It is almost impossible now, more than two years later, to recall the sheer emotion associated with the Hurricanes' run to the Stanley Cup, how every moment seemed drenched in significance.
Some of that is natural, the product of being immersed in a playoff run -- it happens with every team that wins a playoff round or two. Fans, and to a lesser extent the media, can't help but be caught up in the drama. And after it's over, it fades. Soon, even the memory becomes sepia-tinged -- certain to provoke a smile, perhaps, from a fan reminiscing about better days, but without the stomach-dropping excitement and tension that lurked around every corner.
Today, the news of Julia Rowe's untimely passing brought it all back. The memory of Peter Laviolette sitting at the podium after the Game 7 win in the Eastern Conference finals with a bottle of wine signed by Rowe, destined for Rod Brind'Amour and designed to subtly give Buffalo coach Lindy "they had champagne on ice" Ruff his comeuppance, seems as fresh today as it did that night.
"When I first moved here to Raleigh 2 1/2 years ago, I became very friendly with her family," Laviolette said. "She made it through all of her chemo and went into remission and about three months ago she went back and she found out she had leukemia again. Her dad came over and gave me a bottle of wine. ...
"The wristband I have been wearing through the entire playoffs says 'relentless' and the bottle of wine that he brought up says 'relentless' and it went to the player tonight who best exemplified a relentless attitude and what makes it special is a little girl signed it.
"So anyway, Rod Brind'Amour will get this award tonight."
"Whatever It Takes" may have been the "official" motto of the Hurricanes' playoff run, but Laviolette's "relentless" wristbands and the Rowe family's gift of Shafer's "Relentless" wine offered as much if not far more inspiration. The Stanley Cup was won here by grown men fighting for each other, but also for a little girl whose fight had far higher stakes.
Quietly, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Eastern N.C. became the Hurricanes' unofficial charity of record. Trainer Pete Friesen raised more than $42,000 for LLS with his two 5K runs before the past two seasons. He was hoping Julia would be there next month as grand marshal of the third running. Instead, her presence will be felt in a different way.
For Laviolette, it was more than a crusade. It was a calling. His fund-raising for LLS wasn't charity. It was personal. When a Toronto Sun writer recklessly and shamefully ignored Laviolette's request to keep an update on Rowe's condition confidential last season, Laviolette was apoplectic. It wasn't so much that his wishes had been discarded, although hockey coaches don't take abrogations of their authority lightly. It was his heartfelt concern for a young girl who had become family and for her family, who he felt didn't need to be reading about her illness in a newspaper, here or elsewhere.
We can safely assume Laviolette is unhappy, even angry, that the news of her passing is public. He shouldn't be. Her public role in 2006 created a wide circle of well-wishers and supporters inside and outside the Triangle's hockey community who wanted nothing more than to see her make a full recovery, and who deserve the chance to join him in mourning a life that ended far too soon but leaves a legacy beyond its years.