For two long years, as Carolina coach Paul Maurice made the
160-mile round-trip commute between Raleigh and Greensboro for
Hurricanes "home" games, he lamented that several NHL teams made
shorter treks to road games. This inconvenience, which came on
the heels of the franchise's rancorous exit from Hartford in
1997, explains why the Hurricanes can't wait for the Oct. 29
opening of their new rink, the 18,176-seat Raleigh Entertainment
and Sports Arena. Dorothy didn't want to get home from Oz this
badly. "It's been 3 1/2 years since we've been in a building we
really felt was ours," Maurice says. "Honestly, I've forgotten
what it's like to play a true home game."
As the Hurricanes prepare finally to make landfall in Raleigh,
there are still questions about their ability to win the hearts
of fans in a state where the only hurricanes most folks know are
named Dennis and Floyd. This season may begin without the team's
top two scorers from last year, Keith Primeau, who is a contract
holdout, and Ray Sheppard, whom the club has not re-signed. That
is troubling news for a team that was last in the league on the
power play a year ago (11% success rate). Maurice has wisely
changed his club's mind-set to a more defensive one, banking
that goaltender Arturs Irbe can reprise his stellar '98-99
season in which he had 27 wins and a 2.22 goals-against average.
"Coach expects us to play a lot of 2-1 games," Irbe says. "It
won't be easy, but it's up to me to make sure the other team has
Last season the 32-year-old Maurice dressed nine players his age
or older. This year he will build more around young pups like
left wing Bates Battaglia and right wing Tommy Westlund to
support blossoming star Sami Kapanen (59 points), as the club
attempts to emerge from a miserable postseason history that
includes just one playoff series victory in 20 years. "This
franchise has been through a lot of crises, with many different
coaches, G.M.'s and players," says veteran center Ron Francis.
"Now that we've finally got a strong foundation in the new
arena, our team has to prove it has a solid foundation, too."
Last year the Hurricanes did return to the playoffs for the
first time in seven years and won their first division crown
since '87. Their defense of that title, however, will be
handicapped by the fact that the team must open the season with
nine road games while construction on the new rink is completed.
So it goes with this star-crossed franchise, where it seems the
building is never quite done.
The Hurricanes raised their point total by 12 last season
despite winning just one more game than they had in 1997-98.
That's because Carolina went from a league-low eight ties in
'97-98 to 18 last year, second most in the NHL.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 18 Vets Francis and Roberts are slowing down
DEFENSE 19 Chaisson will be missed; youngsters must
GOALTENDING 15 Irbe is solid, but there's no reliable backup
SPECIAL TEAMS 24 Power play in desperate need of a leader
COACHING 25 Pressure is on Maurice to keep team improving