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10 Years Later, Hurricanes Reflect on Cup

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
“Over the crossbar,” radio play-by-play voice Chuck Kaiton bellowed, drawing out the second syllable of the last word as the horn sounded amid the din of the roaring crowd, the confetti popped and the players in red raced onto the ice to surround each other in utter jubilation. “And the Hurricanes have won the Stanley Cup!”

That was the pandemonic scene in what was then the RBC Center 10 years ago, a moment, a game, a season forever preserved in various avenues of history, the most prominent being on the Stanley Cup, where “Carolina Hurricanes 2005-06” and 52 names can be found etched into the iconic silver trophy.

“There’s a ton of memories,” said Eric Staal, a second-year forward in 2005-06 and the Canes captain now, 10 years later. “No question there’s good feelings that come back. The group that we had, the people that we had, the area supporting our team and just the fun of the run through the playoffs. Those are all things that stick out that you remember and want back as a player.”

Stanley Cup Celebration

This weekend, the Hurricanes will commemorate the 10th anniversary of that historic season. Members of that team will be back in town. Trophies, including Lord Stanley’s Cup, will be on display. Stories will be told. Memories will be shared.

“The whole thing was special,” said Rod Brind’Amour, the Canes’ determined captain in 2005-06 and an assistant coach now. “It’s nice that we get a chance to talk about it again and bring the guys back that were such a big part of it. I’d do it every day if we could.”

The Season

Coming out of the work stoppage that wiped out the entirety of the 2004-05 season, the Hurricanes weren’t a favorite pick.

It was an assorted bunch, a mix of young, drafted players and a more experienced, veteran core.

“When we put the team together in the offseason, the pieces were coming together. We weren’t giving up anything. We were taking some of the best players from other teams. Ray Whitney, Cory Stillman, Gerb. I knew Gerber was a good goalie,” Brind’Amour recalled. “We’re getting these guys and not giving up anything, so we’re getting better and these other teams are getting worse. That’s how I looked at it. I knew we had something special going, but obviously we didn’t know how special.”

“There were a lot of additions to our team that people didn’t give any credit for. Once we started playing, we realized that it helped balance the group that was already here,” Staal said. “We had a good group of players. Some had already established themselves as great NHL players for a long time, and it kind of just all fit together.”

“All the pieces fell into place,” Cam Ward said. “It was just a fun team to be around. The chemistry was key, and that’s something that Coach Lavi preached during the year.”

Head coach Peter Laviolette instilled a fast-paced, up-tempo style that allowed the Hurricanes to flourish under the new rule changes that aimed to rid the NHL of its pre-lockout clutch-and-grab era.

“It was perfect,” Brind’Amour said. “He pushed every right button a coach could push for that year, just the way he assembled the team and brought it together. I’ve never played for a team that was as tight. It wasn’t just the guys; he brought in the families. It was a unique kind of experience that way. And the style of play from the start was up-tempo. That’s how the game came out of the lockout. I think we were ahead of it on that front.”

“We had strong, physical D that could skate real well. Up front, we were fast-paced,” Staal said. “I couldn’t tell you how many times we were down two going into the third period and came back to win games. That doesn’t happen very often nowadays. We were well-suited, a fast-paced team that knew how to get it done. It was a fun group to be a part of.”

There were two nine-game winning streaks. There was January 2006, in which the Hurricanes won 13 of 14 games. There was the breakout play of Eric Staal, who posted career highs in goals (45), assists (55) and points (100). There was the steady goaltending of Martin Gerber, who won 38 of 53 starts. There was the relentless, whatever-it-takes mentality. There was a family.

“These guys that I played with were men that brought it every single practice and every game,” Staal said. “We competed hard, we cared and we wanted to win. You would try to do whatever you could to try to achieve that goal. We had hard-workers on and off the ice, starting with Roddy.”

“Everyone held each other accountable,” Ward said. “Guys were here to work hard, and you had to put in the work to achieve success. We had a special group that was able to do that.”

The Playoffs

After winning 52 of 82 games in the regular-season, the Hurricanes suddenly found themselves down 2-0 to Montreal in the first round. Home-ice advantage, at that point, had vanished, and the team was desperate to make it a series again.

Enter rookie goaltender Cam Ward, making his first playoff start in raucous Montreal and shouldering the pressure of trying to prevent the series from sliding out of reach.

You wouldn’t have felt that anxiety from his stoic approach. The Canes won Game 3. Then they won Game 4, and the series, now a best-of-three, shifted back to Raleigh. The Canes won Game 4 and Game 5, Ward claiming control of the crease.

