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Early planning

Raleigh eager to play host to 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Posted: Wednesday August 06, 2003 7:06 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Atlantic Coast Conference schools have sent hundreds of players to the NFL and NBA over the years. Now it's time for the Triangle-area to start gearing up for -- and understanding -- the NHL Entry Draft.

Officials of the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL and local business leaders held a news conference Wednesday to unveil the logo for the 2004 NHL Draft, which will be held at the RBC Center next June.

Hosting the two-day draft is generally a precursor to landing an NHL All-Star Game. League spokesman Frank Supovitz said Raleigh is still on a short list of cities that could host an All-Star Game in 2005 or beyond.

Nashville hosted the draft this season, drawing 13,000 fans on the first day of the event.

"Because of the way this event travels around the NHL it's starting to get to a point of, 'Can you top this?' " said Ken Lehner, vice president for marketing communications for the Hurricanes. "It's a pressure point for us to make sure that it's very memorable, very successful and a model for other drafts."

Unlike NFL and NBA drafts, most of the players coming to Raleigh will be unknowns, many traveling here from Canada and other European countries. But the draft has an economic impact of $8 million and the NHL alone fills up 4,500 hotel rooms.

Admission to the draft is free and there are no "war rooms" like an NFL Draft, where general managers and scouts talk over what player to take.

"All the operations of the draft happen right in front of the fans, on the arena floor," Supovitz said. "It makes for an extremely exciting afternoon."

Lehner and Supovitz will spend the next few months planning events for fans, including a large fan festival.

"We feel this is an event that has the magnitude to get everybody united," Lehner said. "In all likelihood it might not come back to us for 20 years. We realize it's the summer and a challenging time for people to think about hockey, so it's very important that we start working on this now."

This draft will also be a challenge to organizers since Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill are so spread out.

"Every city is different and every city has its opportunity," Supovitz said. "One of the opportunities that we have here is the ability to work hard to bring everybody together."

That occurred during the 2002 Stanley Cup finals as the area rallied around the Hurricanes with rallies and tailgating parties.

"I was here for the Stanley Cup championship and if there were records for the loudness in an arena you would be No. 1," Supovitz said. "Fans of the Research Triangle have an opportunity at the end of the draft to hold the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in enthusiasm and loudness in an arena."

Eric Staal, Carolina's No. 1 pick and second overall in 2003, said he'll never forget draft day.

"It's definitely the No. 1 memory in my hockey career," Staal said Wednesday as he sported a draft logo shirt. "Leading up to that day is pretty exciting. I'm just glad I didn't have to sit there very long."

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