Ten years ago I got up extra early to leave the 'Intern House,' a small two bedroom beach house in Gulfport, Fla.
I spent most of 2016 away from Raleigh up to this day a decade ago. New Year's Eve 2015 I drove through the night to Michigan where I spent 4.5 months as a intern on the Detroit Free Press's News Desk. The week before Memorial Day weekend I was on my way to Tampa Bay to intern on the then St. Petersburg Time’s Feature Design Desk, where I stayed through mid-August.
I made two trips back to Raleigh between Jan. 1 and June 19. The only comfort of home I couldn’t enjoy was a Hurricanes Home game. I returned around Easter while the Canes wrapped up their regular season on the road. They I drove back from Michigan to North Carolina between the Conference Semifinals against New Jersey and the Conference Finals that began in Buffalo. I jumped back in the Car and departed the state before Game 1 against the Sabres.
I attended my last game that season at RBC Center on Saturday, December 17, 2005. I was there for the buildup in expectations, but I wasn’t around for the party.
I made a calculated decision to attend a co-worker’s birthday dinner durning Game 5 on June 14. I knew there was a chance the Canes could take it down that night, but I had a weird feeling in my gut that allowed me to focus on the game 100%. I decided this networking opportunity was worth the risk of being wrong.
I was fortunate we were at a nice restaurant with a brilliant bartender who had the game on with on one patron sitting at his bar, and it wasn’t me. I was a good 30 feet away constantly glancing at the screen as we enjoyed an excellent Italian meal that somehow I could afford at the time. Losing a 2-1 in the first period, trailing 3-2 at the intermission affirmed my decision. I made it back to the house with 16 minutes remaining in a tied third-period, but you know how that one end.
My Game 6 experience is more of a blur, as I dismissed the defeat immediately after the final buzzer.
I broke all my typical routines and left the house by 7:30 a.m. I was a morning person back then, always one of the first in my department in the newsroom. But today I needed to be out the door at 5 p.m. I skipped breakfast, and didn’t read the morning paper. I couldn’t tell you what I worked on that day, but I know I could have used a deadline project. Most of my job that summer was advance work — section that would be printed days beforehand. Time moved very slow, so it’s was excruciating on that day. A long lunch break at intern favorite JJ’s -- an Italian eatery with amazing garlic knots — helped easy the growing tension in my gut. I had a fantastic Chicken-Parm sub.
5 p.m. arrived and I had two hours to eat and finally decide where I’d watch the game. I drove around 22nd Avenue South and the area for an hour trying to decide. The only reason this is notable is passing that famous Church sign that supports the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of all the years the Lightning couldn’t make the playoffs.
I conceded with my indecision and eventually just went with my fallback — McDonalds — and watch back at the house. I knew both of my roommates that summer were working later shifts, so I could watch uninterrupted. Finished my food during the pregame show, cleaned up a few things than moved a chair into optimal view spot. I wouldn’t move for two hours.
Puck drops, and the final game is under way. My heart is beating intensely, and then Matt Cullen gets the puck down low and at 1:26 into the game…you know this part of the story.
Over the course of the next two periods my two roommate each arrived home at separate times and watched with me as I stood for the final period. As the confetti began falling from the rafters, I paced around the living room with the biggest shit-eating grin you could image. No screaming, no large outbursts, mainly a sense of euphoria. As the Conn Smythe is about to be awarded I took the first of three phone calls from people in Carolina. The biggest thing about those three calls is they we all with people who are no longer a part of my life — including my Father.
As everyone reflects on their memories and experiences from the Canes Stanley Cup Journey, I reflect on being another outside observer who took the journey by myself. I was proud of the team, the organization, and the market but I never felt part of the experience. I wasn’t there to celebrate into early Tuesday morning. I wasn’t there for the parade. I didn’t return to Raleigh until two weeks later. The buzz in the area had faded, and those I knew who followed the team during the playoffs didn’t have the passion for the game that I did. There was no camaraderie surrounding the team, and the journey. I don't have anyone I can reminisce with about our shared experience.
Still get goosebumps overtime I see Justin Williams bury the empty net goal, the celebration after Chris Pronger fires that hopeless slapper as the horn sounds, and when Rod Brind’Amour — my favorite player since 1995 — snatches The Cup before the Commissioner can conduct the photo-op moment.
Being apart of the 2009 run to the Eastern Conference Final has been the highlight of my fan experience thus far. I missed out on the 2002 Cup run by a year, haven’t just finished high school before the Final and settling for TV broadcasts. Missing out on the shared experience from 2006 is always going to be something I regret. But I think new memories are ready to be made in the near future. And on this Father’s Day 2016, I hope I get to share the experiences with these two little guys:
They’ve each watched Game 7 with me at different points, but they’re still so young. I can’t expect them to understand the feeling I have over this silly, fun game.
They have a passive interest in hockey, mainly because I like it. I haven’t pushed the game on them, mainly because I found the game for myself. It was the first thing I really gravitated towards in life that wasn’t influenced by my family, and that’s the reason why I follow the game so passionately. So while it won’t be the same for my boys, I want to give them an opportunity to find what they like about hockey and get hooked on their own. I smiled when my oldest (almost 4) was excited about a Pens/Sharks Final this year, because he loves all things Underwater/Deep Sea. He did enjoy wearing that Championship hat all day though.
I have a feeling when they’re a bit older we all may experience something similar to that day 10 years ago.