If you’ve followed me on Twitter looking solely for takes and insight on various UNC sports, then I apologize for how hockey-heavy it’s been lately.
That said, if you’re a fan of UNC Basketball, then this Carolina Hurricanes team is right up your alley.
The funny thing about saying and typing that is how aligned a lot of people, including UNC fans, think the squad is actually aligned with NC State. After all, the team plays in the same arena as the Wolfpack basketball squad, the much hyped outdoor game was in Carter-Finley Stadium with State’s Marching Band and the team threw up the Wolf sign after the resounding win, and just about any UNC coach or player who shows up to sound a siren to start a period hears more than a few boos. It also doesn’t “help” the cause that the coach for the Hurricanes, Rod Brind’Amour, is married to someone tied to State and he’s effectively chosen State as his rooting interest.
The thing is, I’ve been a fan of this team since it came to North Carolina in 1997 and I can truly say they do their best to be the team of the entire Triangle. They work to bring players and coaches from all three schools to rally the team. In fact, before their season started, members of the team were at the Notre Dame game in Chapel Hill this past September.
That’s Dylan Coughlin, a defenseman who’s been a healthy extra most of this season on the left of Bacot, and current starting goaltender Frederick Andersen on the right.
As a UNC fan, I’ve had to roll my eyes a bit at the perception that the Canes are only tied to NC State, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that others are realizing that this current squad-actually has the DNA of Carolina Basketball in it. This isn’t to say that the team is inspired by UNC Basketball, at all, but that as time has moved along there are certainly a lot of similarities that UNC fans should appreciate.
The current iteration of the Canes actually has a similarity to how UNC Basketball became what we know today-a gamble on an assistant coach.
We’re all familiar by now of how Dean Smith became the coach of the Tar Heels, as an assistant to Frank McGuire, he was elevated to the head coach position when McGuire moved on to coach the Philadelphia Warriors. The move was a surprise to many, and a lot wasn’t expected of the assistant with no head coaching experience. This story matches Rod Brind’Amour. Brind’Amour, a Hurricanes legend, was an assistant coach under the previous head coach Bill Peters. Peters decided to move on to coach Calgary after the 2018 season, and as the Canes had just completed their ninth season of missing the playoffs, new owner Tom Dundon was thought to go outside the organization to fill the seat. Instead, just like Dean Smith did with William Aycock, Brind’Amour impressed Dundon with just how good a fit he would be, and Dundon took a chance. While it took Dean a few seasons to see it through, Brind’Amour was a hit immediately, as the Canes haven’t missed the playoffs since his hire.
The Hurricanes were also one of the first teams in hockey to really lean into analytics, a lot like how Smith dug deeper into statistics early on. As a smaller market team in a league with a hard salary cap, the Canes decided the analytics would be their edge. In terms of statistics, I’ve always thought Dean would have enjoyed hockey had it been a thing in North Carolina earlier in his life. In hockey, you aren’t just rewarded for the goal, but the last two people who passed it to the goal scorer. The pass that set up the pass that set up the goal gets you an assist in hockey, one of the first things that Smith loved charting to reward unselfish play and to note how you need to look deeper into a play to see how a basket was scored.
All of this existed before, but recently a couple of local sportswriters evoked the Hurricanes to describe their recent success.
First, as the Hurricanes were finishing off the first of their two series-opening wins against the New Jersey Devils, this tweet appeared in my timeline:
Was impressed with how the Devils were able to use their speed to eliminate the Rangers in Round 1 but there's big "You can't run with Roy" energy here tonight.— Joe Giglio (@giglio_OG) May 4, 2023
Hard to beat the Canes at their own game
This is a link to more modern Carolina Basketball under Roy Williams, where every opponent wanted to try and compete with the Tar Heels by limiting their fast break game. Any team that felt like they had the speed to keep up and wanted to play up-tempo would find themselves trailing pretty quick. Giglio would later reference the 2019 win over NC State in Chapel Hill as proof of this. In that game, State lost 113-96, despite feeling like they had the athletes to just run with the Tar Heels. The analogy is apt for this series, as New Jersey has come into the series known for their speed. A lot of prognosticators felt that the Devils’ speed would be what would negate the speed of the Canes, and the series would be tight. That speed, though, has played into the Hurricanes’ hands so far as they have a 3-1 series lead, winning their three games by scores of 5-1, 6-1, and 6-1. Their lone loss came by a score of 8-4.
Then after their game two win, Cory Lavalette of the North State Journal and The Athletic wrote an article for the latter on The Carolina Way in reference to how the Hurricanes have been succeeding. The article is for subscribers only, so I won’t go into it too much here. If you’re a UNC fan, though, you should read it and see how Lavalette tied many areas of the UNC philosophy to what Rod Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes are doing now that help them achieve their success. Right up to the fact that people who play the Hurricanes know they are playing a signature system, that emphasizes team over player. It’s well done.
All of this was running through my mind on Tuesday as the Canes bounced back from a poor Game 3-the 8-4 loss-to completely dominate the Devils again. Honestly, as a UNC fan the script was really familiar-the opposing team took advantage of a slow start, but during the TV Timeouts the Hurricanes adjusted and found their game, eventually drawing even. Then, one huge run acted like an uppercut and the game was basically over despite there being a good portion of the game left. In this case, the Canes scored four goals in about five minutes-this would be like going on a 20-2 run over the course of two TV timeouts-and what had been a close game was a laugher. The third period played out like those types of games, just milking clock to the end.
At the end of the game, I couldn’t help but to think of another Dean Smith quote as the team clearly had put Game 3’s bad game behind them- “What to do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” Their win showed how quickly they had put that loss behind him.
To win their series, they’ll need one more quote — “A lion never roars after a kill.” Here’s hoping this team that’s been a joy to watch has this emblazoned in their heads before Game 5 tonight.