Carolina Hurricanes’ New Arena Opens
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Hockey’s nomads finally have a home.
After two years of playing ``home″ games at the Greensboro Coliseum 80 miles down Interstate 40 and starting this season with an NHL record-tying nine-game road trip, the Carolina Hurricanes will open the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena Friday night.
``It’s going to be a strange feeling,″ defenseman Glen Wesley said about playing in the team’s new 18,700-seat arena. ``You can probably go all the way back to Hartford to where we felt like we had a home _ until we found out we were leaving.
``It has been tough sleeping at night because you are so excited about coming down to the new rink and seeing the new things.″
The former Hartford Whalers left Connecticut for North Carolina following the 1996-97 season, but construction delays in the new building forced the team to play two years in Greensboro, where it was last in the NHL in attendance both seasons.
``A couple of times during that I-40 drive you wondered if the end would ever come,″ center Jeff O’Neill said of the 160-mile round trip for each home game. ``But we saw the light at the end of the tunnel and we stuck together as a team. Since I came into the league they have been talking about the Whalers moving and for me this is the end result. I’ve finally got a home.″
Friday’s home opener against the New Jersey Devils is sold out, not a very common occurrence for the Hurricanes. The team sold out only four games last season in Greensboro, where the coliseum had a black curtain lowered in the upper deck to hide empty seats.
``I can’t explain what the guys have quietly put up with over the last two years,″ coach Paul Maurice said. ``We didn’t get a lot of complaining out of our locker room about the circumstances and I’m happiest for them.″
Carolina’s solid 4-2-3 start during the season-opening nine-game road trip and the opening of the new arena has created somewhat of a hockey buzz throughout the city.
Maurice and the players hope the sport can catch on and give the team a home-ice advantage, something that was missing the past two seasons.
``We’re almost a quarter of the way into our road schedule, now we have to make hay at home,″ said Maurice, whose team has 11 home dates in November. ``That will be a big test for us Friday. Are we going to be able to keep our emotions in check enough to play our game and not open it up too much and try to put on too big a show?″
Having 11,000 seats in the arena’s lower bowl could make the new place rather loud, Maurice said.
``We expect it to be loud just based on the fans that we had last year and how loud they were,″ Maurice said. ``They came to yell and scream. There are some places that are like libraries around the league ... and that works against the home team. This building doesn’t have any of those characteristics. They’ve done a great job with the slant of the lower bowl.″