Cherry! Burke! Take cover… there’s more fun in the forecast

'Canes' Storm Surge entertaining fans, making team relevant again


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RALEIGH — Don Cherry thinks they're a bunch of jerks. Brian Burke believes it's unprofessional and has no business in the NHL.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/03/2019 (1305 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

RALEIGH — Don Cherry thinks they’re a bunch of jerks. Brian Burke believes it’s unprofessional and has no business in the NHL.

And me? Well, I think they’re both a couple of sourpusses who wouldn’t know fun if it was staring them right in the face. Yes, the Carolina Hurricanes have plenty of hockey folks either ranting or raving about the way they’ve opted to celebrate wins in their own barn this season.

Dubbed the Storm Surge, players gather at centre ice and do something far more creative than the typical stick raising to salute the fans that you see in every other rink across the league.

Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield joins the Carolina Hurricanes' on-ice celebration after the Hurricanes beat the St. Louis Blues last Friday. (Gerry Broome / The Associated Press files)

These co-ordinated post-game productions are seemingly getting more lavish with each victory, and there’s no question fans inside PNC Arena are eating them up. Heck, Evander Holyfield even got involved recently, delivering a mock knockout punch to Brandon’s Jordan Martinook, a forward for the Hurricanes, after they beat St. Louis last Friday.

True story: I was giving the remote a workout a couple of weeks ago when I landed on a Hurricanes game. They were up by two goals on Edmonton with little time left on the clock. Normally I’d probably keep flipping, but as soon as I double-checked to confirm the game was being played in their home rink, I knew I couldn’t change the channel.

What followed was my favourite Storm Surge to date, where players saluted the start of spring training in baseball. Defenceman Dougie Hamilton wound up to deliver the pitch to teammate Warren Foegele, who delivered a mighty swing and did a bat flip with his hockey stick, skating around the pretend bases, tossing off his helmet and being mobbed by teammates at "home plate."

I smiled. I laughed. It was perfect. No harm, no foul. The Oilers had already left the ice. This wasn’t the Hurricanes rubbing it in or taunting. They were giving their fans one more thing to cheer about in an NHL market in dire need of something to celebrate.

After all, they have the longest active playoff drought in the league, now up to nine seasons, and are now in contention to finally snap that streak, sitting third in the Metropolitan Division as of Thursday night.

There have been previous rumblings about re-location as attendance continued to dip in recent years, but new owner Tom Dundon, who some have dubbed the most interesting man in hockey, seems to have injected life into the once-failing franchise.

No, the Storm Surge isn’t winning games. That’s on the coaches and a talented group of young players, but it’s helped make the Hurricanes somewhat relevant again, not only in Raleigh, but across the league, despite what dinosaurs such as Cherry and Burke might think about it.

Carolina is drawing an average of 13,947 fans this season, which puts them ahead of only Arizona, Florida and the New York Islanders for lowest attendance in the league; however, that’s an increase from 13,320 last year, and way up from 11,776 two years ago.

I asked Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice about it Thursday, as his team practised at PNC Arena. Of course, he certainly doesn’t want to see a Storm Surge on Friday night when his team takes on the Hurricanes, but he clearly gets it. Maurice spent 11 years coaching here over two different stints — when they first moved from Hartford in 1997 until 2004, and again between 2008 and 2012. He knows Raleigh as well as anyone. A big piece of his heart is still here.

“I think anything you can do to make the experience fun. Call them non-traditional markets, I don’t know, but you gotta give the fans something to be really, really excited about," Maurice said.

The Carolina Hurricanes have come up with a unique celebration, dubbed a Storm Surge, following each home win. (Luis M. Alvarez / The Associated Press files)

"It’s working here. I think it must take a fair amount of brain energy every night to come up with a new one. It’s not something I want on the coach’s plate at any point in time.

"I will say this, I’ve always loved when something comes out of the room from the players… good for them. It’s an investment by their players in their room, and they share it with their fans, so there’s a kind of connection to the fans. I think it’s great for them down here.”

And that’s the thing many people seem to miss. Nobody is forcing Carolina players to do this. They seem to love it as much as anyone, including guys such as Stanley Cup-winner Justin Williams. Nor is it affecting their play in any kind of negative way. It’s not like they’re skipping practices to work on their latest Storm Surge routine.

“An idea like that would die on the vine if the veterans weren’t behind it, for sure," Maurice told me.

It certainly would. And Maurice is a big fan of finding a way to get some glory back to a city that celebrated a Stanley Cup win in 2006, but hasn’t had a whole lot to cheer about over the past decade.

Nobody is saying the Jets should start their own version of the Surge. Nor do they need to. Hockey clearly sells itself in Winnipeg, but that doesn’t mean we should trash the idea just because it doesn’t fit the traditional mode of what we expect.

“It’s good when you flip on the game and there’s more and more people in the seats. It’s a passionate market. It’s a different market in that, maybe not the whole city in March is wired on hockey, but the fans that come, they love this game, and it’s good to see it back," said Maurice.

"There’s a lot of familiar faces when you come through that had an almost exciting 10-year run of playoff hockey, and then for a 10-year run it kinda disappeared on them, and now it looks like they’re back. They’ve had a good young team for a while, but they’re starting to turn a corner. Some of those young players got experience now and they’re getting some goaltending. They’ve paid for it, they’ve built it right, and I think they’re just coming into starting to enjoy it.”

I’m not here to tell you what you should like, and dislike, but I just don’t get the vitriol what I believe to be a vocal minority have for this. If you’re against this, I’m going to assume you also dislike puppies, too.

It’s entertainment. It’s harmless. It’s not life and death. I saw far too much of that first-hand in spending 20 years covering crime and justice in Winnipeg before moving into the so-called "toy department."

The Carolina Hurricanes and their fans have embraced the team being called a "bunch of jerks" by Don Cherry for their post-game celebrations. (Chris Seward / The Associated Press files)

I get the passion people have for sports, I really do, but somewhere along the line, some seem to have forgotten the name of the game is having fun.

My advice is to sit back, relax and enjoy the Surge. Unless you’re a Jets fan, of course, and have to witness it Friday night.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go grab a few Bunch of Jerks T-shirts for family members and friends back in Winnipeg. I hear they’re selling like hotcakes.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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