Originally created 06/14/06

'Canes win fans in state that lives for college hoops



RALEIGH, N.C. - A scoreboard picture of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams brought boos from some of the Carolina Hurricanes fans. Sidney Lowe, the new North Carolina State coach, got the same treatment.

In North Carolina, basketball loyalties are passed down like family heirlooms.

But with the Hurricanes one win from bringing the first major professional team championship to North Carolina, the rabid 'Caniacs who fill the RBC Center, and the ticketless fans who party outside as the game goes on, have embraced hockey as they might a NASCAR champion or ACC MVP.

"Everybody for the longest time would argue that North Carolina was all about basketball," said East Carolina football coach Skip Holtz, who took time off from preparing the Pirates for next season to attend Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers in Raleigh.

"I think this is a great sports state," he said.

"They follow it, they're rabid, they're animated. They're great sports fans, and they're going to follow a winner."

The Hurricanes intrigued the fans by reaching the NHL playoffs for the first time in 2001, and followed with a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals in '02.

But Carolina missed the playoffs the next two seasons, and the league's labor dispute wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

The Hurricanes could not have done a better job to rebuild their following once back on the ice, turning in the most successful regular season in franchise history, and now they have a 3-1 lead in the finals.

GAME 5


WHO: Edmonton at Carolina


WHEN: 8 tonight


THE SERIES: Carolina leads best-of-seven series, 3-1, and can clinch the Stanley Cup with a win


TV: NBC-Ch. 26