Carolina Hurricanes: Divided fans dilute home-ice advantage

<> at PNC Arena on November 18, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
<> at PNC Arena on November 18, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina. /

Most professional sports teams rely on a rabid, energetic home crowd to give them an advantage over the visiting team. But the Carolina Hurricanes, in their 21st year of existence, have developed a Jekyll-and-Hyde fanbase whose allegiances shift depending upon the opponent.

When the opposition is a team from the Western Conference, most of the crowd at PNC Arena is Carolina Hurricanes fans, with perhaps a smattering of supporters for the opposition. But when the Canes play a team from the Eastern Conference, particularly Pittsburgh, Detroit, Washington, either of the New York teams or Boston, thousands of supporters for those teams fill the Carolina Hurricanes’ home arena, wearing jerseys and chanting for their team. The recent home tilt against Pittsburgh, in particular, felt more akin to a road game than a home game.

This is a by-product of the nature of the Research Triangle Park region, which is filled with transplants, many from northern areas. Almost half of the nearly one million residents of Wake County were born in another state.

The region is filled with Yankee transplants who brought well-established team allegiances with them, along with a disdain for sweet tea and a belief that Southerners can’t drive on snow (hint to Northerners – you guys can’t drive on snow either. Your cities have snow-removal equipment that clears the roads before the snow stops).

It’s also a by-product of nine years of post-season futility. Many fans buy season tickets and cheer the Canes boisterously for all but one or two games per season, switching allegiances when their old team shows up in PNC Arena. These loyalties won’t die until the Canes give them a reason to forget about the Bruins or Rangers or Penguins by beating them regularly and finishing ahead of them in the standings.

In the first decade of the 2000s, the Canes advanced to the Stanley Cup in 2002, won it in 2006 and reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. The presence of fans from other teams was not as prevalent in PNC Arena because Carolina was a steady winner.

While it’s good for the bottom line to have the arena filled with ticket-buying hockey fans, no matter their allegiance, it’s not good for the players to hear fans cheering for the opposition in their home arena, or to see the ice showered with caps when a player on the opposition scores a hat trick against the Canes, as Alex Ovechkin did a fortnight ago. Whatever home-ice advantage the Carolina Hurricanes enjoys melts away when people wearing the opposition’s colors fill the arena.

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The only cure for this malady is for the Canes to start beating these teams on a regular basis and making deep postseason runs. Until that occurs, we’ll have to put up with fans whose allegiances depend on which team is sitting on the visitor’s bench.