For my first post I have decided to start a weekly skate down memory lane where I share a personal memory of mine. I also do this in hopes of anyone reading this to share their experiences. Any kind of display of passion for the game I love to read about and I hope you all will enjoy reading mine. I live and breathe hockey and more importantly, the Carolina Hurricanes.
So let’s begin with the most important game in my lifetime next to clinching the Stanley Cup.
Tuesday April 21, 2009 Raleigh, NC. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes at the then named RBC Center. Ten seconds on the clock. Jussi Jokinen has the puck behind the net. He cuts sharply around the back of the goal where living legend Martin Brodeur is there to deny Jussi of any hope of scoring. Six seconds on the clock. Paul Martin scoops up the rebound in the corner and attempts to clear it. Three seconds on the clock. Joni Pitkanen is in perfect position to intercept the clearing attempt at the blue line. Two and a half seconds on the clock. Joni Pitkanen pushes a hard pass across the point to now former Hurricanes defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. One second on the clock. Seidenberg winds up for what would become one of the most important slap shots he’d ever unleash. What happens next? We will certainly get there I can assure you. I had mentioned above that this game is very important to me. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Monday April 20, 2009 Apex, NC. It was a relatively cold but sunny day. I was sitting in front of the computer watching highlights of the previous night’s playoff games. I’ve got the volume up fairly loud but I hear a sound that just completely thwarts anything else and my heart sinks. My grandfather’s health had been declining quicker as each day passed. The sound was something no human being ever enjoys hearing. It was the sound of my mother crying. My grandfather passed away that day in his sleep. To this day he was the funniest man I knew. He had the biggest heart and he was happiest when family was together. Which is something I am proud to say has been passed down to every single one of us in our big Irish family. If you may or may not be wondering, he was not a hockey fan. He enjoyed golf, tennis, baseball, and most of all he loved music and anything that could make him laugh. I remember that day very well. A few hours passed and by then my father and sister had arrived at home and we all just sat around and talked about our favorite memories of him. It helps to talk about those things I believe. As we are sitting there my cell phone rings. I answer it and it is our neighborhood friend from up the street. “Got any plans for tomorrow night, Conor?” he asks. “Well besides watching game 4 on tv with my family, no. Why?” I immediately begin to let my mind get the best of me. I start getting my hopes way up. Then I finally think there is no way that he is about to say what I want him to say, is there? “How about instead you come with me and we watch it in person?” He and his wife were going to go together before she decided to let me take her ticket after what happened. I didn’t quite know what to say. “Yes” I blurted out. “That sounds great!” Amidst all of the sadness came happiness. Being in my favorite place would surely take my mind off of the bad things for those two or so hours where I’d be planted in my seat. Eyes glued to the ice surface.
So here we are, Tuesday April 21, 2009. We arrive at the RBC Center as the sun is beginning to set. Fans are flooding the parking lots by the second. The smell of barbecue fills the air. Car horns blaring from all directions. Cheering and chanting grows as we all flock to the arena doors. It’s been 3 years since I attended my last playoff game. 2006 Stanley Cup Finals game 1. But that is a story we’ll save for another time. I can’t even begin to describe my feelings. There is absolutely nothing like a playoff atmosphere, and us Caniacs take pride in turning that building into a deafening and absolutely electric atmosphere. We walk through the doors where we are handed rally towels. Immediately we are greeted by a collection of sounds, smells, and feelings. The controlled roar of the crowd as we all pushed our way down the halls. Glazed & roasted nuts, popcorn, barbecue, and beer. All of these are familiar to each and every Caniac that has walked the halls of that building. The feelings that I felt were indescribable. It just felt as though it was about to be a special night.
Finally it was game time. Sidney Lowe, the now former head coach of NC State’s men’s basketball team sounded the hurricane warning siren to bring out the team. It was deafening. Chills ran down my spine. RBC was buzzing like a hornet’s nest. Cam Ward led the team out on to the ice for the national anthem and for anyone who hasn’t witnessed Katherine Fritsch belt out the Star Spangled Banner, it is breathtaking. No older than thirteen or fourteen-years-old and she can just flat-out sing. “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” Those final lyrics absolutely belted out and echoing through RBC Center as the crowd roared in awe is a sound I won’t soon forget.
