In a month that’s brought plenty of good omens about the state of hockey in North Carolina, perhaps none is bigger than the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes’ recent championship in the International-B Bracket of the famous Quebec pee-wee tournament.
It may not seem that way when compared to the success of All-Star Weekend in Raleigh, which served as an eye-opener for some in the hockey world, and the recent reflections of Rod Brind’Amour, who experienced 11 years of growth firsthand. However, the Jr. Canes’ capture of the championship shows that, when it comes to hockey, North Carolinians have become more than just fans.
“The first year we went up (in 2001) we couldn’t score a goal, and now 10 years later we’re winning it,” said Paul Strand, the Hurricanes’ youth and amateur hockey coordinator and head coach of the Quebec team.
“It shows that we can make great hockey players in North Carolina,” said Mitchell Glabicki, a defenseman from Cary.
On their way to the title, the Jr. Hurricanes, a AAA team consisting of 11- and 12-year-olds mostly from the Triangle area but also from Charlotte, Wilmington and Hampton, Virginia, posted a 6-0 record in tournament play, outscoring the opposition 32-6. They beat teams from Utah, England, Moncton, Colorado, Anaheim and Switzerland in front of crowds as big as 10,000 in Quebec City’s Colisee Pepsi – the former home of the NHL’s Quebec Noridques.
The list of NHL alumni from the tournament is a who’s who of current NHL stars. Many current members of the Hurricanes organization have played, ranging from Ron Francis (’75, ’76) to Jeff Skinner (’05). Drayson Bowman, Tim Gleason, Chad LaRose and Sergei Samsonov are also among those who have competed in the past.
“It’s probably the most difficult tournament these kids can be involved in,” said Strand. “The immensity of it and the fact that they’re playing in the Colisee throws in a whole new dynamic for these kids.”
For years, the tournament has been as much about the experience as the competition. Players stay with local billet families and have the opportunity to learn a new culture surrounding the city’s winter carnival.
“Staying with the billets, learning some French and having to be on your own without your parents there … it’s a lot of fun,” said Nicholas Hale, a left wing from Cary.
Having won the International-B bracket in convincing fashion this year – a late, come-from-behind victory against Colorado marked the only time they trailed throughout the tournament - it seems likely that the Jr. Hurricanes will advance to the tougher AA division beginning next season.
“We always said, ‘Let’s stay in the B bracket until we win the thing,’” said Strand.
That will present yet another challenge for the program, but at this rate, it’s one they seem prepared for.
“You definitely see the growth,” said Strand. “It’s been 12 years here in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the Hurricanes, and here we are winning the biggest tournament out there. The development of the players is coming on fast, and it’s a big result of having the Carolina Hurricanes here.”