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'Hurricanes University' teaches hockey to new fans

by Staff Writer / Carolina Hurricanes

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Game after game, Lisa Alexsic would yell, "Shoot the puck!" every time a Carolina Hurricanes power play threatened the opponent's goal.

Most of the time the Hurricanes wouldn't. Puzzled and exasperated, Alexsic would watch as they passed the puck back and forth instead of blasting away at the goal.

At "Hurricanes University," the mystery was revealed.

"If the short-handed team collapses (the defense)...the attacking team is left to pass the puck back and forth. The fans are yelling, `shoot the puck,' but there is no shot," Chuck Kaiton, Carolina's radio play-by-play announcer, said diagramming the play on a wipe-off board.

Alexsic, a Carolina season ticketholder, and 17 other fans new to hockey were attending a two-day class run by the Hurricanes to learn about the sport. Graduates will be honored at Saturday night's Dallas-Carolina match.

Carolina started the classes when the team moved two years ago from Hartford, Conn., to the middle of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball country. The Hurricanes share their arena with North Carolina State's basketball team. North Carolina and Duke play less than 30 minutes away.

The Hurricanes, last in attendance in the NHL a year ago, moved into the new Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena last month. Their first game Oct. 29 in the 18,711-seat arena was a sellout, but the most recent game, Wednesday night against Ottawa, drew just 11,000.

"(Hockey) is new; people are still wondering about it," said Lou Siville, Carolina's director of promotion and fan development.

During the first class, students skated with Hurricanes' assistant coach Randy Ladouceur at an ice rink in nearby Cary. They learned how to stop on the ice. They split into teams for relay races.

When Ladouceur asked how many never had skated before, most raised their hands.

After getting comfortable on their skates, the students learned how to hold a stick and shoot the puck. Three Hurricanes' players - defensemen Nolan Pratt and Sean Hill and center Byron Ritchie - helped students practice wrist shots.

"That's exactly how you do it," Ritchie said to one woman as she scraped the stick blade along the ice and flung the puck into the boards.

As Hill and Pratt demonstrated how to pass the puck back and forth, Ritchie jumped in with advice.

"In a fast-paced high-tempo game, stick-handling is a negative," he said. "But going to the goal, stick-handling is a good thing because it keeps the goalie guessing."

Leslie Muzzy said she gained a new appreciation for hockey players by trying to skate and pass the puck.

"I don't know how they do it," she said.

Muzzy and a friend, who both work for AllTel Communications, decided to take the class because the company has an arena suite for entertaining clients.

"We wanted to know more about it if clients asked questions," she said.

During the second class, Kaiton and John Forslund, another radio announcer, discussed blue lines, icing, offsides, power plays and fighting.

"The rules are real simple; all you have to think about are common-sense things about the lines," Kaiton said.

He carefully explained legal and illegal two-line passes. It's offsides when a player receives the puck after another player passes it across one blue line and the red center line without a third player touching it. It's legal if the player the puck is intended for crosses the second line after the puck does.

Most everyone in the room seemed to understand icing - when a player fires the puck from his side of the red line to the other team's goal line and a defender touches it.

"The two-line pass basically stumps everyone new to the game," Kaiton said. "Icing and offsides; that's how mysterious hockey is."

Two women in the class seemed to be the most interested in on-the-ice fighting. One wanted to know why the player whose jersey is torn off always seems to get penalized.

"We ask the same question, too," Kaiton said, adding it's easier to throw punches without a jersey.

Susan Stacy, who attends games with her husband and 9-year-old daughter, said the class gave her a new outlook on hockey.

"It makes a difference because you do understand," she said.

Sign up for the NEXT Hurricanes University today. For more information please call 919-467-7825 x350.

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