Raise Up North Carolina

Four and a half sporting events spread over six days and only one split-second jumbotron appearance to brag about.

On Nov. 5, my girlfriend Camie and I left for Vancouver as we embarked on our first major vacation. It was the perfect road trip; so many sports we needed a shoehorn to squeeze them in.

The plan was to head to Raleigh, N.C. for three days and on the way home make a quick pit stop in New York City.

We went to visit her brother, Riley, who plays for the Carolina Hurricanes and visit some of my homies in New York.

I was baptized into the Hurricanes fan base last year when I started hanging out with Camie. I would head over for dinner and we watched their games in her parent’s basement. I never thought I would become part of the REDvolution.

After this trip, I think I’m finally ready to move on from the Hurricanes dumping the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals. Screw you, Arturs Irbe, Rod “The Bod” Brind’Amour and Aaron Ward. That might have been the best Leafs roster assembled in my lifetime and you ruined Curtis Joesph’s final year with the club.

We added the New York City leg because the Canes played the New York Rangers Nov. 10.  I also have two best friends with big-wig jobs living there, so we had a place to crash and a chance to catch up over a few brewskies.

The trip got off to a rough start with the red eye from Vancouver to Toronto.

I’ve never experienced the red eye before and didn’t think it was going to be a problem when we first booked the trip.

The flight sucked. We had middle-isle seats, our neighbour kept his light on all trip, the flight attendant kept bumping my shoulder and the flight was rockier than a roller coaster heading up the steep incline before the big drop.

All my years of sleeping on lengthy bus trips didn’t pay off. Camie on the other hand, was unconscious.

To make matters worse, we experienced an airplane Chinese fire drill leaving Toronto. We were forced to switch planes because of a mechanical malfunction, delaying us three hours and so we missed the Hurricanes morning skate.

Last winter, before I met Riley, watching the Hurricanes on TV didn’t hold weight with me. I didn’t feel any real connection to the Canes because I never met the guy in person.

I used to joke with Camie that Riley wasn’t real, that he was a TV character, like Michael Scott or Jack Shepard.

But, after a summer of dinners, surfing and shooting tequila with him, I know for a fact that he is a living, breathing human and a great guy. So getting the chance to watch him live was extra special because I think Riley and I are now friends?

Yeah, we’re friends.

Riley is the type of guy I wanted to be if I made it in pro. He is down to earth, caring, genuine and a beauty. This trip wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for him. Not only did he hook us up with tickets, but also he trusted us with his brand new Jeep SRT to get back and fourth to the games. I am very thankful for everything he did for us this trip.

Unfortunately, the Leafs were not in town this time. We settled for the Dallas Stars and one of my lifelong rivals, the Ottawa Senators.

The Canes hosted the Western Conference leading Stars our first night. It looked to be a tough matchup for the Hurricanes, despite the Stars getting taken apart by the Leafs 4-2 the week prior.

PNC Arena is very red. The Canes share the building with the much more heralded North Carolina State Wolfpack basketball teams.

The Wolfpack banners hog the ceiling with retired jerseys, NCAA tournament appearances and championships.

Camie and I sat in the lower bowl and were given passes to the family room that was filled with food and a little bit of booze. We crushed chicken fingers; perogies and a few glasses of wine while the Hurricanes fell to the Stars 4-1.

I always enjoy seeing teams play live that I don’t have time to watch on TV. I watch players move away from the puck, their body language and the in between whistle antics.

The Stars were forceful up front with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza. They played with great creativity and knowledge of where they were on the ice. If that All-Star line struggles creating offence they inserted three-time Cup champion Patrick Sharp.

Canes’ backup netminder Eddie Lack got the start and played better than his 25 saves would suggest. He was peppered early and looked on his game while a pair of his boys from Sweden were visiting him.

These guys were hilarious. After every save Lack made, they would stand up, chant his name and pop their Lack jerseys.

The time change combined with the red eye wiped Camie and I. We only had the energy to muster up a yard of beer each following the game. We slept over nine hours that night, barely getting up in time for the continental breakfast, which closed at 10 a.m.

Day two, I wanted to check out the legendary college campuses of Duke and the University of North Carolina before next the Canes game.

As we were looking for things to do, we noticed that Duke and UNC were playing in football and tickets were only $40 (American) each.

Bang! We’re there!

What we didn’t know was that the tickets were for the fifth row, right beside the student section. Best seats in the house.

We arrived a little late and completely missed the tailgating festivities. The crowd inside was bumpin’ as the UNC Tarheels were laying the smack down on their Tobacco Road rival Blue Devils, 66-31.

We both guessed that Kenan Stadium held around 33,000 fans. We were only off by 30,000.

63,000 fans! What a massive place and a gorgeous stadium. You could roughly bring 75 per cent bring of Kamloops to watch that game.

Leaving the stadium wasn’t too bad, we were in a bit of a time crunch to head back to Raleigh, so we didn’t get to see Duke or UNC’s basketball arenas. I guess we will have to hit them up next year.

Feeling amped after the football game, we decided to bring the party to PNC Arena Saturday night for the Canes clash with the Senators. We picked up beers and started our own mini tailgate.

The Canes needed to get back into the win column and I wanted to see my second least favourite team get dealt a serious helping of whoop-ass.

Riley’s roommate and All-Star d-man, Justin Faulk, opened the scoring in the second period when he blasted home a powerplay marker off a faceoff.

Faulk, also a beauty, leads NHL defencemen with six powerplay goals.

Hopefully he can turn around the Canes’ 29th ranked powerplay.

Other than the first period against the Stars, the Canes clearly outplayed the opposition all trip. They outshot the Sens 46-21.

