Carolina Hurricanes: Playoff push propelled by The Surge

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 04: Players of the Carolina Hurricanes participate in their Storm Surge celebration following an NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 4, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 04: Players of the Carolina Hurricanes participate in their Storm Surge celebration following an NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 4, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images) /

With 21 points from their last 15 games, the Carolina Hurricanes are surging. And The Surge, the team’s signature post-game celebration that has drawn derision from many hockey curmudgeons, is one of the reasons why.

After a 2-0 loss to New Jersey on Dec. 29, the Carolina Hurricanes stood at 15-17-5 for 35 points, tied with the Devils and Philadelphia and one point ahead of Ottawa for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Since that game, the team has gone 10-5 with an overtime loss at Calgary. They’ve separated themselves from Philadelphia, Ottawa and New Jersey, leapfrogged Detroit, Florida and the Rangers and moved into a tie with Buffalo for ninth, a mere three points behind struggling Columbus for eighth place in the East and a wildcard spot.

Many factors have contributed to this resurgence. The acquisition of Nino Niederreiter, the transformation of Sebastian Aho into a legitimate star, the continued development of Andrei Svechnikov and unexpected contributions from Saku Maenalanen and journeyman Greg McKegg have boosted the offense. Goalies Petr Mrazek and veteran Curtis McElhinney have stabilized a shaky situation in net, and the team’s blueliners have been consistent if not spectacular all season.

But The Surge has also contributed. The post-game celebration of the Carolina Hurricanes was the brainchild of captain Justin Williams, a man who has won three Stanley Cups. For the first few games, players gathered at center ice after a home win, led the fans in the Skol Clap and then slammed into the boards.

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After a few games, the celebrations became more creative, with human bowling, human dominoes, Svechnikov sliding into the net and the infamous “Duck, Duck, Goose” celebration after a dominating 5-2 win over Las Vegas on Feb. 2.

That one, in particular, rankled many hockey commentators. Brian Burke, who briefly served as GM for the Hartford Whalers in the early 1990s, has been a vocal critic of the team’s post-game celebrations, calling them “bush league” – and worse. Justin Bourne of The Athletic said he couldn’t believe a team with Stanley Cup aspirations would sit around a locker room discussing “Duck, Duck, Goose” when the players could be doing more important things, like checking the value of their 401-Ks or monitoring their Twitter feeds, I suppose.

The critics in the national media who don’t follow the Carolina Hurricanes have missed the larger point of The Surge. To suggest a locker room discussion that engages all the players has no place in professional team sports displays an ignorance of clubhouse dynamics, which you’d think professional sportswriters or former hockey executives would understand. Apparently not.

The celebrations have played a crucial role in bringing the team together, no small task considering the Carolina Hurricanes have a new owner, a new general manager, a rookie head coach, two new goalies, three rookies playing significant minutes (Svechnikov, Warren Foegele and Lukas Wallmark) and four players acquired last summer (Micheal Ferland, Dougie Hamilton, Jordan Martinook and Calvin de Haan). Throw in mid-season additions Maenalanen, McKegg and Niederreiter, and more than half the roster is new. The team needed to gel, and gel quickly. And it’s not a stretch to suggest The Surge has aided that process.

The brief on-ice gatherings have not only united the players, but they have also ignited a long-suffering fan-base. More than 17,000 supporters turned out for the wins against the Knights and the Sabres on Jan. 11, the third- and fourth-largest home crowds of the season. The idea for the Duck, Duck, Goose celebration came from a fan, who submitted the idea on Twitter after the team solicited suggestions. Fans are coming to games in part to see the team’s celebration.

The Surge means something to the players. With about a minute left in the win over the Knights, Brock McGinn blocked a shot with his boot and fell to the ice in agony. He gamely attempted to rejoin the play, but was clearly in pain and could hardly stand.

When Justin Faulk corralled the puck and scored an empty netter to give the Canes an insurmountable 5-2 lead seconds later, McGinn limped to the bench. He could have gone immediately to the locker room for treatment, but he stayed to participate in the post-game fun.

If the celebration means enough to a player like McGinn to stay on the ice with his teammates in front of the home fans, instead of going to the training room for treatment, then people like Burke and Bourne and all the other haters can take their opinions and stick them where the sun don’t shine.

Burke even claims on his Twitter feed he is a proud supporter of inclusion in sports. Apparently, his idea of inclusion has limits. Sports are for everyone, as long as you don’t enjoy it.

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The Surge is here to stay. Carolina Hurricanes fans love it, the players love it, opposition players mock it, and if hockey old-timers don’t like it, then they should go back and watch the tapes of the NHL where players didn’t wear helmets, there was only one ref, and the captain always had to be on the ice. Fan interaction and entertainment is part and parcel of why the NHL exists – and no team in today’s NHL does it better than our Carolina Hurricanes.