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The news site of UNC Wilmington

The Seahawk

The news site of UNC Wilmington

The Seahawk

OPINION: Hockey belongs in the South

Closeup of a pair of hockey skates, a puck, hockey stick, gloves, and a goal. (Mariah Hewines/Unsplash.com)

Does she like him because he’s cute or because he’s a good player?

Puck bunny.

Hockey doesn’t belong in the South.

 

The rink is laid. The ice is freshly cut. Carter-Finley Stadium is being remade for the oncoming storm of nearly 57,000 hockey fans.

As the sun was setting on Raleigh, N.C., the lines to get into the stadium were building. The gates in front of PNC Arena were chaotic, with no clear queue as hundreds of people crammed together. My group decided that was entirely too stressful, and we headed to the east gates where we were able to make it in.

Inside the stadium, we could see how Carter-Finley had been transformed for the evening. The last time I had been to the stadium was when I was in elementary school, unenthusiastically selling programs at N.C. State football games with my family. Now, I was in a crowd full of Hurricanes jerseys for a highly anticipated hockey game – in a football stadium – in Raleigh, N.C.

The 2023 Stadium Series was the first outdoor NHL game in the state. In a market that, according to some, would never be able to garner enough of a fanbase to make the team worthy of attention. Regardless, the stadium was packed. Fans waited for hours in traffic. For the first time in league history, field-level tickets were sold.

The game was electric. Fireworks were set off during the national anthem and the N.C. State marching band played throughout the game. The stadium was packed and a fantastic performance by the home team fed right into the energy.

So, why do people think N.C. isn’t a hockey market? It’s no secret to those who live here. We’ve seen it in the banners across town, the youth programs across the state, and the online communities. We’ve seen it all the way to college hockey, where a club game drew a crowd of around 25,000 fans in Carter-Finley later on in the Stadium Series weekend.

We’ve added our own flair to fandom, too, bringing tailgating to hockey games. When you think of tailgating, you probably think of football. Here in N.C., we’ll pull out the tent and the grill for a Canes game.

Born and raised in Raleigh, I’ve grown up around hockey. I’ve learned to skate and been to more Canes games than I can count. I might’ve been six years old and slept through most of the game. Perhaps I was 12 years old and dreading nights when there was no chance the game would be any good. I might even have been 17 years old and less than enthusiastic about waking up early for school the next morning. Despite it all, I was always there.

I was also six years old and eating ice cream at a game with my family. I was also 12 years old and knew the entire roster like the back of my hand. I was also 17 and going to games with friends. I’ve always been there.

I was there when I was eight, being asked if I liked Jeff Skinner because he was a good hockey player or because he was cute. I knew there was a wrong answer to that question. If I liked a player because he was cute, I would be just a silly little girl. If I said I liked a player because he was good, I was saying what someone else wanted to hear.

I would say that I liked Skinner because he was a figure skater before a hockey player, just like I had been. I found a way to make my own answer. Yet, in doing so, I only kept that third option open for myself. I wouldn’t like a player because they might be cute, or because they were talented. There had to be something else. There must be some other reason for me to have a favorite player, a way that wouldn’t get me labeled as a “puck bunny.” I was never there because the players were hot, and I wanted something more with them. I was six. I was 12. I was a kid being taught that hockey wasn’t completely for me.

Now, I’m currently 21 and I don’t care how other people are interested in defining me. I like what I like about hockey, and I’ve grown to love learning everything I can about the game. I’ve learned more about how plays work, how clubs run, and how other people interact with the sport at all levels.

There was once a little girl who fell in love with hockey. A little girl from N.C. whose passion for the game has only grown as she’s  gotten older. The world isn’t black and white, and hockey isn’t just for Canadian old men.

Hockey is for people like me. Hockey is for the people in N.C. who waited in hours-worth of traffic, to see a once-in-a-lifetime game.

Hockey belongs in the South, and I belong in hockey.

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  • J

    JuliaFeb 20, 2024 at 3:29 pm

    Beautifully written!

    Reply
  • B

    BettyFeb 20, 2024 at 3:23 pm

    Love this!! You expressed my feelings, but much more eloquently!!

    Reply