Before he was thrown into the hockey mix, Javier Serna’s idea of a hooking penalty was getting caught by a game warden for exceeding his catch limit.
The man can fish. We knew that. As he once wrote of one of his trips, “Nelson would man a fishing rod, with a 2-ounce egg sinker in front of a 4-foot leader, essentially Carolina-rigging a thin Doctor Spoon.” I have no idea what it means, but it sounds impressive, and it’s only fair: I’m sure there was some hockey lingo in Javier’s early days on the beat that made about as much sense to him. And now that he’s got it all down, he’s leaving.
Because Sue Stock is some kind of deity to coupon-clippers, her departure from the N&O has garnered a bit more attention than her husband’s, but today is Javier’s last day as well, and we’ll miss him as much as the penny-pinching brigade will miss Sue.
In 2006, when Javier wrote about hurricanes, he wrote about stormwater runoff in north Raleigh. Three years later, he was at RDU in the wee hours of the night writing about the ritual midnight party as the Hurricanes returned from a big road playoff win, part of the N&O's team covering the team.
“Javi took a few road trips and did miss a game, in Minnesota,” N&O beat writer Chip Alexander said. “He said he was snowed in at O'Hare and couldn't get out. No rental cars. No sleds. But he gave it a good try. Javi always did that, regardless of the assignment.”
Since moving to the sports department from the North Raleigh News in 2007, Javier covered just about everything -- the Hurricanes; minor-league baseball; college soccer, golf, tennis, baseball, football and basketball; marathons and mixed martial arts; high-school sports and, recently, served as a one-man outdoors department.
A Chicago Blackhawks fan growing up, he had his first hockey byline in April 2008 and, after a full season as part of our hockey crew, was an essential part of our coverage of the Hurricanes’ run through the playoffs in 2009.
As inaugural seasons go, that one was pretty action-packed.
“It was exciting to get a glimpse into the lives of what are some of the most skilled and hardest-working athletes in the world,” Javier said. “I’ll never forget my first year on the beat, a season that claimed a coach's job and led to the Hurricanes adding an incredible chapter to their postseason history and reputation.
“I’ve never witnessed, firsthand, a more electric moment than Jussi Jokinen’s tip-in goal with fractions of a second left in the playoffs. And I’ll always remember one of the greatest goaltenders of our time smashing his paddle into pieces in one frustrated swing.”
His knowledge of Canada before joining the NHL beat was largely acquired by canoe. When Eric Staal's bachelor party in northern Minnesota went awry, he knew the resort in question. Since he’s moving back to the Midwest, he’ll be able to paddle by more frequently. His gain is our loss.
"At a time when everyone feels more pressure than ever to make every story count, Javi makes an impact in big and small ways, virtually every day," sports editor Steve Ruinsky said in an email to the staff. "But we’ll miss Javi even more for his sense of humor, his good nature and his passion for his work."