainment and Sports Arena, but it was not scheduled to open until fall of 1999. So the Canes, while headquartered and practicing in suburban Raleigh, would be forced to trek to the only usable building within two hours, the Greensboro Coliseum, 90 teeth-jarring minutes down the perpetually under-construction Interstate 40.
Greensboro didn't work well for anybody (except maybe me -- it's only 2.5 hours from Blacksburg!) -- the Piedmont Triad had the lowest disposable income of any NHL area, and residents there saw no need to spend any of it on a team that (a) had driven out their beloved ECHL/AHL Greensboro/Carolina Monarchs and (b) had no intention of sticking around. Triangle fans had to make a >=3-hour round trip, returning close to midnight, to see their team play, and the team had to make the same commute, sometimes staying in a Greensboro hotel post-game just as they did on a road trip. The results were low (7,000-8,000) average attendance, no real home-ice advantage, and lots of "Green Acres" wisecracks (referring to the empty teal-green seats) by ESPN talking heads still bitter over losing their home team. (Chris Berman in particular had Whalers season tickets, and to this day can't mention the Hurricanes without calling them "the former Hartford Whalers".) The Greensboro years were closed out tragically by the death of defenseman Steve Chiasson in an automobile accident after the 1999 playoff loss to Boston.
A new era began in 1999 with the opening of the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena, renamed the RBC Center in September 2002. Attendance picked up substantially in 1999-2000, but still was near the bottom of the league (just over 12,000). The Canes again missed the playoffs, and head coach Paul Maurice's head was being demanded by loyal fans. In 2000-2001, attendance rose substantially, and the Canes battled their way to the last playoff spot in the East and a series against the New Jersey Devils.
In that series, the Canes went down 3-0 and were thought to be dead in the water, as Devs captain Scott Stevens took Canes star rookie Shane Willis and captain Ron Francis out with concussion-inducing hits in consecutive games. The Canes fought back, taking Game 4 in front of a "deafening" crowd in Raleigh and Game 5 in Jersey. That brought the series back to the ESA for Game 6, where a huge crowd saw the Canes lose, but began a standing ovation with a minute and a half left on the clock and stood screaming through game's end. There are some who say that Games 4 and 6 saved hockey in Carolina.
The 2001-02 season brought even better crowds to the ESA, averaging a respectable ~15,000/game, and a Southeast Division championship, but the Canes were lightly regarded heading into the playoffs. Counted out in their first-round matchup against a New Jersey team many called the best in the East come playoff time, they instead took out the Devils in six games behind goaltenders Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes, Weekes replacing Irbe after rough Games 3 and 4. Next came the storied Montreal Canadiens, and a goaltending reverse proved the story: Weekes struggled in Games 2 and 3, so Irbe took over and promptly won the next three (including backstopping for a spectacular Game 4 third-period comeback in Montreal). Meanwhile, the press tried desperately to cover their previous disregard, as they realized how good the Canes really were. ESPN began selling the newly-dubbed "BBC Line" of Bates Battaglia, Rod Brind'Amour and Erik Cole, and Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry called the ESA "the loudest building in NHL history" as the Canes met Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals. On Tuesday night, 28 May 2002, Carolina beat Toronto 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Martin Gelinas, winning the Eastern Conference 4 games to 2, and clinching a spot in the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals.
Future years will just show that in the Finals, the Detroit Red Wings beat Carolina 4 games to 1, with Carolina's lone win coming in Game 1. As with most such scorelines, though, there was far more to the series than the apparent dominance those results would imply. Carolina was competitive going into the third period of every game, and was legitimately one bad penalty call (Game 2 against Gelinas) and one late goal (Game 3 by Brett Hull) away from leading the series 3-0 after Game 3. Detroit did a fine job in never losing sight of their goal or releasing the pressure on the Canes, and Carolina was demoralized after losing Game 3 3-2 in 3OT. Regardless, it was a magical year for Canes fans, and we only hope to see more in the future.
The Hurricanes finished first in the Southeast Division (and tied for third with the Dallas Stars behind the Ottawa Senators and the Red Wings for the President's Trophy) for the 2005-06 season. Their 52 wins and 112 points easily set a new franchise record in both categories. In their playoffs that season, they breezed their way into the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers, wherein they were able to fight off the upstart Oilers and win the first Stanley Cup for the franchise since it entered the NHL in 1979. Rookie goaltender Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy.