Sunday September 21, 2014 another life-long goal of mine was accomplished courtesy of Canes Country managing editor, Bob Wage. It’s 5:02 pm as I write this sitting at my kitchen counter having just returned form the Carolina Hurricanes first pre-season game of 2014 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. If it was any regular game, I would be sitting in section 121 watching as a fan and season ticket holder. This game came with a twist.
At 12:15 pm I departed from my house to make the 25-minute commute to the PNC Arena. I arrived 1400 Edwards Mill Road in Raleigh, NC and pulled up to the parking attendant. The conversation included one of many firsts for the afternoon- not having to pay for parking. “Yeah, I was told to tell you that I’m apart of media but I just don’t have a parking pass yet,” I told the arena-parking attendant. “Oh,” she said to me, “you need to turn around and go to the North lot.” I take another half-mile around the arena and find my way to the media parking located right next to the teammate family member parking and adjacent to the loading dock entrance.
It’s 12:40 pm, I’m twenty minutes early. After killing some time in my car I make my way to meet Bob at the VIP entrance, which is located next to the PNC Box Office. I pick up my press pass from the media desk and we hit the elevator for the fifth floor.
As we step off the elevator and progress our way through the hallway leading to press row, we pass a plentiful amount pictures of former Hurricanes and monumental moments in the organization dating all the way back to the Hartford Whalers. We take our seats, which are marked with a CanesCountry.com tag, and are greeted by Peter Koutroumpis of TriangleSportsNet.com on our left and Chip Alexander of the News and Observer on our right.
The puck drops and the first period of the unofficial hockey season is under way with Riley Nash in the faceoff circle surrounded by Elias Lindholm, Jeff Skinner, Andrej Sekera, and Ryan Murphy with Cam Ward mending the pipes.
Out of the gate there appeared to be a significant improvement in offensive zone pressure and puck control. Four minutes in to the first period the Hurricanes led the shots 3-0. Ward’s first contested shot came off of a 3-on-2 Columbus Blue Jackets opportunity with Ward sticking his right pad out to end the chance.
New addition Brad Malone made his presence felt as he was able to muscle some nice hits totaling four at the end the first two periods.
A little over halfway through the first, Sekera put the puck top-shelf, short side with an assist from Murphy and Skinner while on the power play.
Columbus managed to answer back two minutes later in what was a dominating early half of the first period by the Hurricanes. Murphy carried the puck into the offensive zone and no one shifted back to cover his position which eventually led to a Cam Atkinson goal knotting the game at one apiece.
The first period ended with the Hurricanes outshooting the Blue Jackets 11-9 but trailing 2-1 after a Nick Foligno power play goal.
Press row’s amenities include a popcorn stand, a Pepsi product cooler, Chex Mix and various nuts, and coffee. Did I mention its all free? During intermission, press row attendees often grab a snack, a drink, and socialize. I introduce myself to writer for the Charlotte Checkers Paul Braneckey and Michael Smith who writes for the Hurricanes website.
Other press row amenities include SCRATCHED HOCKEY PLAYERS WALKING IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES.Considering this was an exhibition game consisting of only the A group from training camp, the other camp invitees and members of the Hurricanes roster were on the other section of press row which is separated by the broadcast booth.While taking a look at a Media Package, which includes snippets and articles, I glance up and see Anton Khudobin andAlexander Semin walking past me. I resist the urge to scream like a child and make a comment on the Russian goaltenders moccasins and give a quick hello to Mr. Semin. Moments later, 2006 Stanley Cup Champion and Director of Forwards development for the Hurricanes, Cory Stillman walked out of the coach’s box. I asked him about his new job and he said, “I like it a lot. So far so good.”
We head back to press row for the second period.
Columbus carried the momentum into the second period and progressed while being more aggressive on the forecheck and playing the body better. As the ‘Canes managed a few power play chances, their special teams appeared to have improved from last season. Linholm and Skinner were able to skate around the Blue Jackets in the offensive zone for some quality opportunities.
Two of Colmbus’ goals in the second period came from wide-open men who made the conversion easy. An area for improvement for the defense is to make sure that a man is covered and not left open. It’s fundamental, but it will cost you.
Riley Nash was able to add a tally to the board grabbing a rebound off of a Jeff Skinner shot as the ‘Canes headed into the third down 4-2.
Bob and I make our way back up to the press row hallway during the second intermission. As we’re walking up the steps recent draft picks including Brock McGinn and Josh Wesley walk past in flashy suits making a b-line toward the popcorn stand. Walking the opposite way was none other than the captain himself, Eric Staal.
I didn’t speak to anyone this time around. No, the second period intermission wasn’t as exciting as the first, but it was cool to see players up close in their street clothes.
Back to press row we go for the third period.
Not much was added to the third period other than a few penalties and a Chris Terry goal to put the Hurricanes within one. Again, the Hurricanes showed good puck movement on the power play.
With 1:17 left to go in the game Rod Brind’Amour rallies the troops for a last ditch effort to send the game to overtime.Unfortunately, the rally was unsuccessful and the Hurricanes fall 4-3 to the Blue Jackets with the shots 32-19 in Carolina’s favor.
It was off to the elevator after that and down to the locker room. I was wearing a long-sleeve button down polo and pants, while Bob had on the same thing with the addition of a sport coat. Let’s just say I needed the sport coat at ice level.
We get to the locker room and all I can think is I’m “Authorized Personnel Only,” what a feeling.
Our first stop is Sergey Tolchinsky who reflected on his game as well as the team’s performance. Next was the 22-year-old Skinner who spoke of adjusting to the new coaches style.
Finally, we had the opportunity to address head coach Bill Peters in the media lounge. Peters spoke optimistically of the power play and puck possession of the group he had on the ice today. Peters was confident in addressing the issues including defending in the defensive trapezoid as it was something they “hadn’t touched on in practice,” and “came back to haunt us.”
As I said before, today wasn’t a day where I was a fan. I was a journalist for my favorite team. I dreamed this experience would come and I can’t thank Bob enough for this opportunity. Hopefully this isn’t the last time and here’s to it it leading to bigger and better things.
It’s 7:25 PM and I just finished this piece. What a day.