After an explosive season in which the Carolina Hurricanes made rare headlines around the NHL, one of the questions going into the 2019-20 season is whether or not the famous storm surges will live on. A few players in postseason interviews have already hinted at the possible return of the post-game celebrations.
Nine years of missed playoffs had dwindled attendance to league-low numbers. Like the Hartford Whalers before them, there were worries that low attendance and a string of miserable seasons would cause the Hurricanes to perish. But the team’s resurgence led by captain Justin Williams and new head coach Rod Brind’Amour brought some much-needed success, and with that, a unique tradition that caught the attention of fans, and critics, across the league.
Rejuvenating Hockey in Raleigh
The idea for the storm surge came from Williams, who wanted to inject some energy and personality into the small-market team. “We’re trying to create a little stir,” Williams said in an interview with TSN in February. “Our market is a little different from everyone else’s market. We don’t have a whole lower bowl filled with corporate seating and all the other things that go along with that.”
Carolina’s attendance numbers may never compete with big dogs like the Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens or Philadelphia Flyers, but the turnout at PNC Arena rose from what was dead-last in the NHL (11,776) two years ago to 14,332 last season.
‘Canes Created Their Own Culture
Some wonder if this could be the start of a long-lasting tradition. That’s been one of the questions Williams’ teammates have responded to during the summer.
In an interview with NHL Network in July, forward Jordan Martinook said the silly and creative celebrations gave the ‘Canes an extra ounce of motivation. “For some of the good [storm surges], it motivated us to win because you got to do it,” he said. “If you lost you didn’t get to do it. So, when we had a good idea, guys were playing extra hard.”
Some of the more unique storm surges included a game of limbo, a rendition of the classic Nintendo video game Duck Hunt, and even a boxing match between Martinook and Evander Holyfield.
“I haven’t talked to anybody to see if we’re going to continue it,” said Martinook. “But I think there might be a riot in Raleigh if we don’t.”
The real riot however, may have already happened in the Hockey Night in Canada studio. Don Cherry was one of the more vocal critics of the celebration, which he deemed “a joke”, and coined the team as the “bunch of jerks,” a moniker Hurricanes happily adopted and even made t-shirts out of.
Brind’Amour responded to critics’ comments in February by standing behind his team. “It’s not about everyone else,” he said. “They’re missing the point. It’s about our players engaging our fans and thanking them for sticking with us, being there and trying to provide a little levity to a pretty serious game. We push these guys pretty hard.”
Fans Reciprocate the Love
Brind’Amour also added there has been an overwhelmingly positive response in Carolina to their new tradition, and that every player on the team happily bought into it. Though the Hurricanes may be without the storm surge architect Williams next season, it’s the team itself that has created its fun new identity. And with fans all over the league bookmarking the Hurricanes as a team to watch next season, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t show that personality again.
Rookie Warren Foegele, who led a walk-off home run storm surge in February, had a more ambiguous answer when interviewed by TSN’s Mark Masters at the Power Edge Pro camp on Aug. 6. Asked whether or not the storm surge will return next season, Foegele, with a smile, simply said: “I guess you have to wait and find out.”
The celebrations were a regular happening until the final few games of the season when Williams and the team announced the final storm surge of the season on Mar. 28. The ‘Canes were battling for a playoff spot and were shifting their focus toward achieving that goal.
By playoff time, their efforts had paid off and fans responded. Game 3 against the Washington Capitals, Carolina’s first home playoff game in 10 years, pulled in an attendance of 18,783, as the ‘Canes cruised to a 5-0 win. “We’re trying to re-brand Raleigh,” Foegele said. “You can tell this year how much engagement we had with the fans. The playoffs was the loudest rink I’ve played in by a mile.”
Storm Surges Simply on Hiatus?
While Carolina waited for its Round 3 opponent, Williams was asked in an interview with TSN if the storm surge was going to make an appearance in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the answer came quickly – it wasn’t. Carolina lost the next four games and was eliminated by the Boston Bruins, ending the hope of a Stanley Cup surge.
That doesn’t mean it’s gone for good, as Williams teased in that interview back in May, which is a good note to end on as ‘Canes fans look forward to next season: “Being around here and knowing a lot of weathermen are wrong sometimes, I guess storm surges are unpredictable,” he joked. “You never know when one’s going to come.”