On the surface, Raleigh is the unlikeliest hockey town in America.
Sure, the NHL's odd emphasis on American expansion has sent franchises to the southernmost point of sunny Florida and into the arid Arizonan desert, but at least Miami and Phoenix are "hip." The transition from roller blades to roller hockey to ice hockey is only a bit of a stretch.
But planting the puck among barbeques, tractor pulls, and decades of baseball, basketball, and football tradition in the hidebound heart of the muggy South? Now that's a big ol' leap of faith.
Against those odds, the Carolina Hurricanes have carved out a niche in North Carolina as one of the state's most unexpected sporting successes. Bringing a championship home in 2006 helped, but the game day experience at the RBC Center shines for more reasons than the lingering luster of Lord Stanley's Cup.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
It starts in the hallways, where you're greeted with the unmistakable smell of slow-cooked pork shoulders as soon as you step into the building. For seven bucks, a big pulled pile of this North Carolina staple on a bun is yours to devour. (Pro tip: Get one.)
Grabbing a beer to go along with your sandwich will run you $6-8 more, depending on how "thirsty" you are. The Locker Room bar on the concourse features local brews from Foothills Brewing in nearby Winston-Salem, missing only the Torch Pilsner that'd go great with the 'cue. (Pro tip: Still, get one""or two, or three...)
With two intermissions to stretch your legs, the odds are good that the cinnamon buns ($5) are going to call out to you on the concourse, too. It's possible to satisfy an average appetite for $10-12 here, but the $20 tab we've just discussed will have you chowing down like a Carolinian champ.
You want tradition? The RBC Center also houses North Carolina State's storied basketball program, which has put two NCAA championship banners and a handful of retired jersey numbers "" and legendary coach Jimmy Valvano's whistle "" in the rafters to go along with the Hurricanes' Stanley Cup season and other successes.
You want entertainment? Borrowing from football and basketball's familiar sideline shows, Carolina's Storm Squad (the NHL's first team of cheerleaders) entertains fans from the corners of the lower bowl.
You want something uniquely Southern? Three words: John Deere Zambonis.
There hasn't been time for the RBC Center to achieve the level of history that'd get a perfect score, but it's off to a great start.
Most places, you're crossing your fingers for a low crime rate in the venue's immediate vicinity and maybe a sight or two to see nearby. Sometimes, the surrounding area will be a happening place to be with an upbeat nightlife.
For a variety of reasons, the feel-good ideal for most folks is a nice college town. There's the well-groomed campuses, the youthful energy, and the capacity to throw down in epic fashion a few nights out of any given week.
Raleigh's that times three: State, Duke in nearby Durham, and UNC-Chapel Hill "" the Research Triangle along Tobacco Road in the middle of North Carolina. Whether you're hitting Shooters II in Durham, walking Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, or checking out the new developments along Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, you'll have no shortage of options outside of game time.
Outsiders might be tempted to hunt down a standout smokehouse in town to earn a "BBQ" merit badge for their trip, and search engines might point them to The Pit, a critically-acclaimed restaurant in Raleigh's downtown area. Unfortunately, the tasty grilled vegetables there don't quite make up for 'cue that looks and eats like warmed-over grocery store slop. Instead, hunt down another pork place on the region's list (maybe Allen & Son in Chapel Hill) and tell us how it goes!
In the hour before the puck dropped, the RBC Center's parking lot and seats looked like an unusually warm and sunny scene from Detroit. Whether the locals were tailgating or just taking their time, most of the jerseys were the visiting Red Wings' red and white and most of the talk was in an almost-Canadian Michigander accent.
As the countdown clock ticked down, though, the Carolina faithful trickled into the building, slowly but surely filling swaths of empty red seats and raising the crowd volume right up to the blaring warning sirens for the Hurricanes' intro.
Loud enough to drown out every attempt at "Let's Go Red Wings!" with "Let's Go Hurricanes!" during play, yet polite in the best "Pardon me" Southern manner in the hallways, these fans proved canny enough to hang with some of the NHL's best-traveling supporters as their team put a 3-0 whooping on the pride of Detroit.
There's plenty of parking around the stadium for $10, which is pretty much standard for this sort of event, and the post-game traffic is redirected out by cones in enough different directions to keep gridlock to an impressive minimum.
In this line on the report card, the absence of problem spots is noteworthy in itself.
For a league with an 82-game season, NHL tickets are pretty expensive. Landing a seat in the corner of the lower bowl cost $75, which was a bargain compared to seats nearer center ice. If each of these games is roughly one-fifth as important as an NFL game, you'd figure they'd cool it on the ticket prices a bit.
Nevertheless, professional hockey at the RBC Center is a great experience""well worth finding a night when your favorite team's coming to Raleigh, stowing away $100 for a good seat, a parking place, and some great food, and making the trip.
Again, John Deere Zambonis. That's one.
Stormy, the team's hairy pig mascot, almost costs them a point, but the cheerleaders he hangs out with earn another plus-one.
Lastly, we'll throw in another point for the tee-shirt and hat giveaways that clothed this neutral visitor in the home team's colors, even if the shirt required filling out a survey card for Chevrolet. Here's hoping whoever's living at my old college address doesn't mind the incoming junk mail.
Welcome to the RBC Center, home of the Carolina Hurricanes, North Carolina State Wolfpack, and 18,680 other screaming fans. Located just 10 minutes north of downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, the arena is well into its 11th season but still feels as new as ever. It's also been home to some incredible accomplishments over the years, including, most famously, the Hurricanes Stanley Cup title in June 2006.
The RBC Center still looks and seems like one of the newest arenas in the NHL. It's already housed hundreds of basketball and hockey games, concerts, rodeos, comedians, and even the NHL draft in the decade since its original opening in October 1999, but still shows no sign of wear and tear.
As they say, "every seat in the arena is the best seat in the arena", and that saying definitely holds true as soon as you enter the building. From the large glass windows lining much of the front, to the red-carpet second level, to the bathrooms that look more like they belong in a fancy New York City hotel, and even to the massive selection of concessions (ranging from Hardees to a built-in restaurant), the RBC Center is about as elegant as you can find for any sporting event, anywhere.
Over the years, Raleigh, normally thought of as a fast growing city known for its three nearby universities, has also become perhaps the largest hockey fanbase anywhere in the southern United States. After the franchise announced its relocation from Hartford, Connecticut in 1996, Raleigh began to prepare for their first professional sports team ever. After the RBC Center (originally named the ESA Arena) was finished in 1999 and the team stopped playing their games in nearby Greensboro, the city residents began warming up to hockey, and they've just gotten more and more dedicated with every passing season.
My visit involved quite an interesting and unusual setting, as although Raleigh is not known for having cold winters, the night before the game had brought seven inches of snow, two more inches of ice sealing in the snow, and had completely "paralyzed the town", as the visiting Hawks announcer quoted on the television broadcast. Despite fewer than 7,000 fans showing up for the game, and nearly a third of them seemingly Blackhawks fans, the game was still a great contest. A Carolina 4-2 victory ended up sending the â??Canes faithful into a frenzy and backing up traffic for the entire parking lot, but it was definitely an enjoyable game to attend and it most certainly wouldn't have been the same without the magic and glamour of the RBC Center.
3121 Edwards Mill Road
Raleigh, NC 27612
237 S Wilmington St
Raleigh, NC 27601
109 E Davie St
Raleigh, NC 27601
214 E Martin St
Raleigh, NC 27601
3908 Arrow Dr
Raleigh, NC 27612
1200 Hurricane Alley Way
Raleigh, NC 27607