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This Month in Penguins History: Carolina Loses First Franchise Home Game to Pittsburgh

Hard to believe it was only 21 years ago that Carolina hockey was shiny and new, right? Well, it didn’t take long for Pittsburgh to have something to say about the new kids on the block.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty-one years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins had earned two Stanley Cups, Eddie Olczyk and Jaromir Jagr were leading the Penguins’ roster, and SB Nation was still eight years away from making a debut on the Internet. The former Hartford Whalers also made their debut as the newly rebranded Carolina Hurricanes 21 years ago.

The Hurricanes lost their first game of the season on the road to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and were looking for a solid win in their first franchise home game on October 3, 1997. Unfortunately, the Penguins put a very abrupt end to that hope and with a staggering number of penalty minutes and fights to show for it.

The first period was nothing short of a firecracker, or more accurately, multiple firecrackers being set off at once. The scoreboard was still tied at 0-0 just seven minutes into the first period when the first fight broke out. Six players were involved in the scuffle and all received two minutes for roughing, save for Carolina’s Enrico Ciccone, whom received 10 minutes for misconduct. Thanks to the kind souls of the Internet, the entire broadcast of this game lives on YouTube. You can check out the fight, starting at 16:20 of the video, below:

This wasn’t the only fight of the period. Three more broke out before the first intermission and the largest scuffle happened at 15:49 with six more players dropping the gloves. Two game misconducts of 10 minutes apiece were awarded to Steve Chiasson (Carolina) and Alex Hicks (Pittsburgh). The fight broke out seconds after Carolina equalized off of Nelson Emerson’s goal on the man advantage. Six players dove into one another in front of the Pittsburgh net in something that looked more like a frenzy from the Mighty Ducks movies than an actual hockey game:

Kudos to that poor referee who tried (in vain) to break up four of the players.

At the end of the first period, the score was tied 1-1 and a total of 93 penalty minutes had been handed out with Carolina owning 63 of those minutes. While Major League Baseball is affectionately referred to as “The Show”, this game makes a convincing case for the NHL also earning that nickname. The crowed of 18,661 in attendance at Greensboro Coliseum definitely got their money’s worth from this hockey game.

This excerpt from The News & Observer contains a beautiful understatement of how contentious that game truly was:

The announced attendance was 18,661, and Maurice called the atmosphere “fantastic,” although the Canes were beaten 4-3 by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Canes forward Nelson Emerson was bloodied in a fight but returned to the game and later said, “It’s a tough sport and things just got a little out of control.”

“A little out of control”, eh? Sure, the game’s total PIM of 115 pales when compared to the mind-boggling 233 PIM from the Islanders-Penguins game in 1982, but it’s still quite a bit more than just “a little” out of control.

The second period was decidedly quieter than the first with only eight penalty minutes being awarded. However, Pittsburgh scored three of their four goals in the second period. Olczyk dazzled Sean Burke to sneak one across the goal line at 15:31 to put the Penguins up 4-1:

Ron Francis and Tyler Wright recorded the other goals of the period. The three-goal deficit proved too much to handle for the struggling Hurricanes. Despite scoring two goals early in the third period, they couldn’t notch a winning goal or even a tying one. They lost their first franchise home game 4-3 against a dominant Penguins roster.

While these are just some of the highlights from a truly breathtaking game, I highly encouraging making some popcorn and watching the entirety of the broadcast (linked above). If you grew up with nineties hockey, the game will give you a massive case of the “feels”, but also remind us all just how far hockey broadcasts, hockey equipment, and commentating have come. And if you’re wondering what kind of advertisements were shown during a 1997 hockey game, look no further than this video. Happy watching!