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Mark Simmons of Raleigh, right, laughs with Tom Hentze of Oxford as they tailgate before the Carolina Hurricanes’ game against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena in Raleigh Wednesday, May 1, 2019. firstname.lastname@example.org
Skip Bealer marched down the sidewalk towards the doors of PNC arena with a hockey stick in hand, wrapped with a red 2006 Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup banner.
He wore a black Canes jersey, blue jean shorts, a black Canes cap and an intent look on his face as if he were going to battle. He was ready for Game 3 of the Carolina Hurricanes-New York Islanders series.
In 2011, Bealer and some friends were watching the Canes play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final game of the regular season. The Canes were one win from making the playoffs. So he and his friends made a bet. They bet him that if the Canes didn’t make the playoffs, he couldn’t cut his hair until the next time the Canes made it.
Confident that the Canes would win, Bealer gladly accepted the bet. But they lost, and didn’t get back until 2019. Bealer’s gray hair grew all the way down to his belt, he said.
Bealer showed off his newly shaved head to a reporter.
“It was unbelievable,” Bealer, 54, said. “Just being able to see these guys, actually exceed expectations. I mean nobody expected us to make it to the playoffs. Even myself, halfway through the season, I still couldn’t let myself believe, ‘Yeah, this could be the year’ until the last game of the season.“
The smell of hamburgers on the grill filled the air. Children played hockey with sticks and plastic balls in the parking lot, while their parents and grandparents sat and talked amongst friends.
A lot of fans tailgating in the parking lot feel the same way Bealer does, including Natalie Miller, 61, of Raleigh.
She sat in a lawn chair in the shade with friends and held a white sign that read, “Honk if you (love) hockey.”
As drivers passed by in the parking lot, they honked their horns.
When asked did she think the Canes would win on Wednesday, Miller said “Absolutely.”
The Stanley Cup?
“Absolutely,” she said.
The Canes are in a good position to do that. They need to win six more games to make it to the finals. The Canes currently have a 2-0 lead over the Islanders heading into Game 3 of the second round at home Wednesday. The Canes are undefeated at home in the playoffs as of Wednesday afternoon.
Bealer said it won’t matter if the Islanders come out angry after dropping two games at home.
“They are going to come out to a wall of sound,” Bealer said.
As Bealer walked away, other Canes fans complimented him on his flag. He acknowledged them and forged ahead through the doors of PNC Arena, with short hair, expecting never to grow his hair out again.