Rednecks rejoice on frozen pond

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lord Stanley’s Cup residing on Tobacco Road n yea, right.

What’s next, a 29-year-old, gray-haired soul singer from Alabama taking Hollywood by storm and winning the title of American Idol?

Oops, sorry, it seems that both long shots have won their respective races.

As busy as it was in the office of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald on Monday (I got in at 7:30 a.m. and ended the day, actually ended the night, at 11:50 p.m.), I somehow managed to catch a brief few minutes on the tube of the Stanley Cup finale in Raleigh.

There, our own Carolina Hurricanes shocked the traditional world of professional hockey by capturing the oldest and most prestigious prize in all sports n Lord Stanley’s Cup.

These true Southerners n I mean those good old boys such as Josef Vasicek, Frantisek Kaberle and Oleg Tverdovsky n gave the Tar Heel State its first-ever professional world title.

Move over barbecue, Bud and beach music and make room for Brind’Amour, Commodore and Babchuck.

A state made famous by aiming a round, orange ball towards a round, orange rim is now going crazy over a circular black rubber disc skipping across a frozen pond faster than King Richard Petty can exit turn two at Lowes Motor Speedway.

A frozen pond in North Carolina? In June? You gotta be kidding.

Cam Ward, Carolina’s goalie who was named as the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy (the MVP of the seven-game Stanley Cup series) wasn’t even born the last time a major championship prize came to Raleigh. He wasn’t even yet a twinkle in his father’s eye the night that Jim Valvano went around in circles looking for someone to hug after NC State stunned heavily-favored Houston to win the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball title.

Monday night’s win at the RBC Center over an Oilers team –

made famous years ago by some guy by the name of Wayne Gretzky n that has their name etched five times on the Stanley Cup was just as stunning as the Wolfpack’s victory over 20 years earlier.

How unique is it to beat Canada at their own game? Well consider this, of the first 32 Stanley Cup winners, all but five were Canadian teams. Since 1893 (the first year the Cup was awarded), a Canadian team has won 64 times, including one stretch between 1956-79 where the Montreal Canadians captured an amazing 15 titles.

Yep, this is Canada’s sport, now with a redneck twist.

Ice the Cup down with plenty of beer, strap it next to the dog box in the back of a four-wheel drive pick-em-up truck (one with an easy rider rifle rack with room for not one, not two, but three of your favorite rifles), crank-up some Hank Jr. on the CD player and let’s go muddin!

But what do we know about our newest sport sensation? Personally, I know they’re not an overnight sensation.

Back in 1972, the New England Whalers joined

the newly-formed World Hockey Association. The WHA ceased operations seven years later, causing the renamed Hartford Whalers

to join the National Hockey League. As fate would have it, the Edmonton Oilers joined the NHL the same year.

The Whalers were average, at best. They lasted in Hartford until 1996. One year later, the team was moved to North Carolina.

The NHL’s first venture into the heart of ACC country spent their first two years playing in Greensboro while NC State University, partnering with the ‘Canes, were building the RBC Center.

Even after moving full-time to Raleigh, the Hurricanes were a novelty act to the purest of tobacco-chewing, beer-swilling rednecks. I attended a few games at the turn of the 21st century, discovering a hard-hitting, fast-paced game that TV does no justice. You’ve got to be there to really enjoy it.

In 2002, the Hurricanes met the powerful Detroit Red Wings, themselves a 10-time Stanley Cup winner. The underdog ‘Canes took it to seven games, only to lose 3-1 in the finale.

That 3-1 score was duplicated Monday night, only this time it stood in the ‘Canes favor, turning Tobacco Road into a piece of hockey heaven.

To those who have followed this sport with a passion over the years, please give us redneck hockey fans some time to adjust. We’re learning that the crease doesn’t just pertain to what mamma irons into our pants; offsides isn’t always five yards and repeat the down; a one-timer is not necessarily the girl with the “nice personality” we took to the movies and a check carries another definition other than what we write at the grocery store.

Go ‘Canes!