The Carolina Hurricanes are one playoff series away from the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, and they’re gathering up fans in the Triangle and across North Carolina. Although this seems like a fun thing, it’s apparently not a great thing. At least according to legendary Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry, who last week dismissed the growing Hurricanes fan base as “front-runners.”
“Front-runners,” if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for “bandwagon fans.”
And Don Cherry is Canadian for “get off my lawn.”
OK. Penalty on the editorial board — two minutes for unnecessary roughness. But we don’t care. Ignore the grumpy Canadians, North Carolina. Embrace the bandwagon.
On Thursday, the Hurricanes are in Boston for Game 1 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals. Maybe you’ve been following every period of Carolina’s playoff march, or maybe this is your, um, Game 1 of the hockey season. No matter. This is sports. You pick a team. You cheer for a team. There are few things more eye-rolling than longtime fans who notice your jersey hasn’t been in the wash that much. Do we really need purity tests before we start high-fiving each other?
Cherry, as many hockey fans know, has a bit of recent history with the Hurricanes. In February, he criticized the players as a “bunch of jerks” for having the gall to enjoy wins with some inventive and interactive on-ice celebrations. The team smartly responded by making “bunch of jerks” t-shirts that immediately became best-sellers. Now, the phrase has turned into a brand of sorts as Carolina picks up new fans across the state with each series win.
And why not? These Hurricanes are a team everyone can root for — a refreshing change for some North Carolinians, especially in the Triangle, where choosing a sports allegiance between Duke, UNC and NC State is practically a prerequisite for residency. Not this month. The Hurricanes, who had endured the longest NHL playoff drought, are playing hockey as well as any NHL team right now under former player and captain Rod Brind’Amour. And what’s better, North Carolina, than to beat teams from New York and Boston in consecutive series?
That second part hasn’t happened yet, of course. But it could, and a win over Boston would be sweet for fans of the franchise who remember when the Bruins and Hartford Whalers were regional rivals before the latter moved to Raleigh in 1997. But you don’t have to be a longtime fan to invest in the fun. You don’t even have to know what a forecheck is. At its best, sports is a connective tissue, a chance for a bunch of athletes from different places to temporarily bring a community together when so much else pulls us apart. Don’t judge it. Don’t dismiss it, despite what you hear from someone even Canadians think is a loudmouth.
Yep, we said it. Back to the penalty box for us. Come on in, new Hurricane fans. There’s lots of room.