The puck is dropped and we’re underway! Carolina comes out hungry and swarming. New Jersey looks lost and out of sorts. Chance after chance comes from the pesky Carolina offense with no result. About eight minutes into the first period Dennis Seidenberg starts making his way down the right-wing. He makes a quick drop pass to Tuomo Ruutu and heads to the net to prepare for a possible rebound opportunity. Ruutu makes a backhand pass towards the net in hopes of a tip in. Seidenberg pushes the puck on target with a short backhand attempt. Denied by the pad of Brodeur. Before any clearing attempt can be made Eric Staal comes soaring in, scoops up the rebound, and pops a wrister over the glove of Brodeur and in and the crowd explodes into celebration. Carolina has struck first. It happened so fast that Brodeur had to catch himself on the crossbar to keep from falling on his bum. There is little time for the Devils to regroup as the Hurricanes come storming out of the faceoff hungry for more. Just over a minute later Ryan Bayda makes it a two goal game. The crowd erupting even louder than before. The dominance would continue into the second period where Chad LaRose would make it a three goal lead about seven minutes into the period. Chance after chance after chance. It was an assault. Had it not been Martin Brodeur in-goal, who knows how bad it could have gotten. The second period was ticking down and fans were starting to confidently head to the restroom and concessions to prepare for what we all thought would be a third period no different from the first two. Brian Gionta thought otherwise. Mike Mottau sent a long pass across the ice perfectly to the tape of Brian Gionta’s stick as he broke up the left-wing and he was in all alone. Gionta sent a laser beam past Ward’s left side to cut the lead to 3-1 going into the third period. The dreaded two goal lead.
Momentum would shift drastically as the veteran and future Hall of Famer Brendan Shannahan would pot a juicy rebound behind Cam Ward who was caught off guard by the shot. Cutting the lead to one just about five minutes into the third period, we were beginning to fear the worst. Sure enough just over 4 minutes later, David Clarkson was left alone in front of the net with the puck and he made it count. The game was tied with 11:15 remaining in regulation. The New Jersey Devils had sucked the life right out of the building. Thoughts of uncertainty could be seen clearly on the faces of each and every Caniac in attendance. However, as a longtime Hurricanes fan I just felt as if there was still one more trick up their sleeve. Time and time again just when you think they are down and out, they find a way.Momentum is a powerful thing. With 1:35 remaining in the third period, Tuomo Ruutu recaptured that much-needed momentum with a devastating hit on veteran defenseman Colin White. A deafening roar suddenly filled the building. The likes of which had not been heard in almost 20 minutes of gameplay.
It was now crunch time. With under a minute to go Carolina was pressing hard. Possession staying mostly in their offensive zone. Something we hadn’t seen much of that period. The clock is ticking down at what seems like a glacial pace. One last push. Remember where we left off? Good. Here we go. Dennis Seidenberg receives the pass from Joni Pitkanen. I’ll never forget the sound of the crowd yelling “SHOOT” in unison. It sounded like a massive wave getting ready to crash over our heads. And in a way, it was exactly that. Seidenberg winds up and gives it his all with one second on the clock. Jussi Jokinen has parked in front of Martin Brodeur leaving almost zero chance of him seeing the shot. He keeps his stick blade hovering just above the ice. The shot gets through, hits his blade, and glides right by Brodeur’s glove and the post. Suddenly its mass hysteria. One of the loudest crowd reactions I have ever been a part of. Needless to say my ears were ringing into the next morning. We are all jumping around like absolute maniacs. CANIACS! Nobody knows what to do but we’re doing it anyways. But wait. Does it count? The clock shows all zeros. The officials huddle at the scorekeepers box and an entire fan base waits in anticipation. Discussions are going on all around about where the clock was when the puck crossed the line but there is no definite answer. Finally the referee skates to the center ice circle. The puck crossed the line with an incredible two tenths of a second remaining on the clock. A miracle finish as the great John Forslund put it.
Carolina has won it! At the horn! A miracle finish! And this series is dead even! – John Forslund
It was a night filled with anticipation, excitement, frustration, and disappointment. There were smiles and there were tears. To this day I can’t come up with a word to describe the emotions I felt that night. All I know is that it felt perfect. I was in complete shock. It was a two-day long emotional roller coaster that ended in celebration. Which in the end gave me a great new mindset for coping with my grandfather’s death. To celebrate him. He was happiest when everyone around him was happy. I know he was looking down on us all that night with a big smile on his face. I caught myself looking up with an equally big smile on my face once the goal was confirmed.
I will never forget those two days for as long as I live. I think I speak for all Caniacs when I say that it was one of the most memorable nights in franchise history.