RALEIGH, N.C. - The Carolina Hurricanes paid tribute to the last original member of their franchise Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes honoured Glen Wesley by retiring his jersey number and hoisting his No. 2 banner to the rafters before their game against the Boston Bruins.
"Just a lot of emotion, a lot of things that I am able to reflect at, and it's still actually surreal," Wesley told reporters during the second intermission.
"It's starting to sink in."
The banner-raising capped a moving 31-minute pre-game ceremony in which Wesley skated onto the ice in full uniform one final time and took a victory lap around the rink with his two sons.
"The skinny redhead from Red Deer," as he called himself during a 10-minute speech, retired last June and moved into the Hurricanes' front office as director of development for defencemen.
He spent 13 of his 20 seasons with the Hurricanes' franchise, and was the only player to play for them in each of their first 10 seasons since moving from Hartford to North Carolina in 1997.
"Little did our family know we would end up in Mayberry," Wesley quipped.
He ended his career sixth among NHL defensemen with 1,457 games played, and a club-record 728 of those came in a Hurricanes uniform.
The Bruins made for an appropriate opponent, because they drafted him in 1987 and traded him to the Whalers in 1994 for three draft picks - one of whom wound up being eventual Carolina teammate Sergei Samsonov.
He played in four Stanley Cup finals - two with Boston, two with Carolina - and won it for the only time in 2006.
He memorably celebrated his day with the Cup by taking it to Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast, to visit with Marines wounded in combat.
"We started (in a) very difficult market - with NASCAR, we had football, basketball, and we had to compete with that," Wesley said.
"We had to win our fans, and I think really, until 2002, when we went to the finals, that was a big stepping stone for this organization, in taking steps to winning people over from those other sports.
"We proved that we could compete for the Stanley Cup, and I think since then, we put hockey on the map here in North Carolina, and I think that's something that will carry on forever."
He became the second Carolina player to have his number retired, joining current assistant coach Ron Francis' No. 10.
There were plenty of reminders of Wesley throughout the RBC Centre, where the corner boards had 2s painted on them.
During the pre-game skate, each Carolina player's jersey instead bore Wesley's name and number, and once the game started, they switched to commemorative sweaters that had "Wesley 2" stitched on the chest.
His wife, son and daughter sang the national anthem.
"It's a night that we'll remember forever," he said.