Tag Archives: hockey

Say It Ain’t So, Johnny

Quick note: I have struggled for hours on how to word this and concluded that there is no right way; it would take a novel to convey the full weight of what this man means to the fans of this team.

You can check out my last hockey blog here.

Okay, 2020, you can knock it off. Please.

I’m not going to run through the myriad of tribulations that the year has thrown at us; one has only to browse social media to see that (along with a host of undoubtedly expert commentary).

No, I’m focusing on something that—while not national news—no Carolina Hurricanes fan wants to think of.

The (seemingly imminent) departure of the best play-by-play man in the NHL, John Forslund.

To be clear—and despite the title of this blog post—I do not lay any blame at Mr. Forslund’s feet. He has dedicated decades of his life to not only the Hurricanes franchise but to the City of Raleigh and the team’s fanbase. The truth is, John Forslund is as big a part of this team and its history as any player, past or present.

Memories

When car trouble—I still curse that 93 Plymouth Sundance—kept me from attending the Hurricanes’ first regular-season game in North Carolina, I was properly introduced to Forslund’s presence. Two things were immediately evident: the man is incredibly knowledgable about the game and he loves it.

When former goaltender Tripp Tracy was brought in as the color commentator for the 1997-98 season, the pair began to form an endearing and enduring bond, one that Caniacs cherish dearly. Whereas Tripp is the younger brother, often relishing in the silly and absurd—and that is said with love; never change, Tripp—John is the voice of the Hurricanes. He’s been with us through the bad (oh-so-much of it) as well as the good.

Now, 23 years since the Whalers moved south, we have an entire generation of Caniacs who’ve grown up listening to him call nearly every milestone in team history. More than just tradition alone, his voice and visage bring us comfort.

On the occasions he’s been summoned for (well-deserved) appearances on NBCSN, his absence is noticeable. That’s no slight towards Jason Shaya—a very talented broadcaster himself—but rather a nod towards the discomfort felt when a beloved routine is broken. Everything just feels…off.

The First Scare

We got a taste of this last year when both John and Tripp were up for new contracts. There was a collective sigh of relief when the pair inked new pacts, though eyebrows were raised when it was learned that these were only 1-year deals.

Then, when news broke that the deadline for an extension had passed, Hurricanes fans the world over went into a panic. Tripp Tracy had signed a new deal, which is great news, but his golden-throated straight man was still a free agent.

Some of that panic turned to anger, almost all of which was focused on the team’s majority owner, Tom Dundon. While I’m the first to admit that there has been significant employee turnover during Dundon’s tenure, I’m not here to vilify (or lionize) him. The man has been very successful in life and one needs only look at the turnaround the Hurricanes have experienced since he came aboard.

The thing with Dundon is that he is hyper-focused on need and value. Allow me to elaborate: when hall of fame radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton was let go, you could assume it was because Dundon didn’t see the need of paying a dedicated radio personality.

People cursed the owner and called him a tightwad with shallow pockets. I disagree, and I do so because I can see the reasoning behind the decision, whether I agree with it or not.

You Cannot Put a Price on Talent

When the Montreal Canadiens signed Carolina’s star center Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet last summer, we saw Dundon’s willingness to spend. The crux of the offer sheet wasn’t yearly salary; the issue was the bonuses, structured in a way that Montreal thought would cripple Carolina’s ability to match.

If you were to assume the manner in which the owner looked at this situation, matching is easy. Aho is young, he’s incredibly talented, he’s shown year-over-year growth consistently, and his teammates and fans love him.

The salary isn’t cheap but is well below what a player of Aho’s talents could land on the open market. The term wasn’t ideal, but it guaranteed that the Finnish star would remain with the team for a half-decade.

The needs and the value made sense, so the trigger was pulled.

Perhaps Dundon doesn’t readily see the wisdom in paying the play-by-play announcer more than a certain amount. Maybe, in his eyes, there are several people who could fill the role and do so for less money. The truth is that we don’t know what the reason is, and likely never will.

The Voice of the Carolina Hurricanes

What I—and many of you—do know is that John Forslund is irreplaceable. That’s not a knock on anyone. No, it’s just the truth. In hockey, there’s always talk about “the intangibles”, the qualities that aren’t always shown on the score sheet. Well, John Forslund not only has the talent and knowledge but those same intangible qualities.

Whatever comes of this, he’s earned the right to decide what he wants and what he’s worth and, if those two things aren’t met, it’s in his best interests to go to where they are.

