Well, the big trip of the season is finally over.
Unfortunately, the trip ended unsatisfyingly with a Minnesota Wild 5-4 shootout loss to the formerly hapless Carolina Hurricanes, a team so much in the dumps that the 'Caniacs tailgating in the parking lot were holding signs stating 'the streak ends today'.
Truer words were never spoken. The Wild, given Saturday off after three games in the previous four days, did not do a morning skate due to Sunday's 1:30 PM EST start. That proved to partially be the Wild's undoing, as the half-asleep Wild came up against a very hungry Hurricanes squad under a lot of pressure to break their 14-game winless streak. The storm clouds were literally on the horizon as the 'Canes came out flying, scoring three goals in the first 25 minutes of play.
Yes, the Wild did come back to tie the game and send it all the way to a shootout. But then, why in God's name would you send out Marek Zidlicky when the game is on the line?
But, that is why they indeed play the games.
Anyhow, the Carolina organization does do an excellent job of promoting the game, which considering the four major D-I universities in the area the locals call 'the Triangle' (Duke, UNC, N.C. State, Wake Forest) is no mean feat. If the ACC ever takes up men's hockey as a scholarship sport, there certainly won't be any trips as the Gophers take to Alaska-Anchorage.
Afternoon games mean Sunday dinner on the grill, and the grills were out en masse as we pulled into the parking lot (after what seemed forever driving around the RBC Center, being waved on, and on, and on to another parking lot). A number of those grillin' and chillin' were wearing Wild apparel, so we knew we wouldn't be alone.
A quick trip to The Eye, the 'Canes team store, for our share of bawbles (gifts for the nephews, a pin for my Wild hat) and a walk around the concourse to our seats behind the Carolina goal on the arena's north end, revealed a lot:
- Most of the arena's concessions are from temporary carts. They're nice, but they DO get in the way.
- The attendance was disappointing (12,194) for a team which was only 3 seasons removed from the Stanley Cup. Yes, it was an NFL Sunday, but the Carolina Panthers aren't that good.
- They really like their mascot, 'Stormy' the Pig. For those of us Wild fans who loathe the very existence of 'Nordy', the forced-upon-us mascot of the Wild, this is a shock. Of course, this is also the Carolinas, not exactly your prototypical hockey hotbed.
Another good thing is that we had a rental car. For Raleigh, this is an absolute must, as the distances involved in getting to the RBC Center from anywhere else is considerable. This really came into play after the game, as we had less than 90 minutes from Zidlicky's missed shot to the door of the aircraft closing on our flight back to Minneapolis.
We returned home late last night, tired, irritable, and somewhat down. We were 1-1-1 on our three-game trip, and after seven days, six nights, four flights, three Amtrak/VIA Rail Canada trains, two buses, numerous taxis, the Washington Metro subway system, totalling over 2600 miles, the sight of our own bed was a wonderful sight to behold.
And so, we slept.