Carolina Hurricanes Capture Stanley Cup
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The Carolina Hurricanes have won hockey's Stanley Cup. In the deciding game of a hard fought series, Carolina beat the Edmonton Oilers last night three to one. It's the first championship for the Hurricanes and comes as the NHL struggles to win back fans after a lock-out cancelled last year's entire season.
NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.
ADAM HOCHBERG reporting:
This year's Stanley Cup final was in some ways a battle between hockey's traditions and what it sees as its future. On one side were the Edmonton Oilers, a team with a 30-year history from a Canadian city where hockey is an obsession. On the other side were the Carolina Hurricanes, a nine-year old franchise in a Sunbelt town, where many fans still are baffled by the rules of the game.
In the end, tradition wasn't enough for the Oilers who lost the series to the upstart team from the South.
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HOCHBERG: Last night in the decisive seventh game, the hurricanes never trailed. Defenseman Aaron Ward scored less than two minutes into the first period; then Hurricanes' rooky goaltender Cam Ward stole the spotlight. His defense preserved the win, bringing North Carolina its first championship in any major pro sport and setting off a celebration on the ice.
Carolina was heavily favored in the final. Despite the relative youth of their franchise, they assembled a veteran roster that jumped out to a three games to one series lead. But Edmonton stormed back, tying the series with a blowout game in game six and forcing last night's showdown. Hurricanes defenseman, Glen Wesley says Carolina mustered everything it could to finish off the surging Oilers.
Mr. GLEN WESLEY (Defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes): A lot of people counted us out tonight. And I think, to a man in the locker room, we had to go out there and prove it. And I think that just showed how much character and resilience we had in the locker room, for guys to be able to bounce back after really stinking up the joint in game six.
HOCHBERG: The underdog Oilers given up for dead at the start of the series fell just short of winning their first Stanley Cup in 16 years. But Oilers veteran Jason Smith says his team has nothing to be ashamed of.
Mr. JASON SMITH (Defenseman, Edmonton Oilers): We had an amazing year. And every guy in our room contributed, from the day the playoffs started, and from the day the regular season started.
WESLEY: The Hurricanes victory marks the second time in a row, the Stanley Cup winner has come not from Canada or even from an American hockey Mecca, like Detroit. Instead, the cup will stay in the South, where Tampa Bay won it last time and where Hurricanes fans, some wearing shirts that said Red Neck Hockey, welcomed it to North Carolina last night.
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HURRICANE FANS: (chanting) Let's go Hurricanes.
HOCHBERG: Over the last decade or so, as hockey has spread from its traditional markets into fast growing Sunbelt cities, the results have been mixed. Attendance has been sluggish in places like Nashville and Phoenix, while in Raleigh, the Hurricanes success has, at least for the moment, made them the talk of the town. Healthcare worker Tanya Jar(ph) was one of 19,000 fans at last night's clincher.
Ms. TANYA JAR (Carolina Hurricanes Fan): It's unbelievable. It's just unbelievable. I'm ecstatic. Can't you see this big, cheesy grin?
HOCHBERG: This year's exciting final was welcomed by NHL officials who are trying to regain fans after last year's lockout. The labor unrest led to a salary cap designed to make small market teams more competitive and probably played a role in bringing the Stanley Cup to Raleigh, one of the smallest cities in pro sports. Less clear, is whether the excitement for hockey here in North Carolina will translate into the kind of national fan support the NHL craves.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News.