RALEIGH, N.C. - The NHL awarded the 2011 all-star game to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, coming through on a pledge commissioner Gary Bettman once made to the franchise.
"You have all been asking me for years when the all-star game was coming to Raleigh," Bettman told a crowd of about 1,000 Hurricanes fans who packed the RBC Center's lawn. "I did make a promise a number of years ago.
"So, today, I will fulfil that promise."
Next year's game originally was to be played in Phoenix, but when the Coyotes filed for bankruptcy, the league re-opened its options. Bettman estimated that 14 teams applied either to host all-star games from 2011-13 or upcoming NHL drafts.
Telling the other franchises that "your time will come," Bettman said awarding the game to Carolina "is a testimony to the strength of this franchise."
Bettman credited the metropolitan Raleigh area for making the improvements to the infrastructure and taking care of several other questions the league had. He cited a renovated airport terminal, a new convention centre that opened in September 2008, and the addition of nearly 800 four-and five-star hotel rooms in the past three years.
The commissioner also downplayed concerns about the relatively quick turnaround time between the announcement and the game. The area won't have the luxury of a few years of lead time to prepare for the game, which is set for Jan. 30, 2011.
Staging it in Raleigh "was never far from our radar screen, and we didn't have to, if you will, tax ourselves with an all-star game this past February, for obvious reasons," said Bettman, alluding to the Vancouver Olympics. "We're ready to go. ... It was just a question of lining it up and saying, 'Now's the time.'
"We think the time was right, the bid was right, the promise needed to be fulfilled."
In their 11 seasons since moving from Hartford, the Hurricanes have been no strangers to some of the league's marquee events.
They played host to the 2004 NHL draft, won the Stanley Cup in 2006, reached the Cup final in 2002 and last year made their third appearance in the Eastern Conference final. The rabid "Caniac" fan base has become famous for staging college football-style tailgate parties before games, then making the arena one of the loudest in the NHL.
"You're known for doing your tailgating, and I'm pleased to give you an excuse to do some more," Bettman said.
Scott Dupree, vice-president for sports marketing for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimated that the game will have an economic impact of US$10 million to $20 million for the area. Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. expects it to provide a jolt to the franchise's season-ticket numbers.
Carolina plays Montreal on Thursday night in its home finale. Through 40 home games, the Hurricanes are averaging 15,154 fans - on pace for their worst regular-season average since the lockout - during a disappointing, injury-riddled season in which the Hurricanes spent a few weeks as the NHL's worst team and have been eliminated from the playoff race.
"There has never been a time when we didn't need an all-star game, and I think almost every other sports team owner would tell you the same thing," he said. "It's very important to us to build our season-ticket base, and this will help us do it. But the franchise was doing very well without the all-star game."
Count three-time all-star Eric Staal among those hoping to skate along with Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the league's best players in a familiar environment.
"I want to make sure I'm having a great start next season so I can be a part of it and get a loud ovation in our building," Staal said.