Carolina to host 2011 NHL All-Star game

By JOEDY McCREARY

AP Sports Writer

RALEIGH (AP) The NHL awarded

the 2011 All-Star game to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, coming

through on a pledge commissioner Gary Bettman once made to the

franchise.

“You have all been asking me for

years when the All-Star game was coming to Raleigh,” Bettman told a

crowd of about 1,000 Hurricanes fans who packed the RBC Center’s lawn.

“I did make a promise a number of years ago. So, today, I will fulfill

that promise.”

Next year’s game originally was to be

played in Phoenix, but when the Coyotes filed for bankruptcy, the

league re-opened its options. Bettman estimated that 14 teams applied

either to host All-Star games from 2011-13 or upcoming NHL drafts.

Telling the other franchises that

“your time will come,” Bettman said awarding the game to Carolina “is a

testimony to the strength of this franchise.”

Bettman credited the metropolitan

Raleigh area for making the improvements to the infrastructure and

taking care of several other questions the league had. He cited a

renovated airport terminal, a new 500,000-square-foot convention center

that opened in September 2008, and the addition of nearly 800 four- and

five-star hotel rooms in the past three years.

The commissioner also downplayed

concerns about the relatively quick turnaround time between the

announcement and the game. The area won’t have the luxury of a few

years of lead time to prepare for the game, which is set for Jan. 30,

2011.

Staging it in Raleigh “was never far

from our radar screen, and we didn’t have to, if you will, tax

ourselves with an All-Star game this past February, for obvious

reasons,” said Bettman, alluding to the Vancouver Olympics. “We’re

ready to go. … It was just a question of lining it up and saying,

‘Now’s the time.’ We think the time was right, the bid was right, the

promise needed to be fulfilled.”

In their 11 seasons since moving from Hartford, the Hurricanes have been no strangers to some of the league’s marquee events.

They played host to the 2004 NHL

draft, won the Stanley Cup in 2006, reached the Cup final in 2002 and

last year made their third appearance in the Eastern Conference final.

The rabid “Caniac” fan base has become famous for staging college

football-style tailgate parties before games, then making the arena one

of the loudest in the NHL.

“You’re known for doing your tailgating, and I’m pleased to give you an excuse to do some more,” Bettman said.

Scott Dupree, vice president for

sports marketing for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors

Bureau, estimated that the game will have an economic impact of $10

million to $20 million for the area. Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos

Jr. expects it to provide a jolt to the franchise’s season-ticket

numbers.

Carolina plays Montreal on Thursday

night in its home finale. Through 40 home games, the Hurricanes are

averaging 15,154 fans – on pace for their worst regular-season average

since the lockout – during a disappointing, injury-riddled season in

which the Hurricanes spent a few weeks as the NHL’s worst team and have

been eliminated from the playoff race.

“There has never been a time when we

didn’t need an All-Star game, and I think almost every other sports

team owner would tell you the same thing,” he said. “It’s very

important to us to build our season-ticket base, and this will help us

do it. But the franchise was doing very well without the All-Star

game.”

Count three-time All-Star Eric Staal

among those hoping to skate along with Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and

the rest of the league’s best players in a familiar environment.

“I want to make sure I’m having a

great start next season so I can be a part of it and get a loud ovation

in our building,” Staal said.

Updated April 8, 2010