The Carolina Hurricanes are proud to be ‘jerks’ in war with Don Cherry

The former Bruins coach tore into the team's post-game antics; the team responded with merchandise

Carolina Hurricanes' Warren Foegele (13) and teammates celebrate at center ice after a win over the Edmonton Oilers, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Warren Foegele (center) and his Carolina Hurricanes teammates celebrate after beating Edmonton on Feb. 15. –AP Photo

Two nights before Christmas, the Carolina Hurricanes cosplayed as the Hartford Whalers. After more than two decades shunning roots that live on through an iconic logo and the legendary ‘Brass Bonanza,’ new owner Tom Dundon saw an opportunity to cash in on a legacy that, frankly, remains more notable than the one cultivated by a run in North Carolina that includes a Stanley Cup championship.

The Hurricanes players wore the Whalers green and, in the most un-Whalers move of all, beat the Bruins. The team brought out Pucky The Whale, played the song and sold gear in the team shops. It was technically an honoring of the franchise’s history, but it ignored a reality of every team relocation: The new team sprouts on the ashes of the old one and its fans, not from them. It’s a rare few in Carolina who have a connection to the Whalers colors, certainly not as many as what lives on in Connecticut.

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In short, it screamed that the Hurricanes lacked their own identity. At a time, no less, when they were actually finding one, staging full-on post-game celebrations to the joy of their fans.

And to the wrath of hockey’s old ombudsman.

Saturday’s rant on Cherry’s decades-old ‘Coach’s Corner’ intermission report during ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ obscures that Carolina’s been carrying on like this all season, and one of the first players to get on board was the only one the sartorial 85-year-old namedropped: Captain Justin Williams.

“We thought of something we could do after the game to have a little bit more fun,” he said after the Hurricanes’ first home victory of the season on Oct. 7, noting a preseason conversation with management to create something distinctly Hurricanes.

That night, Carolina staged a Iceland-like Viking clap with their fans, then raced down the ice, Williams leading a leap into the end glass.

It was far more than the usual stick raise at center ice, and, despite grumbles with each successive home victory — Carolina’s win on Saturday was its 16th at PNC Arena — the Canes have let what they call the ‘Storm Surge’ grow. There’s been human bowling. Human … falling down, I guess. More leaping. A Thor-like stick plant. A game of Duck, Duck, Goose. A water fight. A mock walk-off home run. On Saturday, the limbo.

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Cherry, a curmudgeon like no other in the game, decided that was enough.

“This is a joke,” he said, mocking those who’ve called it a team expressing itself and taking joy in winning. “It’s professional hockey. What are these guys, jerks or something? And I’ll tell you one thing. They do this in the playoffs, making fun of the other team?

“That is absolutely ridiculous. I know the rest of the people, all the broadcasters and everything, they’re afraid to say something like that. … I know what I’m talking about. You never do anything like that. They’re still not drawing. They’re a bunch of jerks as far as I’m concerned.”

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It’s nothing longtime NHL executive Brian Burke didn’t say in November, when he declared it all “pee-wee garbage.” And there is some truth to Cherry’s words: Despite being in playoff contention after missing them for nine straight seasons, Carolina remains fourth-worst in per-game attendance, drawing at less that 75 percent of capacity, though numbers are up five percent from a year ago.

The team, however, is skating into the criticism, mocking Cherry as out of touch and firing up the T-shirt printer.

“We want to have fun when you win,” said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, a two-decade pro and Cup winner whom Cherry questioned for allowing such frivolity to happen. “The game should be fun. That’s what we’re doing and we want the players to enjoy winning and the fans to enjoy being here. Our owner has been pushing that all the way, trying to make it a fun experience for everybody involved. Why wouldn’t you try something a little different?”