Hockey In NC? You Betcha!
Most people don’t think of hockey as a southern sport. After all, we’re pretty far from the Canadian border, and you won’t find a lot of frozen ponds in Winston-Salem or Wilmington. But believe it or not, hockey is a popular spectator sport in North Carolina, and we’ve got three professional teams and one Stanley Cup to prove it!
Let’s be honest. There were definitely some doubts when Peter Karmanos announced he was moving the NHL’s Hartford Whalers to the Raleigh-Durham area in 1997. Who would notice a professional hockey team in an area crazy about college hoops? But over time, the Carolina Hurricanes have developed a loyal and raucous fan base that calls itself the “Caniacs”. At one point during the 2002 playoffs, Canadian sportscaster Don Cherry said the Hurricanes had “the loudest building in the NHL.”
Of course, it helped that the Hurricanes have made some amazing playoff runs during their time in Raleigh, including three Southeast Division titles, two Eastern Conference Championships, and the ultimate prize: the 2006 Stanley Cup. The Carolina Hurricanes are the first major league sports franchise in NC to win a championship, and the team continues to thrill its fans at the RBC Center in Raleigh. In 2011, Raleigh will again be at the center of the hockey universe when the Hurricanes host the NHL All-Star Game on January 29. You can find tickets and more information at hurricanes.nhl.com.
While professional hockey is a relative newcomer to Raleigh, fans in Charlotte discovered the sport back in 1956, literally by accident. When the home rink of the Eastern Hockey League’s Baltimore Clippers was destroyed by fire, the team was forced to play its final six home games in Charlotte, where 10,363 fans showed up for the first game against the New Haven Blades. The Clippers made the move to Charlotte permanent the next season, and became the Checkers in 1960. The original Checkers jumped to the Southern Hockey League in 1973, then folded along with the rest of that league in 1977.
However, the Checkers were reborn in 1993 as a member of the ECHL, and have been a winter fixture in Charlotte ever since, winning the league’s Kelly Cup Championship in 1996, and moving into the brand-new uptown Time-Warner Cable Arena in 2005. In 2010, the Checkers became an affilliate of the Carolina Hurricanes and were promoted to the American Hockey League. For more information and tickets, log onto www.gocheckers.com.
The newest addition to NC’s hockey heritage comes in the form of the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Fayetteville FireAntz, which came into existence in 2002 as the Cape Fear FireAntz. The team played seasons in both the Atlantic Coast Hockey League and the South East Hockey League before joining the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2004.
The FireAntz also have a league championship to their credit, winning the SPHL’s President’s Cup in 2007. Fayetteville plays its home games at the Cumberland County Crown Coliseum. For tickets and more information, go to www.fireantzhockey.com.
added: December 22, 2009
updated: November 29, 2010