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Alumni Game Will Entertain, Fulfill Dreams

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
During this year’s Super Bowl, Budweiser aired an advertisement in Canada that featured a flash mob at a recreational hockey league match: there was a live, cheering crowd, mascot entertainment, goal horns, confetti and a production crew – all the ambiance you’d find at a professional hockey game.

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On Sunday, this same experience will be given to a group of 30 paying, hockey-playing fans in the first ever Carolina Hurricanes Alumni Fantasy Game.

Not only that, but they’ll also get to skate alongside Canes legends, including Ron Francis, Glen Wesley and Rod Brind’Amour.

“For the guys playing in the game, it’s just the dream to play with a Hall of Famer – play on a line with them, get a pass from them, and it’s going to be like an actual game” said Shane Willis, who will also be dressing in the game. “It’s just a dream that every hockey player has growing up – to play in an actual NHL game. We’re going to try to make it as real as we can.”

“As real as we can,” meaning there will be warm-ups, full, 20-minute periods, intermissions, referees and all the crowd entertainment you’d find at a Hurricanes game, including fans.

For fans, it will be their chance to see Hurricanes players lace up their skates one more time in a game environment, even as their some of their numbers hang in the rafters.

Among the alumni participating in the game will be Aaron Ward, Steve Rice, Steve Halko, Willis and Francis for Team Red. Henry Staal, father of Hurricanes’ captain Eric Staal, will also draw into the Red lineup. Team White will ice a team that includes Robert Kron, Jesse Boulerice, Tripp Tracy, Wesley and Brind’Amour.

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“The true Caniacs who have been around since this team came here and the great fans we have want to come out and see the older guys they used to love and were their fan-favorites back then,” Willis said.

It’s an idea that makes perfect sense, and it was one that Willis tossed around early in the season as the new youth and amateur hockey coordinator for the organization.

“What better way to raise some money than a hockey game?” he said. “With the amount of alumni guys we have living in the area now and are willing to play, I thought, what a great way to do it.”

With the rosters set and the game on tap, who has the edge? You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.

“I’m going to have to predict my team,” Willis said. “If [Tripp] loses, he’ll never live it down.”

“Well, we’re going to win. Of course we’re going to win,” Tracy said. “I do know that if I have a day of bad guessing, I am never going to hear the end of it.”

So, he’s prepared for this game. A little bit, at least. He’s looked at tape and talked to Tom Barrasso about Francis’ tendencies. He’s consulted with Cam Ward and Brian Boucher about glove positioning and whether it’s easier to start low and move high or vice versa. But that’s about it.

“The reality is, when you look at Brind’Amour, Francis and Wesley – guys like that of Hall-of-Fame caliber success, ability and professionalism – I should really be the guy that is preparing a lot, but I’ve been on the ice twice in the last three years, I think,” he said. “A lot of marginal players in the NHL are able to stay in the League a long time because of their work ethic, and that intangible bridges the gap in ability. My work ethic, unfortunately, has probably made that bridge as long as the Golden Gate.”

Tracy has a few things working against him. The first is he tweeted that his glove side was his weak spot. No mind games – it really is, he said. (“I probably should not have done that.”) The second is that he doesn’t anticipate being able to use his signature move, the poke check. (“Come on. It’s Ron Francis, it’s the Alumni Game. I can’t really pull out that poke check and if I miss the puck go for his feet.”)

What he does have working in his favor is a defensive-minded group in front of him with the likes of Wesley, who has over 20 years of NHL experience, and Brind’Amour, a two-time Frank J. Selke trophy winner.

“I’m not sure how much defense there’s going to be played in this game,” Tracy said. “This is a no-win situation. It’s an all-star environment, which I don’t ever remember a goalie being the MVP of an all-star game. The fact of the matter is, I could have a shining performance and still give up 10 goals. That’s just the way these things typically work.”

Willis said the key to Team Red emerging victorious is simple: contain Brind’Amour.

“None of us are in great shape,” he said. “Obvisouly, Rod has always kept up his playing-form, as far as the shape he’s in. So if we can keep him in check, we’ll be all right.”

Some players have taken to Twitter, sending friendly chirps out to the opposition. It’s something Willis expects to see carry over into Sunday’s game.

“I think it will be a slow start, but it will start picking up the pace as the game gets close to the end. Someone is going to win,” he said. “Someone is going to win. I think the competitiveness will pick up.

“We want to let these guys feel something we were lucky enough to do for a career and make a great day out of it.”

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