Hockey's popularity not overshadowed by hoops anymore
Posted April 9, 2009
Tobacco road. College basketball is king in the triangle. All of the attention is first devoted to the heralded, traditional, historical programs of North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State. The attention amplifies in March and early April, especially if one of the locals is still playing.
"This is a hockey town now," Hurricanes TV voice John Forslund said Saturday after a 3-2 overtime win over Pittsburgh. "Players around the league know this, conversations that are held about Southeastern markets that are problems, the Hurricanes are out of that conversation."
Last Saturday, April 4 the Carolina Hurricanes entertained the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams are neck and neck fighting for the fourth place spot in the Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage. The 'Canes won in the extra period in front of 18,680 screaming fans. It was an electric atmosphere....the same night North Carolina was playing Villanova in the Final Four in Detroit.
"It can happen," Forslund said. "That shows you how major league this area is becoming, it's not 8 thousand fans here and everyone staying home and watching the basketball game. There are almost 20 thousand people here that still wish they were."
Surprisingly the Hurricanes attendance this season has ramped up as the college basketball season ramped up in February and March. In the last 15 home games, attendance has only dropped below 18 thousand three times. In those three games the attendance was still above 17 thousand. Eight times in that span the crowd reached its 18,680 capacity.
The N.C. State men's basketball team shares the RBC Center with the Hurricanes. The Wolfpack averaged only 13,372 fans in 16 home games (not including two home games played at Reynolds Coliseum).
The Hurricanes held an attendance average of 16,633 in the 2007-08 season, and is holding right near that mark this year at 16,524.
General Manager and Vice President Jim Rutherford thought that Saturday night proved Raleigh is a big enough market for both sports.
"But we've had times even going back after we were here three or four years when Duke and Carolina would have a big game in the regular season and we had a game where we had a full house," Rutherford said Wednesday on 99.9FM The Fan ESPN Radio. "A lot of the people that were at our game were watching the hockey game part of the time and then watching the televisions to see the basketball game."
Rutherford said the biggest difference from than to now is that he never saw that on Saturday, a night when North Carolina was playing in the Final Four.
But John Forslund summed up the coexistence of college basketball and professional hockey best.
"No one ever said the Hurricanes were here to supplant anything, the Hurricanes were here to take a place in the sports world."
And now the triangle is a college basketball hot bed, and also a hockey town.