|Colleen Hamilton |
In its four years of existence, the Hurricanes annual Alumni Game has reunited old teammates and has given passionate fans the opportunity to skate alongside their idols.
This year’s game included 11 Hurricanes alumni, with Niclas Wallin, Sergei Samsonov and Stu Grimson making their debut. In addition, 21 fans suited up for the experience of a lifetime.
One Hurricanes fan traveled a wee bit farther than the rest of his soon-to-be teammates. Paul Lawson made the journey from Glenrothes, Scotland to Raleigh to play in the Alumni Game.
Lawson has been a Hurricanes fan since the team relocated from Hartford, Conn. As an avid hockey fan in Scotland, he was looking for an NHL team to root for.
“I found out one of my granddad’s brothers had immigrated to Hartford, so I had a family bond with one of the cities so I thought I’ll go for the Hartford Whalers,” Lawson said. “Being Scottish and a loyal family guy, I stuck with the franchise after the move.”
Lawson relies on NHL.com and CarolinaHurricanes.com to stay up-to-date on Hurricanes news from across the pond.
“We don’t get a lot of games on TV back home in Scotland. Normally by the time I get up in the morning the editing has been done so the game highlights are up," he said. "I sit and eat my breakfast and watch the highlights before I go to work.”
He originally found out about the Alumni Game on the Hurricanes Facebook page.
"I’m always online looking to see how things are going. So I saw the post promoting it again and that there were still roster spots available,” he said.
Once the idea had become more concrete (and approved by his supportive wife), Lawson began looking at the logistics of making his way to Raleigh for the game.
“It took awhile to get things organized as well. I had to call Shane (Willis) up because I couldn’t register online because I don’t have a U.S. address," Lawson said. "It turns out I’m the first non-North American to come over. It’s a pretty big deal for me.”
Lawson stayed with friends during his five-day stay in Raleigh. He arrived on Friday and came straight from the airport to PNC Arena.
“From start to finish, from the minute I landed here, it’s been great and a couple of friends put me up for the five days that I’m here," he said.
The weekend kicked off at Lucky B’s on Friday night for the roster reveal party. Lawson was drafted by the white team, which was captained by his idol, Rod Brind’Amour.
“No one takes a faceoff better than Rod Brind’Amour. So you spend hours looking online at what he does in faceoffs, you try to take bits and pieces of that and try and train it into yourself," Lawson said.
Lawson was also excited about joining one of his all-time favorite players, Stu Grimson.
“Being on Rod and Stu’s teams, that’s pretty cool," he said. "It’s really exciting and fellow-European Nic Wallin is gonna be on my team as well.”
The white team also had an unknown Scottish connection, with Canes assistant coach Steve Smith participating in his first Alumni Game. Smith originally hails from Glasgow, Scotland.
“He’s a big sports fan, a big hockey fan and it was really cool that he came over and spent time in an NHL rink,” Smith said. “He got to meet some alumni players, he got into our locker room and got a feel for what an NHL gameday is like.”
Lawson said his favorite moment of the game was when he tipped in the "Grimmer’s really weak shot.”
“He put the puck on net, I think I got a piece of it," Lawson said. "The referees are never wrong.”
The white team’s 11-10 victory was just another highlight in Lawson’s alumni weekend experience.
“I’m delirious with excitement right now. It’s just awesome," he said.
Lawson will return home with a few tangible memories that will serve as a reminder of his Alumni weekend experience for years to come – including Steve Smith’s autographed, game-worn jersey.
“For guys that are distant travelers, coming here and seeing what the NHL is all about, is kind of a once in a lifetime experience and you look and say, ‘Is he crazy to come all this way to do that?’ I look at it and say, ‘You only get to do this once, do it right and you don’t need to go around again,'" Smith said. "He doesn’t get that day back and he’ll have a lot of years to talk about it. I think Paul had the same sort of feel for the game when it was all said and done. He truly enjoyed the experience and good for him for doing it."
While Lawson considers this a bucket list experience, he didn’t rule out the possibility of playing in a future Alumni Game with his son.
“Shane and his team have put together a great weekend, and all the alumni guys – Glen, Jesse, Grimmer coming in – they’ve all been really friendly," Lawson said. "It’s been really good from that perspective, but getting to play hockey in another country, especially in a building like this, the team that you followed from way back in Hartford, it’s beyond a dream come true so it’s a proper bucket list experience and hopefully won’t be my last.”