Down 2-1 with the goalie pulled, Canes’ winger Jeff Skinner delivered one of the most exciting goals I’ve seen live.

With five seconds remaining, a shot by Jordan Staal kicked out in front of the net, where Skinner roofed the puck over a sprawled Andrew Hammond.

PNC Arena erupted.

That game tying goal could be a spark for Skinner, who has been struggling this season, just three goals and four points in 18 games.

Jordan Staal buried the winner shortly into an exciting three-on-three overtime. The Canes needed that win.

There are few things in life I enjoy more than seeing the Senators steal a loss from the jaws of victory.

Patrick Lalime is still one of my all-time favourite players for his annual choke-job versus the Leafs each spring in the early 2000s. Didn’t matter how high the Sens finished in the standings, he was always good for allowing a few series-shifting softies.

Following the game, friends and family head down to the green room and waited for the players to arrive.

Once Riley grabbed us from the room, we headed out to his jeep. That’s when I met him.

Eric Staal.

He’s never been an icon or a role model for me, but he has been the man in Carolina going on a decade and maybe the best player in franchise history.

I was pretty faded, but I tried to get it together as I shook his hand and introduced myself.

He took a few minutes to say hello and asked how our trip was going. I was doing my best not to gush all over him.

It was the second best part of the trip and I’m never going to wash my right hand.

With the Canes come from behind dub, their coach Bill Peters granted Sunday off, so we hit the town with the team.

We ended up having beers with a bunch of the guys and they’re all fantastic and they all probably thought I was some geek.

The off day also landed on the same day as the Green Bay Packers (6-1) were in Charlotte to take on the undefeated Carolina Panthers (7-0).

We ordered tickets before we went out Saturday night and set our alarms with more than enough time to make the three-hour drive west to Charlotte.

I’ve never been to an NFL game before and this one might have been an NFC championship preview.

It’s too bad we got kicked out at halftime and never witnessed the full game.

Apparently, the tickets we bought off StubHub contained a stolen barcode. The fans with the real tickets came and bounced us at the two-minute warning.

The ticket office said there was nothing they could do for us and promptly showed us the door.

Major bummer.

They said it wasn’t the only case they had to deal with on Sunday, but it didn’t make us feel any better.

We salvaged the afternoon by shredding it up at the local go-kart track.

After the whoopin’ I took on the track we headed back to Raleigh for dinner and packed for our flight the next day to New York.

No crazy flight delays this time; we checked our bags and walked right onto the plane. Not a second early, not a second too late.

Camie and I have both spent quality time in New York in the past few years, so with only two days in the City, we didn’t feel pressured visit the tourist hot spots.

We spent the first day rambling around Midtown, doing a bit of shopping and enjoying in the city.

The main event Monday was dinner with Riley and Cody, who was my neighbour growing up and now a business analyst in New York City.

It was the most uncomfortable dinner I have ever been a part of.

I felt less awkward having dinner with Camie’s family for the first time, even when they skyped in her older brothers to meet her new “friend.”

I wore nice shoes, khakis and sport coat, and still felt under dressed.

Parts of the menu were in French and I later found out that I was eating our appetizers completely wrong. I can only imagine the waiters were yuking it up big time in the back.

But I converted my awkwardness into laughter and enjoyed the meal.

The only thing we planned for New York, other than the Rangers game, was a tour of new Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium was high on my list because Citi Field was closed for the offseason and I didn’t take a tour during my previous visit.

The tour was great; we got to see the press box, Yankee museum and Monument Park. The only thing I wish we could have done was take a peek into the locker rooms and let me run on the field and pretend to hit a walk-off homer.

We headed back to my other friend’s studio apartment to change before the game, when I experienced a Janet Jackson-esque wardrobe malfunction.

We were cruising on the subway to Madison Square Garden when it started.

I was walking around when I heard an extra click-clack every second step. I looked down to see the sole of my left shoe peeling away from the rest of the shoe like a banana.

These were dress shoes that Riley donated to me last summer. They were in great condition and it was my first time wearing them.

Camie began uncontrollable laughter. She could barely stand up she was laughing so hard.

Even randoms on the subway were cackling at me.

Eventually, the sole fell off completely. I was stuck with one shoe an inch and a half shorter than the other and a naturally occurring crip walk.

It rained the entire time we were in New York and all that was left on my decaying shoe was the insole, which was held on with glue. With the rain and all the walking, it was only a matter of time before I was walking in my sock.

Some of the busier subway terminals have Wi-Fi now, so I was able to contact Cody, begging him to bring me a pair of flip-flops to the game.

We arrived at the Garden early enough to catch the Canes’ warm up. Following the warm up, we headed back to our seats when I heard it again.

Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

Are you freakin’ kidding me??!

The shoe on my right foot started to fall apart as if it caught an infectious disease from my left foot.

Thanks for the kicks Riley.

Turns out, Cody is the man and brought me a pair of Under Armor shower sandals.

So there I was, walking around the Garden and New York City in pink and yellow dress socks, sport coat and flip-flops.

It was our last night in the City, so I wasn’t too bothered.

All things considered, it was a pretty memorable trip.

The Hurricanes went 1-2 despite out playing the opposition in nine out of the 10 periods. Riley played great even without not finding his way onto the score sheet or getting in any fights. We caught one and a half football games and hung out with some old friends and family.

Did I mention I met Eric Staal?

I mentioned that meeting Eric was the second best part of the trip. On any other trip with anyone else, it would have been the highlight.

The best part of my trip was that I got to spend it with someone I truly care about and share so much in common. It was our first real deal trip together and I think it went great.

I can’t wait to figure out our next adventure! Hopefully the Canes pick up a few more dubs next time.

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