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From the Stands to the Ice

A wild parallel of Opening Nights

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

On Oct. 7, 2010, the Carolina Hurricanes faced off with the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland, in the first of two neutral-site, regular-season games in the NHL Premiere series.

Among the thousands in the stands was a 13-year-old hockey player seeing a National Hockey League game live for the first time in his life.

Seven years later to the day, the Hurricanes and Wild again squared off on Opening Night, this time at PNC Arena in Raleigh.

Playing in the game was that same 13-year-old boy, now a 20-year-old sophomore forward for the Canes: Sebastian Aho.

"It makes you feel kind of old," said a smiling Jeff Skinner, who is all of 25 years old. "It's crazy when you think about it."

As it turned out, that game in Helsinki, a 4-3 win for the Canes, was the only NHL game Aho saw live - until, of course, he played in the league himself.

"I was just playing hockey. I didn't have many goals," he recalled. "I think when I first got to the pro league I realized that this (the NHL) is my dream."

Video: MIN@CAR: Rask one-times Aho's feed for the lead

Five years removed from the NHL Premiere, Aho was drafted by one of the teams he saw in action.

"It was pretty nice," he said. "You never know … so it was kind of surprising. I'm glad it happened."

Then, on his second Opening Night in the NHL, Aho lined up opposite the other team he saw seven years ago to the day and recorded two crucial third-period assists in a 5-4 shootout win, a fun, what-are-the-odds-of-that parallel in the hockey universe.

"It's pretty funny and pretty cool," Skinner said.

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