As expected, the Hurricanes team that will take the ice in tonight’s regular season opener are much younger than they’ve been in quite some time. Even so, it doesn’t necessarily feel that way.
Four rookies are expected to play tonight (it could be six if Justin Peters and Bobby Sanguinetti enter the game), with two making their NHL debuts. However, since the group has been through so much over the last few weeks – first in training camp and then on the trip through Europe – the eyes aren’t as wide as one might expect.
“They’re not tentative players,” said coach Paul Maurice. “They’re looking forward to it and we are too. It brings a little of the unknown to the first game because of all the nerves they have to fight and battle with, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm with this group and they’re fun to have on the ice.”
Nerves or not, the Hurricanes are hoping that their start tonight will be different than in their first exhibition game against Florida on Sept. 21 (that would be in the one in which they conceded three goals in the first five minutes). With the veterans now in the lineup to coach through any jitters that may arise, that should indeed be the case – especially now that they’ve come together so well during the trip through Europe.
“There’s more communication on the ice,” said Maurice. “The older guys are fooling around with the younger guys and the younger guys aren’t wondering if they’re joking any more. Everyone laughs at the appropriate time now.”
Three rookie skaters on the roster, Drayson Bowman, Jamie McBain and Bobby Sanguinetti, all saw time in the NHL last year but not enough to give them sophomore status heading into the new season. Between them, they have just 30 combined NHL games, with McBain leading the way with 14.
For Dalpe and Skinner, tonight is the first time under the bright lights of the NHL – even if isn’t exactly what they imagined while growing up in Canada.
“It’s a little crazy that my first game is in Finland, that’s for sure,” said Skinner.
“You only get one of them, so if it’s in Helsinki it’s in Helsinki,” said Dalpe.
While some tension is natural, both debutants are confident players and confident people. Dalpe seemed more anxious about being anxious and not necessarily about how he would perform.
“I’m a guy that likes to be comfortable and not let the nerves get too high,” he said. “But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go to bed a little early last night just in case I couldn’t get to sleep.”
The Hurricanes have structured their forward lines to spread offensive skill and have the kids play with more established players (full lines available here). It’s hard not to notice Skinner’s skill level, but all eyes in Helsinki will be on linemates Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu for his first two games. Dalpe will center vets Tom Kostopoulos and Patrick O’Sullivan, who isn’t a rookie but will also be playing his first game in a Canes sweater.
The Hurricanes’ Finnish trio is expecting a warm personal welcome from their home fans, but they aren’t positive as to which team will earn the most support. Minnesota has three Finns of their own (forwards Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen and goaltender Niklas Backstrom), and were able to hold an open practice for all comers while the Hurricanes were still in Russia.
Still, while the Wild have been in town longer and have had more time to curry favor with the locals, Joni Pitkanen feels the Hurricanes have an ace up their sleeve.
“There are a lot of Caniacs here, so it should be on our side,” he said, referring to the 300-plus Raleigh residents who made the trip.
Maurice got some good news from Thursday’s morning skate, as defenseman Joe Corvo is expected to play after missing the last two days with a lower-body injury. The head coach had been raving about Corvo’s play during all of training camp and would have had a much tougher time without him.
“You appreciate it more when he’s gone like he was at the end of last season,” said Maurice. “Joe fits here for whatever reason, feels comfortable and plays his best hockey. We play him in all situations, and he’s really important to our team.”
As insurance, Sanguinetti will take warm-ups with the team but will be a healthy scratch unless Corvo has a setback. Other extras will be defenseman Brett Carson and forward Jiri Tlusty, who continues to work back towards game fitness after off-season ACL surgery.