Where Are the Caniacs?

by Eric Gilmore

Raleigh and Greenville natives certainly can’t agree on many subjects. They can’t come to terms with which college to pull for. Throw politics out the window. When it comes to sharing resources, preschoolers sometimes show more maturity.

To Triangle natives, the eastern part of the state is just a by-product of driving to their luxurious beach vacation homes. To eastern N.C. natives, the Triangle is a shopping haven representing its more bureaucratic nature. Down east, life is simple and slow. In the capital, life is frenzied and frantic.

But what can the North Carolinians agree on? Besides winning the lottery, there’s not much else.

In the sports realm, normally bitter fans unite in the Carolina Panthers’ cause. And despite the 252 mile drive, most eastern North Carolinians identified with the old Charlotte Hornets franchise.

However when it comes to the other major N.C. professional sports team, few residents outside of the Triangle pay attention to the Carolina Hurricanes. Where’s the love? The Canes are making their second Stanley Cup charge in four years and for some perplexing reason eastern N.C. isn’t paying them any mind. What gives?

Is it the cultural divide? ECU club ice hockey worked so well during their inaugural season. Yes, the Northern influence created by transplanted students helped generate interest. However, Pirate fans and locals alike seemed generally intrigued by the almost foreign sport.

I realize that most eastern N.C. residents have never attended a Canes home game. Heck, most locals probably haven’t had the opportunity to even experience minor league hockey. Just go once, you’ll get hooked.

Is it too hard to identify with the players? Twenty-one year-old Eric Staal’s name isn’t hard to pronounce and neither is right wing Justin Williams’. The toughest name is 2006 USA Olympic and Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette. Sound it out, it’s not that hard.

Is it confusion on where the franchise is? In 2002, a Canadian governor was mistaken when he thought the franchise was based in Charlotte rather than Raleigh. However, Greenville residents just 80 short miles down the road would have a hard time identifying just where the Canes call home if N.C. State didn’t share the RBC Center.

I don’t get it. The local newspapers provide very little coverage. Legion baseball scores are included, but hockey continually gets back page treatment. The Winston-Salem Journal puts the Panthers above-the-fold despite an approximate 80 mile drive. Why shouldn’t the Canes receive the similar coverage from the hometown papers?

I say that eastern N.C. starts to break the great divide. The region should support the team, not ignore it. Buy a jersey. Start a fan club, be a Caniac. Cheer quietly, but just do something.

Watch the Canes’ Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the New Jersey Devils. The first game is on Saturday at 2 pm on NBC. The Canes have home ice and like the Devils who swept the New York Rangers, have won four consecutive games.

Two bickering regions should unite in the state’s athletic cause. Imagine if the Canes hoist the Stanley Cup. All North Carolinians then should deserve to be called Caniacs, not just those in the Triangle.

Eric Gilmore