RALEIGH, N.C. — In the window of one of the clothing stores at North Hills, less than 10 miles away from PNC Arena, there’s a window decal listing a trio of definitions for the word “jerk(s).”
“1. A quick, sharp, sudden movement,” it reads. “2. A contemptibly obnoxious person.”
The third meaning, however, likely resonates the most with passersby: “Really good hockey player(s).”
The typically unfriendly term was popularized in Raleigh in February, when “Hockey Night in Canada” personality, and former Bruins coach, Don Cherry called the Carolina Hurricanes “a bunch of jerks” for their elaborate postgame celebrations that he considered to be gaudy.
“You don’t do this thing in professional hockey,” said Cherry, sporting his signature look of a colorfully patterned suit. “What are these guys? Jerks or something?”
Cherry’s comments ignited the fanbase. And, although there’s no more duck, duck, goose, limbo lines, and human dominoes during the postseason, the city’s fervor has only continued to grow during Carolina’s unexpected run.
There’s a local bookstore with a window display featuring a “Bunch of Jerks” rally towel; a copy of Raleigh Magazine with Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour on the cover; and the front page of The News & Observer’s sports section from the day after the Canes took a 3-0 series lead over the New York Islanders in the conference semifinals.
There are plenty of establishments with “Canes” banners proudly hanging in the windows, as well as cars driving around with little “Canes” flags waving in the wind.
With the Hurricanes making their first playoff appearance since 2009, there’s seemingly a newfound appetite for hockey in a region that’s primarily known for its college athletics.
“This morning, I go out for a bagel and a cup of coffee, and I walk in with a Hurricanes logo on my t-shirt, and three different people say, ‘Go Canes! Go Canes!” says Mike Schobert, who started coming to Hurricanes games in 2000. “I don’t know if they’re Canes fans or not, but they see the logo, and there’s an excitement surrounding it.”
Schobert is one of the many fans that tailgate in the parking lots of PNC Arena before puck drop. Along with friends Pete Zimmerman and Larry and Jeanne Jackson, who have also been attending games for over 15 years, Schobert set up shop over three hours before Game 3 was scheduled to begin Tuesday evening.
Basking in the balmy 70-degree weather, the group — all decked out in Canes gear — enjoyed kabobs on the grill, bottles of beer, veggies and dip, among other goodies. Behind them, a pair of fans played street hockey, while others opted for cornhole. One party even brought a miniature putting green.
Of course, several donned their “Bunch of Jerks” t-shirts.
While Schobert, Zimmerman, and the Jacksons have been regulars on the scene, the same probably can’t be said for the rest of the crowd. During the regular season, the Canes ranked 28th in the league in attendance numbers.
“Just our fanbase alone, since the playoffs, is so much bigger,” says Jeanne.
Bandwagoners or not, however, the newbies are welcomed with open arms. And not only are they showing up, but they’re also making themselves heard. During the national anthem, for example, the crowd loudly blurts, “Red!” in “rocket’s red glare.” Throughout the game, the video board over center ice will periodically measure the loudness of the crowd in decibels, with numbers always eclipsing 100.
Heading into Game 3, the Hurricanes had yet to lose a playoff game at home.
“I don’t wear earplugs during the regular season,” adds Jeanne. “But now I have to,”