“I remember at the time when I got the opportunity that I was thinking to myself, no matter what happens, I was going to enjoy the moment,” the goaltender recalled. “To be able to have my first playoff start in Montreal and remembering that atmosphere was special to me. It still gives me goose bumps thinking about it. It was an important time in my career. It jump-started my career.”

The Hurricanes then nearly swept the Devils, finishing them off in five games. A back-and-forth Eastern Conference Final took seven games to decide, the Canes, down 2-1 heading into the third period, defeating Buffalo 4-2 in front of the Cup-hungry, sold-out crowd in Raleigh. A championship date with the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers was set.

The Stanley Cup

Raleigh. Game 5. The Hurricanes lead the Final series 3-1. Tie game, 3-3. Overtime. Three minutes in. Mark Recchi, one of two tent pole veteran free agent acquisitions in the second half of the season, is tripped chasing down a puck in the offensive zone. Hurricanes power play. This could be it.

The Oilers win the faceoff cleanly and clear the puck down the ice. Ward settles it and drops it off to Staal, who is muscled off the puck. The Oilers retain possession, regroup in the neutral zone and dump it back in, persistent and aggressive on the puck even a man down. Staal retrieves it again, laying it off the far wall for Stillman. Staal then curls his way up the ice, Stillman sending a slow roller over to him. That’s when a hawkish Fernando Pisani steps in, grabs the puck at the blue line and buries it top shelf.

Back to Edmonton for Game 6.

“Game 5 game was the crusher, for me. That was the one that just kicked you,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re at home, on the power play, everyone’s going how are we going to celebrate this win when this goes in? And then it comes back right in your face. Those are the ones you don’t recover from, and it took us a while.”

“I watched that guy score. It was a sick feeling,” Staal said. “Your mindset is you’re going to score here and win the Stanley Cup. Boy, that changes real quick. But we had a good group of guys that knew how to respond. I thought Cory stepped up, really took responsibility and said, ‘We’ll be better. We’ve got to drop it and move on. That’s all we can do.’ It was great that we had guys that were veterans who knew what you needed to do in the playoffs as far as letting things go, responding and being better the next night.”

Despite the triumphant return of Erik Cole from a broken neck he suffered less than four months prior, the Canes were drubbed 4-0 by the Oilers in Edmonton in Game 6.

“Obviously it wasn’t a good feeling after Game 6,” Staal said. “We just didn’t play well and were outplayed, but we were confident in our group.”

“The way we lost in Game 6 made it easy to just forget that game,” Brind’Amour said. “It was a little rough, not even anything like our team. We just parked that game.”

Raleigh. Game 7. The rest is a familiar story, capped by the iconic image of No. 17, arms outstretched, lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup high above his head. Relief, happiness, joy. Ever true, ever present.

“Our building was tough to play in for other teams that year, especially in the playoffs,” Staal said. “We were confident going in. I felt like we controlled most of that game, just really dialed in. We were the team that deserved to win.”

“That’s the easiest game of the whole season to play. You know your season’s over after that game. This is it. You’re not getting to play again, win or lose,” Brind’Amour said. “The crowd, not enough is said about it. That lifted us. Right from the warm-ups coming out, you could just feel the energy. And it never subsided. That’s what was unique about that game. It just kept going, and that helped our group.”

Special Memories

Was there ever a point in the season when Brind’Amour or Staal or Ward or any of the other cast of characters looked around in the locker room at their teammates and thought, hey, something special might be happening here?

“The belief in our room was there from the get-go,” Staal said. “The tempo that we practiced at, the way we played the game – the game’s a lot different now than it was then – but we had a good group that knew what it was going to take. It all worked out.”

“You never know, right? It’s sports, so you never know. But I knew we had a special group,” Brind’Amour said. “We had a couple stretches where we ran off seven, eight, nine games in a row. That doesn’t happen without having a special group.

“What made this team special was that we hadn’t won. We had guys who had played forever and hadn’t won. So the carrot was still there,” he continued. “They all knew how to play it right and to put the team first. They were all willing to do that at that point in their careers.”

Indeed, those 2005-06 Hurricanes did whatever it took, whatever it took to bring North Carolina its first and only professional sports championship, whatever it took to cement their names and legacies in hockey lore, whatever it took to band together as a team and as a family to capture hockey’s ultimate prize, something we recall fondly 10 years later.

Michael Smith
MICHAEL SMITH is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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