“This is surreal,” Charles Shapiro said as he gazed out into the crowd, which had packed the east side stands of PNC Arena, prior to warm-ups.
And in three words, he impeccably described what the Hurricanes Alumni Fantasy Game is all about.
This fifth annual event was especially memorable for the 20-some paying participants and the 4,300 fans in attendance alike, as it featured a number of 2005-06 Stanley Cup Champion alumni, the likes of Rod Brind’Amour, Glen Wesley, Doug Weight, Kevyn Adams, Bret Hedican and more.
“That was amazingly fun,” first-time participant Wendy Thomas said. “So much great fun and a lot of camaraderie.”
In a match that is the strict definition of an exhibition, the final score isn’t what is ultimately remembered – though, for the sake of statistics and history, Team Red scored its first Alumni Game victory in an 11-8 decision over Team White. Rather, it’s the little moments, the nuggets of sport that would otherwise be rather mundane if not for the location – an NHL dressing room and NHL ice – and the people – former greats of the game.
“I’ve been a hockey fan since I was five years old, living on Long Island, going to Islanders games with my father. I’ve been playing hockey since pee wee leagues, and this is the first time I’ve ever been on NHL ice,” said Charles Shapiro, a Canes Season Ticket Holder and a first-time participant. “And I scored a goal, so everything came true today.”
Take, for instance, getting to dress in the Hurricanes’ locker room, brushing shoulders with players whose names are engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup.
“That’s a memory I’ll take away,” Shapiro said.
Or, skating onto the ice for warm-ups, cheered on by thousands of fans. Then, hearing your name announced while the lights are down and “Rock You Like a Hurricane” blares over the sound system.
And then the game happens – and it certainly is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
“It was a dream come true,” said Wade Minter, also a first-time participant. “Looking to your left and seeing Bret Hedican taking the puck from you. Looking to your right and seeing Mike Commodore feeding you. Getting an assist from Glen Wesley, whose number hangs in the rafters. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Thomas was the Alumni Game’s first female participant, and in the second half of the three-period game, she was staring down shots from Erik Cole, Kevyn Adams and Chad LaRose. Her hockey playing experience? She played before her oldest daughter was born. Her oldest daughter is now 13-and-a-half.
“I went out, bought new gear and have only been playing for about a month,” said Thomas, who moved to Seattle seven years ago after living in North Carolina for a decade.
This weekend was a Christmas gift from her husband, who was able to watch the live stream of the game with their kids.
“Complete and utter surprise. When I opened it (the present), the first thing I opened was a plane ticket to Raleigh. The second was the tickets for Friday’s game. The second was the tickets for last night’s game,” she recalled. “And the fourth was for the Alumni Game, and I was like like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. I get to go to the Alumni Game and see the names I recognized when we lived here.’ And he had hand-written, ‘And Wendy Thomas,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, great. I get to go see it!’ ‘No, you get to play in it!’ ‘I get to what in what? They’re going to shoot at me?!’”
In the second period, Glen Wesley fed Minter, the PA voice of the Hurricanes, for a one-timer in the slot. An easy tap-in goal, considering the tape-to-tape placement.
“Just go to the front of the net and keep your stick on the ice. Good things happen,” Minter smiled.
Minter pumped his stick in the air above his head, then skated over to the microphone and announced his own goal: “Caaaaarolina Hurricanes gooooal scored by No. 42, Wade Minter!”
“It’s a little weird and I’m kind of ridiculous, but I figured as the PA announcer of the Canes, it would go over all right,” he said.
Following the game, family members spilled out onto the ice and in the locker room. Sweaters were being passed around, signed my former pros and amateurs alike. Keepsakes, like the nameplates affixed above their stalls, were stowed away for safe keeping, and pictures were taken to commemorate the afternoon.
“It’s just very cool, Thomas said. “They’re just nice guys.”
These are the moments that make the Canes Alumni Game a unique and unforgettable event.
Partying Like It’s 2005-06
A vintage intro played on the video board before player introductions. Ask the Canes features circa 2005-06 entertained the crowd during stoppages. One alumnus would feed another for a goal, like they hadn’t missed a beat in the last 10 years. Or maybe they had.
“Getting on the ice with the guys was pretty special. Ten years is a long time,” Ray Whitney said. “It was humbling too, in the same sense, because our pace of play wasn’t quite the same.”
There was an all-alumni shift, in which the pace and crispness noticeably picked up. The shift ended when Whitney dished to Craig Adams who gave it to Aaron Ward for the smoking wrister.
“Your eyes get pretty big. You’re like, ‘Oh. They have been dialing it back about 90 percent for the benefit of us,’” Minter observed from the bench. “It’s amazing to see the crisp passes. You don’t hear a pop like that off of a pass in the men’s league. It’s a whole different level, even the guys who haven’t been playing professionally for several years. It’s amazing.”
“It's obviously been a long time since I've been on the ice with those guys. The one shift we got to play against each other was pretty fun. It's good that it ended when it did because we were getting pretty tired,” Adams said. “It was a great weekend. Everyone is really thankful that the organization set this up.”
In a mid-period bench interview, Erik Cole joked that he thought the fans would stand for the entire game as they did in Game 7. Birthday boy and play-by-play announcer John Forslund, who flexes his sense of humor at this annual event, made it happen, at least for a minute or two.
It was a perfect way to cap the 10th Anniversary Stanley Cup Celebration, a nostalgic weekend filled with old friends coming home, sharing old stories and reliving unforgettable memories.
“I thought the Hurricanes did an amazing job for us, including our families, just like they did the year we won,” Whitney said. “It was an amazing weekend for all of us.”
“It was unbelievable,” Bret Hedican said. “For my kids to come home, to see the environment, to be around the Cup and see it, to share that with them again and sharing it with a lot of these guys with their kids was fun. There were so many great moments over the course of the weekend. Thank you to the Carolina Hurricanes and thank you to the fans for always supporting that group. It's been a lot of fun.”
And perhaps they leave having created some new memories with new friends in the process.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Shapiro said, the smile never having left his face from when he saw the crowd before warm-ups to when he scored in the third period to when I finished my interview with him and he packed his bag.
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email