RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tom and Ann Drake don't need much encouragement to drive from Richmond, Virginia to watch the Carolina Hurricanes. So when they heard the NHL Centennial Fan Arena would be in Raleigh, they jumped at the chance get a first-hand look at the some of the NHL's treasured memorabilia.
"I'm a big history buff," Tom said. "I like the old leather, the old Terry Sawchuk glove. Somebody has actually used these skates or scored with this stick."
On a sun-splashed Saturday, hockey fans moved through the 53-foot museum truck, getting a look at some choice pieces of NHL history. Sawchuk's catching glove, worn in the 1950s and 1960s, remains perfectly stitched, yet at the same time reveals how far equipment has come throughout the decades. There were game-used sticks that spanned the generations, from the one Stan Mikita used to score his 250th NHL goal (1968-69), to a Wayne Gretzky Stanley Cup Playoff stick from 1993, to a current model from Hurricanes rookie Sebastian Aho.
Other items stirred memories of fleeting moments on the NHL landscape. A silk screened sweater from the Colorado Rockies' six-year existence looks as colorful today as it must have looked in the 1978-79 season, when Paul Messier and Kevin Krook each wore it during separate call-ups from the minors.
As the Drakes snapped photos of sticks and pucks from bygone eras, Tom retraced his own hockey history.
"I lived in Raleigh when the Hurricanes came to North Carolina (in 1997), and I used to go to games in Greensboro (for two seasons)," he said.
When he relocated to Richmond for work, he met his future wife, whose rooting interests were the NFL's Washington Redskins and the local AAA baseball team, the Richmond Braves. Soon he got Ann hooked, and now they make overnight trips to Raleigh four or five times a year.
"And we get NHL Center Ice, so we can watch all the Hurricanes games," Ann said. "I love it."
The Drakes weren't the only visitors to the exhibit who built a relationship around NHL hockey.
Jason Strickland and his girlfriend, Hannah Boyette, posed with the Stanley Cup on Saturday. Strickland has enjoyed previous photo ops with the Cup, but this was all new to Boyette. The photo now attests to the strength of their year-long relationship, made possible by Boyette's new-found passion for the game.
"He said, 'Listen, I need you to understand that I'm going to be watching games, and you're not going to take me away from the games.' " Boyette said with a laugh.
"I've never been into sports. But he took me to my first game, a Hurricanes-Calgary Flames game, and I had so much fun. Ever since then we always have to turn on the game. I'm following everything, all the stats."
As kids darted around the nearby ball hockey rink, Strickland thought back to his high school days. His friends started him on the Greensboro Monarchs of the East Coast Hockey League, and later he stayed with the Carolina Monarchs of the American Hockey League. By the time the Hurricanes arrived, Strickland knew there would always be room in his life for the sport.
"So much changes in your life from day to day and from year to year, but the one thing that remains the same for me is hockey," he said. "No matter where I was at, no matter what I was doing, I could turn on the TV and watch hockey."