What defines a “great moment” in sports?
Is it a moment of unlikely triumph? Is it a moment of unparalleled personal might? Is it a moment of record-breaking success?
Is it a championship that changes the landscape of professional sports in an entire region, from it blossoming great pride and growth?
All likely constitute a “great moment” in sports, and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame recognized the latter on Wednesday by honoring the Stanley Cup-winning 2006 Carolina Hurricanes team as the second entry in the Hall’s “Great Moments” series.
“Boy, does it mean a lot to add hockey to our sports heritage,” said Don Fish, executive director of the Hall of Fame. “Hockey has brought an entirely different element to the sports world in North Carolina.”
Founded in 1962, the NC Sports Hall of Fame began the “Great Moments” series just last year. Its goal is simple: to honor the memorable moments in this state’s rich sports history, hockey being a sport that wasn’t even really on the map until the turn of the millennium.
Then, just nine years after moving to North Carolina, the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. You know the details: a magical season that saw the Canes be aggressive at the trade deadline, only to drop the first two games of the playoffs, but then to fight back and top Montreal, New Jersey, Buffalo and ultimately Edmonton, the last two of which took seven games to decide. And then the Stanley Cup. A first in franchise history and a first for the state of North Carolina.
For a state that has housed at least one professional sports tenant since 1988, bringing the first professional title to the Tarheel State stands as a crowning accomplishment for the Hurricanes organization and the state itself. Now, in addition to the moment being etched into hockey’s Holy Grail, it will be forever preserved in the Hall of Fame exhibit within the NC Museum of History.
“I can’t think of a greater moment,” Fish said. “Being a basketball state, of course the basketball team (UNC’s undefeated 1957 squad) got an awful lot of votes in the first year. But there’s never been a greater achievement in the state of North Carolina.
“To honor a team that brought the Stanley Cup to North Carolina is truly beyond most people’s belief. Growing up in this state, I never dreamed that would happen. It’s such an honor to be able to recognize that team.”
Glen Wesley, a member of the championship team and a resident of the state for 15 years, has had the unique opportunity to witness first hand the growth of the sport of hockey. He made the move from Hartford to the untapped North Carolina market. He saw the game go from struggling to attract fans to having every single fan standing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to now seeing youth hockey flourish, all in 15 years. It’s something, he admitted, he never thought would happen in his “wildest dreams.”
“I think it’s great as a group, not only to be recognized as a player, but it’s also for Mr. (Peter) Karmanos and having the vision of bringing the team here,” he said. “You look at the coaching staff, the trainers, the doctors that were all part of the team for that ’06 run, and to be recognized for that is truly special when you see all the inductees that are up there today.
“It’s exciting not only for us, but it’s exciting for the state and exciting for the fans. Without them, we wouldn’t be who we are today. They support us and come out through thick and thin. To have the success we did in ’06 is truly special.”
Fish and Wesley both mentioned how ingrained the Canes have become in the community – from the car flags to the license plates to the clothing, it’s all something you see every day.
“Go talk to your fans. Go to one of your games. If you want to see real fans, go to a Carolina Hurricanes game,” Fish said. “We’re just so pleased to have hockey as a part of our sports programs in this state.”
The recognition won’t begin and end with the “Great Moments” series, either. Fish said that Ron Francis, Rod Brind’Amour and Jim Rutherford are all “certainly candidates to be inducted into the (NC Sports) Hall of Fame.” If the votes fall into place, the Hurricanes could have a player inducted as early as next year.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Fish said, “the sooner, the better.”