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2000-01 Record: 38-32-9-3 (88 Points) ... H: 23-15-3-0 ... A: 15-17-6-3 ... GF: 213 ... GA: 225
By L. Jon Werthiem
The Hurricanes may have migrated south from Hartford in 1997, but hockey didn't really arrive in Tobacco Country until last spring. Now, after three years of drawing the some of the smallest crowds in the league (average attendance: 11,315), the Hurricanes' season-ticket base has doubled, to more than 12,000. Fans who once referred to the ice-maintenance vehicle as a Zamboozi are discussing the finer points of the neutral-zone trap.
Down three games to none to the heavily favored Devils in Round 1, Carolina rallied to force a Game 6 in Raleigh. Although Carolina lost that game, it received a two-minute standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 18,730. "It was like we had turned a corner," says 38-year-old center Ron Francis. "If we had crowds like that every game, every free agent would want to sign with us."
Following a tumultuous off-season in 2000, marked by wholesale roster changes, the Hurricanes coalesced late last year and finished with a respectable 38-32-9-3 record. The Carolina core is a youthful brigade led by rightwingers Jeff O'Neill, 25, and Shane Willis, 24; center Josef Vasicek, 21; and defenseman David Tanabe, 21. "I think the fans appreciate the young players blossoming," says 34-year-old coach Paul Maurice. "They see a commitment to the future."
During an otherwise quiet summer, the Hurricanes acquired veteran defenseman Aaron Ward from Detroit and signed free-agent goalie Tom Barrasso to back up the indefatigable Arturs Irbe (214 games played over the last three seasons). There are other holes that still require spackling. The need for a scorer to complement O'Neill, who had a team-high 41 goals, went unmet, as did an infusion of toughness to the defense. Carolina also has to figure how to get better play from blueliner Sandis Ozolinsh, who was acquired in June 2000. Last season Ozolinsh committed scads of errors and had a miserable -25 rating.
If the franchise improves its record for a fourth straight season, that will be no small achievement. "Washington now has Jagr, Florida has both Bures, Tampa Bay improved," says Maurice of the division rivals. "If we can take the spirit from the playoffs and build on it, there's no reason not to think Cup." As for that goal, the Canes won't be able, but the winds are blowing in the right direction.
Issue date: October 8, 2001
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