Gold: Williams’ return ‘off the charts’
It’s been a week for the Carolina Hurricanes. On the heels of a three game losing streak, that included losses in Washington and Columbus as well as the devastating, season-ending injury to Dougie Hamilton, the Canes picked up a pair of wins, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the acquisition of Rod Brind’Amour and are even experiencing a bit of internal controversy. Oh, and there was the magnificent return of former captain Justin Williams, who sat out the first three months of the year. There was a LOT going on. It was a good time for the All Star break.
Twenty years ago this past Thursday, then General Manager Jim Rutherford traded Hurricanes captain Keith Primeau, who was three months into a contract holdout, to Philadelphia for Brind’Amour and a goaltending prospect in a deal that would completely change the fortunes of the franchise. “The Flyers traded one of their own Hall of Famers, at a young age”, Hurricanes voice John Forslund said on the latest issue of the Canes Corner podcast. Brind’Amour tallied more than 600 points over nine seasons in Philly before coming to Raleigh. Ten years, 694 games, 473 points, a pair of Selke Awards and a Stanley Cup championship later, Brind’Amour is widely recognized as the most significant person in Hurricanes history. “It was a game changer for this franchise and we’re still seeing that today.”
Always a traditionalist, the shootout is not John’s favorite way to decide a game. But, on the night of Williams return, that’s where the game eventually ended, with Williams sending a charge through the PNC Arena crowd with an 8th round goal that ended up as the game winner and even drew a signature “THAT’S HOCKEY, BABY” from Forslund, a first in that scenario for the Canes’ longtime voice.
“Never done that before…I don’t like the shootout. I abhor the shootout”, Forslund said, noting that he hated it all the way back in his days in the American Hockey League. “But, it does have some exciting moments, and that one was off the charts.”
Williams’ return, after missing the first 48 games of the season to be a dad and a youth coach, while electric, was not without complications. For one, with 12 healthy forwards in the room already, there was going to be a tough decision as to which player would come out of the line up to make room for their former captain. As it turned out, it was alternate captain Jordan Martinook.
Rod Brind’Amour agonized over that decision, considering what Martinook means to the team. On the ice, he’s a ball of energy, a big part of the league’s 3rd best penalty killing unit, and the epitome of the culture of hard work and toughness that Brind’Amour fostered in his incredibly successful maiden season as head coach. Martinook wasn’t going to sit out again.
The answer to who’s next was Erik Haula, the center acquired from Vegas in an off-season deal. This came as a surprise to many, considering his play through the first half of the season. Haula exploded out of the gates, scoring in each of the Canes’ first three games and had seven goals in Carolina’s first nine matches. But, a nine game goal drought and a crucial missed assignment that Sunday night against the Islanders proved too much for the head coach.
“He loses a box out to (Islanders forward) Anders Lee — and he shouldn’t have”, Forslund offered, describing a play late in that second period which created New York’s only goal of the game. “If [Rod} takes out a guy who has intrinsic value to leadership…and you do that? You’re probably going to be the next guy out.”
The latest episode of the Canes Corner podcast also features discussions on making up for the absence of Hamilton and a discussion with team Strength and Conditioning coach Bill Burniston regarding Williams’ return to action.
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