In May the Raleigh News & Observer asked its readers whether they approved of the proposed name, Carolina Hurricanes, for the city's new NHL franchise, which was relocating from Hartford. In the following days nearly 3,000 phone calls swamped the paper's office. A mere 35 of those concerned the Hurricanes' name. Another 2,921 people called to learn whether a Louisiana high school basketball star had decided to attend North Carolina State, which is located in Raleigh. In the heart of ACC basketball country, it's hardly surprising that the Hurricanes have sold fewer than 4,000 season tickets at the Greensboro Coliseum.
"Some of the players are wondering if we should have moved," says winger Geoff Sanderson. "I'd be lying if I said the guys weren't concerned that we'll be playing in front of 500 people."
It has become clear that four out of five North Carolinians believe that icing is what's found on the top of a cupcake. And speaking of cupcakes, ladies and gentlemen, meet your Carolina Hurricanes! This is the same team that in the last 18 years has finished above .500 three times and has won only one postseason series. It's the only NHL club not to make the playoffs in the last five years. To change their fortunes, the Hurricanes engaged in one of the off-season's riskiest gambles. In August the Hurricanes dealt their second-leading scorer, center Andrew Cassels, and their best goaltending prospect, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, to Calgary for forward Gary Roberts and goalie Trevor Kidd. Roberts, a former 50-goal scorer, is coming off a neck injury that forced him into temporary retirement, and Kidd's arrival probably means that goalie Sean Burke, who was the team's MVP for the last four years and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, will be dealt.
Meanwhile, Carolina is hoping for a strong return from defenseman Jeff Brown, who missed all but one game last year because of back Surgery. The Hurricanes also need breakout seasons from forwards Keith Primeau, Jeff O'Neill and especially Sanderson, who proved in the 1997 All-Star SuperSkills competition that he is among the league's fastest skaters and hardest shooters. "Going into this season we've got the best goaltending in the league, good defense and enough offense to leave room for cautious optimism," says forward Kevin Dineen, who has played 10 seasons for the franchise, "but this team always carries a bumper sticker that reads S—- HAPPENS."