In reality, this is just speculation on my part. I don’t know the inner machinations of the situation (nor should I) but I realize what a huge shift this represents for fans of the Carolina Hurricanes. The prospect of not having him in the booth for Canes’ broadcasts is not something any of us want, but this isn’t up to us.

Based on his comments, he doesn’t want to leave the franchise that he’s been the voice of for 25 years. Unfortunately, with the way things have played out so far, he’s prepared himself for that eventuality.

So, Mr. Forslund, if this is the end of your time in Raleigh, I wish you nothing but the best.

That is exactly what you’ve given us for over two decades.

And, Mr. Dundon, I respect all that you’ve done for this team, sincerely. I trust in your acumen, but John Forslund brings more to this team that any number in a spreadsheet. You’ve done so much to restore the faith of the fans, don’t gut them with this. I promise it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.

For those interested, a petition has been started—not by myself—that you can sign here.

In Appreciation of Scott Darling

Goaltender Scott Darling with the Carolina Hurricanes
September 29, 2017. Carolina Hurricanes vs Washington Capitals, PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC. Copyright © 2017 Jamie Kellner. All Rights Reserved.

The end in Raleigh

On June 30, Scott Darling was shipped off to the Florida Panthers—who promptly bought out his contract—ending his tumultuous tenure with the Carolina Hurricanes. Just over two years prior, Darling seemed poised to step in as the Canes’ savior between the pipes. The dark age of inconsistent goaltending would be over.

Early on, it became obvious that wouldn’t be the case. Something was off: the focus didn’t seem to be there, his confidence was MIA, and he was slow-moving. It’s well-known that he showed up to his first camp with Carolina overweight. Perhaps he felt that he had already achieved his goal of becoming an NHL starter.

That, of course, is pure speculation.

Offseason hope fades

After a disastrous first season, Darling spent the summer of 2018 training with Bill Burniston, Carolina’s head strength and conditioning coach. He came into camp in better shape and looked ready to fulfill the hopes that had been pinned on him. Early on, it looked like he might do just that.

While his preseason play wasn’t flawless, Darling looked like a much more focused goaltender and his movement and reflexes a step ahead from the previous season. Things seemed to be on an upward tick for the 6’6″ goalie until an injury in the final game of the preseason put him on the sidelines.

With the regular season fast approaching and the Hurricanes in need of a goalie to compliment the newly-acquired Petr Mrazek, GM Don Waddell claimed veteran backup Curtis McElhinney from the waiver wire. The tandem played well enough that Darling was squeezed out and placed on waivers before being reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. Despite still being under contract, the Scott Darling era in Carolina was effectively over.

A deeper look

Now, that could be the end of this blog; a high-level overview of the past two years of Darling’s career. That would be a disservice. I have a hell of a lot of respect for what Scott Darling has accomplished in life and his time with the Hurricanes has done nothing to lessen that.

Darling endeared himself to fans with the story of how he reached the NHL: struggling at the lowest levels of professional hockey, battling alcohol abuse and declining self-confidence before making a strong showing in the AHL and landing his first NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2014-2015 season. He cemented his place in Chicago legend with a stunning playoff performance against the Nashville Predators in 2015 and became the first Chicago-area native to win the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks.

That alone is a story worthy of a Hollywood biopic, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

The human side

Having struggled with mental health throughout my adult life, Darling’s refusal to give up constitutes the root of my respect. He easily could have walked away from the game and into hockey obscurity when he was at his lowest; Darling could have embraced his problem with alcohol at the expense of all else; he could have pitied himself and pouted, believing that he was owed a fate greater than where he found himself but he didn’t.

Darling did none of those things. Instead, he sought help for his problems and worked his ass off to get to where he wanted to be. For a guy who has embraced the image of the Phoenix and the motto “Luctor et Emergo” (struggle and emerge), it should come as no surprise. After the trade to Carolina, Darling penned a heartfelt letter to the fans of the Blackhawks, the team he grew up rooting for, and the team that gave them his shot at the NHL. It was a classy move and one that further cemented the admiration that many hockey fans feel towards him.

I urge all of you to read the full letter. If you’ve read it before, read it again. If you are struggling with anxiety or alcoholism, read it now. Maybe you’re a perfectly well-adjusted human being. Read it anyway, because it is phenomenal.

Throughout his time in Raleigh, I would find myself relating to the mindset of fighting to push through the darkness. Because of this, I never lost hope that he would find his footing in the NHL again. I still have that hope, even though it won’t be with the Hurricanes. More than that, I hope that he’s in a good place and that he’s okay. I hope he continues to grow as a person.

So, here’s to Scott Darling. I wish you all the best. Keep writing your story!