Carolina Rain

by Ryan

A week ago I was presented with a theory about the Hurricanes. The blogger get together was winding down, and somehow the topic of rivals comes up. Chris Smith from wnymedia.net stated that the Carolina Hurricanes are the Sabres’ natural rivals, and he actually made a pretty solid argument for it.

Here it is: the other so called “rivals” Buffalo has don’t care about us. The Leafs have more important teams to worry about, and their fans only care because we have cheap tickets. Ottawa cares about the Leafs. Montreal has never cared about the Sabres. We don’t play Dallas enough, and everyone hates Philly, which puts a lot on their plate.

With Carolina you have a recent history of important games, a general hatred between fans, and a variety of intangibles that make rivalries significant. Sabres fans have the “shoulda woulda coulda” angle, and Hurricanes fans have a Stanley Cup with an inferiority complex. Add in the sheer number of former Western New Yorkers living in the Carolinas and you practically have a built in home crowd on the road trip to RBC. And for those that turned coat once they moved…

The major problem with this theory is that the Sabres just don’t play the Canes enough. Tonight marks their first meeting of the season, over three months into the season. However, a quick look at the standings tells me that if there isn’t a rivalry between the two teams, one will develop pretty soon.

With just two points separating the two teams and two more games in February, each game will be a very important match up in the playoff race. Add in a meeting in April, just two games before the end of the regular season, and the potential is there for a showdown the entire conference is interested in. All of that makes me remember why we dislike Carolina so much in the first place, and brings the proper level of importance to tonight’s game. Memories of the past are what make rivalries special, but these days it has been a different Hurricanes team than we remember.

For example, if you drive into Oswego you’ll notice a sign with the wrong colors on it. It says “Home of Erik Cole” in red and black, but he’s been an Oiler all season. A familiar face in a Hurricanes jersey, he was traded in July for Joni Pitkanen. Other new faces for Carolina include Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves, who came over from Ottawa last season. Tuomo Ruutu is also a fresh face, one that usually has more restraint than his brother.

With these new faces Carolina has struggled, and after a difficult start resulted in the firing of their head coach, the Canes have improved as of late. They went 7-3 until a recent four game losing streak, which they bring into tonight’s game. Those four losses came against Boston, Florida, Ottawa, and Toronto; with only Boston a current playoff team. Not a good stretch, but one that only makes tonight so much more important.

A big problem for Carolina is that the Southeast Conference just isn’t as weak as it used to be. Tampa Bay and Atlanta are still poor teams, but Florida has improved on the strength of good goaltending, and Washington has taken over the reigns as division leader. The third playoff spot is no longer guaranteed, nor are a few easy games against division opponents eight times a year.

As far as the big guns for Carolina go, Eric Staal and Ray Whitner are pretty much the long and short of it. Tuomo Ruutu is their third leading scorer, which is more a statement about the state of the Hurricanes than Ruutu. Cam Ward has struggled this season, and Corvo has probably been their best defenseman. Oh, and Rob Brind’Amour still has a pulse.

The stakes are well known, which should make for good hockey. The rivalry may be somewhat new, but the memories are fresh enough to make for a good crowd. Faces change, but the (brief) history never does.

6 Comments

  1. spavery

    Yeah, but isn’t it hard to have an authentic rivalry with a city that doesn’t care about the sport? Remember during the Conference finals a few years back, when they weren’t even selling out? I’d say more than half of the people in Raleigh don’t even know that the Sabres exist.

  2. sabresfan88

    Who in the world would have been to Oswego for any reason? That’s where I am now, but I go to school here. I can’t imagine any other reason.

  3. Jill

    The only time people go to Oswego is for Harbor Fest… and most of them are drunk so they don’t care.

  4. Zach

    The only reason I think that we right now have the perception that we don’t play the Hurricanes enough is that its January and this is the first matchup. We play the Leafs and Sens six times and the Flyers and Canes four times, so it is comparable.

    I blame the schedulers for cooling off this rivalry that always seems to be one sided in Buffalo.

  5. Ryan

    Spavery,

    That's a good point, but I think that only adds to the inferiority complex on both sides. Sabres fans think they are better but don't have a cup, and the few Canes fans that are out there have the ring but lack the legitimacy. It's an odd rivarly for sure, but an interesting one to consider.

    sabresfan88 & Jill,

    It's a long story. I know someone who lives there and know a few people who go to school there. Nice rink, from what I hear.

    Zach,

    I was thinking about that today, and Kevin said something similar in a post yesterday. The reduction of division games makes it much closer, but I think subconsiously I was making a "over time we've played them less" argument because they've only been around for a decade or so. That obviously didn't translate very well, but I was probably distracted by Hartford's logo or something.

    You're right about the schedule, though. It completely kills any sort of rivalry when you don't see someone for three months at a time. Maybe RBC was hosting Dora the Explorer or something…

  6. sabresfan88

    Oh yeah, the rink is great. We love our hockey here…even if most of us don’t quite get it. It makes for a cool atmosphere though.