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Last Word: These jerks are intrepid

Carolina’s post-game celebrations as well as silly mascots don’t bring me out to the rink, but give their creators full marks for imagination, fearlessness & inventiveness. It’s all about fun.

The Carolina Hurricanes really are a Bunch of Jerks, not because of their post-game celebrations, but because I looked on the Interweb and discovered I’d have to part with 42 Canadian dollars in order to get one of their T-shirts. Unless the darn thing is being hand-delivered on a bed of roses by a group of unicorns, that’s a little rich for my blood.

As for their campy post-win team celebrations at PNC Arena, which have been dubbed ‘the Storm Surge,’ they’re not exactly my cup of tea. In fact, I’m a little surprised they’ve lasted this long. They’re kind of hokey and forced and in reality, they haven’t really spiked home attendance all that much. Through mid-February, the Hurricanes were 600 fans per game ahead of the pace they established last season, which is good, but not overwhelming. The Hurricanes had 36 points through 30 home games last season, exactly the same number they had at the same point this season. So maybe a few more people are deciding to come down to the old barn to see what kind of hijinks the Hurricanes have up their sleeves, but not enough to make an appreciable difference.

But here’s the thing. The Hurricanes are not trying to impress people such as me. What they’re trying to do under new owner Tom Dundon, who proved he’s not averse to taking risks when he underwrote something called the Alliance of American Football to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars (gulp), is create a culture where going to a Hurricanes game and watching them win is something to be celebrated. The fact that NHL veteran Justin Williams initiated the project and has gained buy-in from every player on the roster is pretty darned impressive indeed.

That has not quelled the criticism, though. Brian Burke hates it. So does Don Cherry, who was behind the “bunch of jerks” comment. Again, they’re not the Hurricanes’ demographic, so the team probably doesn’t really care. In fact, the Canes are wearing their status as outsiders like a badge of honor, as evidenced by their Twitter feed, which describes themselves as, “that bunch of jerks with the fun celebrations.” Whether it’s a Jose Bautista-like bat flip, players acting as bowling pins, doing the limbo under hockey sticks or Brock McGinn channeling his inner Thor, the fans seem to love it. And that’s all that matters.

Vince Lombardi, who opined that “when you go into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before,” probably would also think the Hurricanes are a bunch of jerks. But Vince Lombardi spent most of his career coaching a team that was wildly successful and basically just had to announce it was taking the field on a given Sunday afternoon and people would flock to their games in an age when entertainment choices were far more limited. He was also old school. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, or even expressing the sentiment that what the Hurricanes are doing isn’t exactly to your liking.

But think about it for a minute. Who or what exactly are the Carolina Hurricanes hurting? Does what they do after their games in their building in front of their fans have any bearing on the previous 60 minutes that has been played on the ice? Anyone care to tell Micheal Ferland (who, when this issue went to press, was still a member of the Hurricanes) that he’s any less of a tough customer because he takes part in an emotional post-game celebration? The integrity of the game is not being affected one iota here.

There are hills to die on in this game and this most definitely is not one of them. If the Canes and their post-game antics aren’t to your liking, that’s cool. But in the spectrum of the things that plague this game and relegate it to No. 4 among major North American pro team sports, this is not one of them. In fact, things like the Hurricanes and Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot, might actually be responsible for more progress on that front than anything that happens on the ice. The Hurricanes’ celebrations are a staple for all sports highlight shows, regardless of how much they pay attention to hockey. Gritty has been on all the late-night talk shows, was the answer to a question on Jeopardy! and was spoofed on Saturday Night Live, prompting Colin Jost to opine that Gritty is “actually the first mascot ever based on the drawings of a five-year-old who saw his parents murdered.”

Not exactly what the NHL might have hoped for, but when was the last time anything hockey-related received any kind of recognition like this outside the hockey world? The reality is that Shawn Tilger (who came up with the Gritty concept) and Justin Williams should be applauded for taking risks. And for forging on despite the backlash that is being directed their way from those who don’t approve. Perhaps it’s an indication that maybe, just maybe, the NHL’s old-school way of thinking is going by the wayside. The NHL likes to tell us its consumers are younger, wealthier and more tech-savvy than others in pro sports, so why not appeal to their sensibilities.

And really, it’s just a game. It’s supposed to be fun. That’s all the Hurricanes are doing here.

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