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How Will Playoff Hockey Look and Feel Without Fans?

Brind'Amour: 'We don't know how it's going to affect you, going out there and not having that emotion'

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

On the night of April 15, 2019, the door to the Carolina Hurricanes' locker room swung open, the opening riffs of "Rock You Like a Hurricane" blared throughout PNC Arena and the crowd roared.

It was a thunderous, deafening roar, an emotional release of energy that had been begging to be unleashed for 10 years.

And, it never ceased.

Tweet from @Canes: Playoff hockey returned to Raleigh one year ago today 🚨 pic.twitter.com/Z4baaXHNrY

That night, an electric, standing room only crowd of 18,783 helped will the Canes to a dominant 5-0 victory over the Washington Capitals, which halved the First Round series deficit.

"The crowd was unbelievable," Dougie Hamilton said after the game. "It was one of the loudest buildings I've ever played in. Just so fun."

The Canes won each of their five home games during the first and second rounds, and home-ice advantage was a tangible difference-maker.

In 2020, the playing field has been leveled. There will be no fans. There will be no raucous atmospheres. There will be no home-ice advantage.

What's that going to be like? How will that affect the game?

"We're going to find out. I've never played like that at a big stage. We'll see how it's going to be," Petr Mrazek said. "I'd prefer maybe playing in a small arena. It would feel different."

"In this situation, everybody is kind of a rookie to be quite honest with you. We don't know how it's going to affect you, going out there and not having that emotion," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "To me, what makes playoff hockey so great is the emotion of it, the energy in the buildings. It wows you at times."

"It's definitely going to be different. We're going to have to get energy from each other and build off that," Brock McGinn said. "Everybody talking on the ice and letting each other know where they are, we're going to have to build as a team and grab a lot of energy from each other."

Video: "Our penalty kill is strong."

Building organic energy is something Brind'Amour addressed with his team on the first day of Phase 3 training camp.

"What's going to hit you like a … ton of bricks is when you go out there and there's no people in the stands," he told his team. "We need to keep our own juice going. So, if you're a guy who doesn't speak too much or chirp too much on the bench, you're going to have to do it."

Tweet from @Canes: "We need to keep our own juice going"Rod knows what the boys are up against pic.twitter.com/7yk3WRXPfU

Creating "juice" won't be hard for someone like alternate captain and noted hype man Jordan Martinook.

"Guys are aware that we're going to need everybody to talk and create your own energy," he said. "The crowd in playoffs grabs momentum for you. It's going to take some guys out of their comfort zones just to be able to scream and create that energy."

Video: "Everybody's healthy, we need to keep that."

The Canes, perhaps one of the quieter teams, have made it a point to be more vocal in these training camp practices.

"We're trying to up the ante on the communication part of things, making sure we're talking a lot and keeping the energy up because it's not going to be in the rink," Brind'Amour said last week. "The noise you're creating in practice - that's it. That's what you're going to have in games."

Just as with everything else in 2020, playing without the energy of the home crowd is a unique challenge in a unique time, and it's going to be a stark adjustment to make, at least at first.

"You're used to stepping on the ice and just getting juiced from the crowd. That's not there. That's going to take some time," Brind'Amour said. "The good news is both teams are in the exact same boat on that, so it's not like it's an advantage or disadvantage for anybody. That will be a huge adjustment, I think."

Not having any fans goes beyond the hype they bring, the rambunctious cheering when a goal is scored and the ohs and ahs when a big hit is thrown or a nice pass is made.

"The crowd actually helps you anticipate," Brind'Amour explained. "When there's a chance, maybe you hear the crowd, or you're about to get hit and you can hear - there are little cues the crowd actually gives you that help you during the game. That's going to be not there, so guys are going to have to adjust."

The team that will be most successful is the one that is able to adapt quickest and most effectively.

"I think it will be a mental challenge for the first game or for the first few minutes of a game. Throughout my career, there have been times, whether it's juniors or minors or exhibition games, where you don't have a lot of fans," James Reimer said. "It kind of sucks - well, I mean it sucks not having fans period, right? - but you really notice it for the first few minutes. Then a play happens, a goal goes in, somebody gets hit, you make a big save, and all of a sudden everything else just fades into the background. You're just focused on playing hockey."

Playing hockey - playing playoff hockey, at that - will naturally spark energy. It will look and sound different, but the energy, emotion and intensity will be just as recognizable as ever.

"I've been itching at the bit to get going here," Vincent Trocheck said. "I know all the guys in here really want to win a Stanley Cup. That's what we're fighting for."

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