Erik Cole’s impending return to the RBC Center with the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday should mark one of the few times Carolina Hurricanes fans have had a real chance to salute one of their departed favorites.
Ron Francis, Arturs Irbe and Glen Wesley, just to name a few, were traded elsewhere but never played against the Hurricanes in Raleigh. A few returned to abuse — Keith Primeau tops that list — and a few to acclaim, like Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward when they returned with the New York Rangers less than five months after winning the Stanley Cup with the Canes.
Put it all together, and you get Tuesday’s Top Five: The top five Hurricanes homecomings.
5. Sean Burke, March 30, 1998. Burke was on his second team since the Hurricanes traded him in January, but he was just happy to be anywhere but Greensboro. Back there for the first time, playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, he stopped 31 shots in a 3-1 win that helped keep the Canes out of the playoffs.
“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel really good right now,” Burke said.
Burke was supposed to be the foundation of the team when the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina, but he lasted less than four months after a contract dispute and his arrest on assault charges.
4. Paul Maurice, Dec. 15, 2006. On the third anniversary of his firing as coach of the Hurricanes, Maurice returned to Raleigh as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs — arguably, the pinnacle of the NHL coaching profession — with former two former Canes, Bates Battaglia and Jeff O’Neill, on his bench.
Although Maurice would never get the Leafs to the playoffs in two seasons in Toronto, he walked away with a 4-3 win and extended Carolina’s losing streak to five games.
3. Sandis Ozolinsh, Jan. 25, 2002. Nine days after he was traded to the Florida Panthers — in a deal that would, by bringing in Bret Hedican and Kevyn Adams, help the Hurricanes win the Eastern Conference — Ozolinsh needed only 25 seconds to score against his former team at the RBC Center and rarely left the ice after that, playing more than 35 minutes.
He nearly had the winning goal with four seconds to play in overtime — the game finished a 1-1 tie — but was stopped by his old friend, former teammate and Latvian countryman Irbe. “That would have been too much,” Ozolinsh said.
2. Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman, March 16, 2008. The return of the two Stanley Cup stalwarts with the Ottawa Senators was notable not for what they did — Stillman had an assist and Commodore five hits — but for what the players who came the other way in the trade did to their former team.
Patrick Eaves shook off a shoulder injury to score his first goal for the Hurricanes seven minutes into the game, and Joe Corvo did the rest. Corvo, mercilessly maligned in Ottawa, recorded the first hat trick of his career in a 5-1 Carolina win.
1. Keith Primeau, April 2, 2000. The name of the arena has changed, but the boos that greeted Primeau that Sunday are still echoing around the rafters.
With four games to go in the regular season, and the Hurricanes battling (in vain) for a playoff spot, Primeau visited the RBC Center for the first time since his holdout forced a January trade to the Flyers for Rod Brind’Amour.
Primeau was held without a shot in a 1-0 Carolina win, a key moment for the franchise in its first season in Raleigh — the first time fans united against a common enemy.