Peter Karmanos clearly remembers the ridicule his organization received after it moved from Hartford to North Carolina in 1997. Attendance was poor as the team played its first two seasons in Greensboro while waiting for its new arena in Raleigh to be constructed.
Karmanos repeatedly heard that hockey wouldn't catch on in such a non-traditional market, but with the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover days away from facing off at the RBC Center, such a notion has been clearly disproved. The Hurricanes draw well and boast one of the loudest arenas in the League. This weekend, Raleigh is the center of the hockey universe.
"To me personally, I think it's always rewarding for the owner to be able to show off his market, show off our building, and have a chance to let the community respond on a national basis," Karmanos said on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman."
"Our building is fantastic -- it's 12 years old now, but you'd think it had been opened a year or two at most. It's an amazing building to get in and out of, it has wide concourses, excellent sight lines from the seats. Everything is built close to ice, just the way a hockey arena should be."
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Karmanos is a lifelong hockey fan who previously owned the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League and has devoted much of his time to promoting youth hockey through Compuware, the software company he helped found. His philanthropic
efforts include the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, named after his first wife, who died of breast cancer in 1989.
Karmanos grew up in Detroit and called himself "very loyal" to the city, but he has come to appreciate and love Raleigh, pointing to the continued growth for hockey he expects in the decades to come.
"One of the reasons we brought the team to Raleigh, we didn't have competition from an NFL team or an NBA team or a baseball team," he said of an area that had been better known as a college sports hotbed. "We always thought the college sports fan is different than the pro sports fan, and it really has worked out that way, so we have what's turning out to be a pretty large market all to ourselves. Raleigh has grown 42 percent since 2000, and it's forecast to grow another 80 percent in population by 2030, so that's a good-sized market for the NHL."
The Hurricanes have given their fans plenty to cheer about in their short time in Raleigh, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002, the franchise's first championship in 2006 and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009.
Along for the ride with Karmanos going all the way back to the Hartford days is General Manager Jim Rutherford. The pair has provided a model of stability with their similar philosophies to how the operations should run.
"First of all, Jimmy does a hell of a job so that helps stabilize the relationship," Karmanos said. "We've worked hard to build a franchise in Raleigh. It was fun going into a community where there hasn't been hockey. Jim worked his tail off to make sure we put a good product on the ice. He was fiscally responsible but always made sure we had a competitive team. He has tight standards for his organization, his players and his coaches. I respect that and it's what I expect as well and I require that of Jim."
Opening the show, Bettman had some facts and figures to display how exciting and competitive the League has been through 750 games heading into the All-Star break, slightly more than half the season. The Hurricanes, currently a single point out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, are one of 25 teams either holding down a postseason spot or within six points of the cutoff.
Third-period lead changes are at a four-year high, with 63 this season -- that includes 14 lead changes in the last 10 minutes, double last season's total at this point, and six lead changes in the final five minutes of a game, as opposed to one last season.
While the 173 overtime games to this point are down seven from this time last year, there have been 88 games decided in the four-on-four extra period, way up from the 67 last season.
Great goaltending has accounted for shutouts being at a five-year high with 102 so far, an increase of 10 from last season.
Power plays have also decreased significantly over the past several years, which Bettman attributed to players growing more accustomed to the rules changes the League instituted coming out of the work stoppage. There have been 7.4 power plays per game this season, as compared to 10.3 at this point during the 2006-07 season.
Also, more than two-thirds of games this season have been decided by one or two goals.
I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.
— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie