Hurricanes Are Finally Getting the Outdoor Game They Deserve

February 2023 is going to be an exciting month for Carolina Hurricanes fans as it will begin with the 2023 NHL All-Star Game in Sunrise, Florida and will more than likely end with the 2023 Outdoor Series Game at Raleigh’s very own Carter Finley Stadium. It is an event that fans have waited a long time for after the original 2021 date was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’re thrilled to finally get the chance to safely host an outdoor game in Raleigh. Our fans have waited for this event since we announced it two years ago, and we know that their passion and energy will create an unbelievable atmosphere at Carter-Finley.”

Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell

The Stadium Series game will be the second played outside in the 2023 season, following the annual 2023 Winter Classic.

2023 Winter Classic 

The announcement of the long-awaited game came at the same time as the announcement of the 2023 Winter Classic at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, with the Boston Bruins and an unannounced team. With the recent acquisition of the Pittsburgh Penguins by the Fenway Group, it would not be that far from the realm of possibility to see those two teams take on one another. The Penguins have played in five outdoor games since the first Winter Classic in 2008 with a 2-3 record, and the Bruins have played in four outdoor games with a 3-1 record. It will be the 15th anniversary of the Winter Classic, so seeing the Penguins take part would certainly be exciting for fans.

2023 Outdoor Series

When the NHL announced the 2021 Stadium Series in early 2020, fans in Raleigh rejoiced. They were finally getting a long-awaited outdoor game and new jerseys for the event. The event had been scheduled for February 2021, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full force, it was postponed due to health and safety concerns. Still, fans were fixin’ to see an outdoor game in their city and wanted one sooner rather than later.

Driving into PNC Arena, it’s hard to miss Carter-Finley Stadium, which shares a parking lot with the arena. It stood as a memory of what was lost and what could have been. In early February, it turned into a beacon of what was to come. With COVID-19 on the downswing, hopefully, the NHL announced the return of the Global Series and the events for 2023, among those a game at the home of the North Carolina State University Wolfpack. Fans were excited and had already begun planning for the game.

Related: NHL Global Series is a Gateway to Growing the Game

Unlike the Penguins and the Bruins, the Hurricanes have never played in an outdoor game, whether that is as an opponent or the home team. They are not alone in having not participated in an outdoor game. The Arizona Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, and Seattle Kraken are all teams without any outdoor experience. 

Arizona Coyotes 

The Coyotes have been in the NHL news recently, but not necessarily for the best reasons. For most of the season, they have been in contention with Gila River, their home arena, over unpaid taxes. It culminated in the City of Glendale opting out of the Coyotes lease with Gila River, meaning that they are in need of a new home for the 2022-23 season.

The Coyotes and Hurricanes typically only play each other twice a season, not giving them enough time to form a rivalry that would bring in a lot of fans from both sides. The average attendance of Coyotes games is 11,575, whereas the Hurricanes are averaging 16,855 per game. That difference is roughly enough to fill the proposed new home of the Coyotes. 

Stralman, Jaskin, Larsson, Kessel and Gostisbehere Arizona Coyotes
Stralman, Jaskin, Larsson, Kessel and Gostisbehere, Arizona Coyotes starting lineup (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Coyotes could end up as the opponent to get more excitement around the team. Ownership is looking to build a new arena in Tempe, and building hype around the team could be their way to do so. Stadium Series games normally get a lot of attention and new jerseys for all. However, if they aren’t able to fill their arena, would Coyotes fans make the commute across the country to Raleigh to see a game that normally comes with premium ticket prices? 

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets-Hurricanes games during the 2021-22 season could be a huge factor in the bid for the Stadium Series opponent. Of the three games played so far, they have been high-scoring events. The first game on Oct. 23 saw the Hurricanes winning 5-1. The next was a New Year’s Day game that initially looked like the Blue Jackets were going to get a shutout when they were up 4-0. However, the Hurricanes rallied and scored seven unanswered goals, with five coming in the third period to end the game 7-4. 

When the Blue Jackets came to Raleigh, they were looking for retribution, and the Thursday evening game was the worst defeat of the season thus far for the Hurricanes, with Columbus coming out with a 6-0 shutout. Depending on how the game on Feb. 25 goes, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Blue Jackets were the choice.

The drive between the two cities is seven-and-a-half hours, making the commute for Columbus fans easy. Should a Stadium Series ever come to Columbus, they would have the second-largest capacity for an outdoor series game at nearly 105,000 after Michigan Stadium’s 105,500 capacity. An intradivisional game would be an exciting one for fans, and with the somewhat close proximity between cities would garner a large number of away fans coming to cheer on their team. 

Florida Panthers 

The Panthers and the Hurricanes have been neck-and-neck for most of the season atop the Eastern Conference standings. Currently, the Panthers are four points ahead of the Hurricanes in the standings and top of the league. With their Southern Florida location, the Panthers will more than likely never see a chance to play a game at home, but one in Carolina would be close. 

Drive time between Sunrise, Florida, and Raleigh is about 11-and-a-half hours, and direct flights are two hours, meaning that Panther fans wouldn’t have to travel far to see their team and get a taste of the ‘cold.’ With Carolina and Florida being southern teams, there is a pre-existing rivalry over who is the superior southern team. 

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One thing that may stop the NHL from naming the Panthers as the opponent is the fact that they have been awarded the NHL All-Star Game, which will take place between Feb. 3-4, 2023. Would the NHL give the Panthers two large events in the same season, let alone in the same month? 

Out of every city that could have an outdoor game, Raleigh would be the closest NHL city to Sunrise to play a game, much like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators this year. This February’s Stadium Series will be the first time the Tampa Bay Lightning are seeing an outdoor game, so it could stand to reason that the other Florida-based team will get the nod next year. 

Seattle Kraken 

Even though they may not be winning games, there is still a lot of excitement around the Seattle Kraken. It is their first season in the NHL, and many fans are tuning into their games to get to experience the team’s inaugural season. With them being outside of the Metropolitan Division and a west coast team at that, fans of both teams will only have two chances to see the Kraken and Hurricanes play each other during the regular season. 

With the Kraken being the new kids on the block, the excitement will still be there next season to watch them play in person, and what better event for fans to see that than at an outdoor game. There is also the connection between Kraken general manager Ron Francis, who served as Hurricanes general manager from 2014 until 2018 and captained the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002. There is also the connection between Kraken broadcaster John Forslund, who was had been a broadcaster with the Hurricanes from 1995 until 2020. 

In the expansion draft, the Kraken also acquired Haydn Fleury from the Hurricanes, who is still beloved and missed by fans in Carolina. There is also the Turbo versus Turbo dilemma, with both teams having their own Turbo. If you ask anybody in Raleigh or Chicago, they will tell you that the nickname solely belongs to the Teuvo Teräväinen.

In Seattle and Pittsburgh, the name Turbo will automatically conjure up the image of Brandon Tanev and his wild eyes. The battle for Turbo supremacy was supposed to take place in Raleigh in March, but with Tanev being out of injured reserve, it is a battle that will have to wait until next season. 

Logistically, Raleigh is one of the furthest NHL cities you could get from Seattle, but they are seeing an average attendance of 17,151 per game, which is more than what Carolina is averaging. There’s a good chance that many of them would make the road trip, especially if the Kraken schedule other east coast games around the same time. It would also give east coast Kraken fans another chance to see their team in a once-in-a-lifetime environment. 

Other Contenders

While there are also a good number of teams that have never played an outdoor game, there are several teams that have only played one outdoor game. The Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Vancouver Canucks haven’t played an outdoor game since 2014, and the San Jose Sharks haven’t played an outdoor game since 2015. With that many years in between, it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them would be picked to be the Hurricanes contender. 

The Islanders and Devils are both in the Metropolitan Division, but extra planning for west coast teams like the Canucks and the Ducks would have to be taken into account since, like the Kraken, they only play them at home once a year. The Devils were the first team the Hurricanes played in PNC Arena, and there are a lot of Devils fans in the area, which would mean a lot of revenue coming in for both teams.

Carter-Finley Stadium
Carter-Finley Stadium (SMaloney, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Even though fans don’t know the opponent yet, they are still eagerly awaiting information about the new jerseys and especially how to get their hands on tickets. The Hurricanes were already prepared for that and have released a ticket interest form for those interested in learning how to acquire tickets, or become a season ticket member next season. 

At the current time, there is no timetable for when the jerseys, name of the opponent, or tickets will be released to the public. But if any one thing is for certain, it’s that Hurricanes fans have been waiting a long time to hear this announcement and see an outdoor game come to Raleigh, and the long wait will finally be over. 

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