As Carolina Hurricanes president/general manager, Jim Rutherford rides the daily rollercoaster that is the NHL.
Not even he knows what peaks, valleys, twists and turns await him around each corner.
However, he went on an unbelievable ride to the top in 2006 when the Hurricanes captured the Stanley Cup championship.
“It was a really, really good run,” he said. “It’s probably more fun to look back on it. When you’re in the middle of something and competing, there is such a fine line between winning and losing and advancing to the next round. So many things have to go right. There is a lot of stress and pressure.
“We had an exceptional year and a very good team from start to finish. [Head coach] Peter Laviolette started with team building and brought the team together quick. We had a very strong team which just turned out to be the strongest team.”
While Rutherford may have had his finest moment in Carolina, he made some valuable memories in Pittsburgh during his playing days. He tended goal for the Penguins from 1971-1974.
“There are a lot of fond memories in Pittsburgh. It’s been a lot of years and a lot of things have changed. People have changed and moved on,” he said. “But I will say when I go into that building and see the people there that are still there right from when the building opened, that is great. When Jack Riley comes to our games and says hello, that is really special to me. He was the GM when I played with the Penguins and was always really good to me. It’s always nice to see him.”
Selected from Detroit in the Intra-League draft in June, 1971, Rutherford joined the young Penguins franchise at age 22. He helped guide the Penguins to their second-ever playoff appearance in 1972 and finished with a 44-49-14 record and a 3.14 goals-against average in a Penguins uniform. He was traded with Jack Lynch to Detroit for Ron Stackhouse in January, 1974.
“My time in Pittsburgh was just great. I was very young when I was traded to Pittsburgh. Quite frankly, I was set back that I was traded at such a young age,” he said. “But, I just loved Pittsburgh. The people there are as friendly as I have ever seen anywhere. They really make you feel very comfortable. My three years there, I have very fond memories. I met a lot of good people. Unfortunately, I wish I could have stayed in touch with them more. I still maybe see or talk to a few of my teammates that I played with in Pittsburgh, but not on a regular basis.”
All told, Rutherford appeared in 457 games in 13 NHL seasons and notched 14 career shutouts. When he retired, Rutherford joined Peter Karmanos Jr.’s Compuware Sports Corporation in Detroit. Under Rutherford’s direction, that youth hockey program expanded to obtain the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires in 1984.
Rutherford teamed with Karmanos Jr, and Thomas Thewes to form the KTR Partnership, which purchased the Hartford Whalers in 1994. The franchised was moved to Raleigh, N.C., and became the Carolina Hurricanes.
Rutherford is in his 13th season as the franchise’s general manager. He led the Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals and the championship in 2006. Rutherford’s management efforts were recognized in 2002 and 2006 when The Hockey News named him “Executive of the Year” and in 2006 when he was voted by his NHL management peers as the Sporting News’ “Executive of the Year.”
“That is a real special award for many different reasons for me,” he said. “First, it shows the respect of the other people in the league – my peers – have for me. Anytime you have voting, sometimes it can be a popularity contest. I feel good about that that I do have a lot of good friends in the league that I respect and appreciate and who respect and appreciate me. On top of that, it’s a team award. Not all the work was done by me. A lot of people contribute to it.”
Winning the Cup wasn’t easy for Carolina, which endured a hard-fought postseason.
“Really of all our series were very good,” he said. “The first series with Montreal was probably the toughest series for us. They were very prepared and there were not any lapses in any of the games. It was very high tempo and very well played.
“Then we had New Jersey and they had won 15 in a row and people were thinking they’d keep rolling, but we stopped that pretty quickly. Our Buffalo series went seven games and then we went seven games with Edmonton to win the Cup. You can’t get any closer than that.”
Rutherford spent his day with the Stanley Cup in his hometown of Beeton, Ontario – just north of Toronto.
“That’s when it really hit home. When you leave your hometown like I did when I was 17 years old and set out on a journey for a career…for me, I was fortunate to play pro hockey for 14 years and then stayed in the game and stayed long enough to win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “To carry it back into my hometown and the arena I started to skate in and meet family and friends – it’s a feeling you really can’t describe to anybody.”
Now that a new season is underway, the obvious question is whether the Hurricanes can defend their title.
“Everything at this level is a challenge. To win the Cup is a big challenge. We were able to do that,” Rutherford said. “Now we have experience and good young players. We’ll be a very strong team. Each year, with the changes teams make, they can improve in a very short time. It gives a lot more teams the chance to win the Cup, which I think is great. I feel good about our team and that we have a very good chance to win. We have as good a chance as everyone else.”