I thought I would try something new and decided on this new notes package, Category 5. In it, you will find a handful of notes, quotes, numbers and facts on the Carolina Hurricanes. I’ll try and do one every other week or so — or more often if needed — depending on what interesting items I have to share. So here we go.
Category 1: Rod Brind’Amour said goalie Curtis McElhinney will get a few days off after his knee “flared up again,” leaving Petr Mrazek to man the net for the Hurricanes while Alex Nedeljkovic will serve as the No. 2. Mrazek last started Sunday afternoon against Nashville, a 6-3 Carolina win.
That pushed Mrazek’s record against the Predators to 7-0-0 in his career. I asked Hurricanes goalie coach Mike Bales during that game if Mrazek’s history of success against Nashville played a role in him earning the start that day. He said no, that’s it’s maybe 10th on his list of things he considers when offering the rest of the coaching staff his recommendation.
Regardless, it ended in a win. Mrazek likely gets the call again tonight — we’ll find out after the morning skate — and it just so happens it’s another opponent the Czech goalie has been historically good against. In eight appearance against the Senators, Mrazek is 6-0-2 with a .926 save percentage and 2.31 goals-against average.
Category 2: Speaking of Mrazek, I asked him Dec. 21 ahead of the Whalers Night home game how he breaks in new pads, since he was trying out his green and blue kit at practice.
“I like it straight from the box,” Mrazek said. “I like the stuff when it’s brand new. It’s soft, even the gloves and pads.”
That also led to insight into Mrazek’s gameday tendencies.
“I like to use pads often. Gloves — I don’t think many people know, I’m switching after every period,” he said. “After warmup, after first, after second, sometimes for overtime as well. I like to have it dry and soft.”
I told Mrazek that’s the opposite of what former Hurricanes goalie Arturs Irbe, who played parts of six seasons in Raleigh, was known for.
“We were joking with Bobby (Gorman, one of Carolina’s equipment managers), I have probably more gear than Irbe had in his career here in Carolina,” Mrazek said.
I asked Gorman’s fellow equipment manager Skip Cunningham — who has been with the franchise since the New England Whalers were formed in 1972 — on Thursday if it’s unusual for a goalie to switch gloves that often, and he said the team has had a few goalies who would switch gloves that frequently.
And compared to Irbe, who was known for constantly mending his old, tattered pads?
“Irbe’s not a good basis for comparison,” Cunningham said, laughing.
Category 3: Charlotte Checkers coach Mike Vellucci will run the Atlantic Division bench at the AHL All-Star Classic weekend in Springfield, Mass., on Jan. 27-28. Vellucci, who will be joined by Checkers players Janne Kuokkanen and Trevor Carrick, has guided Charlotte to a 30-9-3 record through 42 games, good for 63 points — by far the most points in the AHL.
Success isn’t a stranger to Vellucci. The 131st pick in the 1984 draft by — you guessed it — the Hartford Whalers, Vellucci’s professional playing career lasted until he joined the Peter Karmanos-owned Detroit Compuware Ambassadors of the second-tier junior league the North American Hockey League in the mid-1990s, winning a title in 1999.
He was then with Karmanos’ Plymouth Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League, serving as coach, general manager or both from 2001 to 2014, winning an OHL title — and becoming the first American coach to be named the league’s coach of the year — in 2007.
He won coach of the year again in 2013 and added executive of the year to his trophy case that season. With Karmanos set to sell Plymouth — the team was relocated across the state to Flint, Mich. — Vellucci took an assistant GM job with the Hurricanes under former GM Ron Francis starting in 2014.
Then, with the Checkers cycling through three coaches in three years, Vellucci agreed prior to last season to take the Checkers job to bring stability to the position while retaining his title as assistant general manager for the Hurricanes. He led Charlotte to the second round of the AHL playoffs after a 46-26-4 season, and he was a candidate to replace Bill Peters as Hurricanes coach before Brind’Amour was given the job.
Despite several call-ups to Raleigh, the 51-year-old Vellucci still has the Checkers mowing down the competition.
“Mike’s done a tremendous job,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said Monday. “He did a great job last year, got them in the playoffs. And I think this year, even when we keep calling guys up — we’ve taken (Greg) McKegg and (Clark) Bishop and Saku (Maenalanen) — and haven’t really replaced any of those guys, they continue to find ways to win hockey games. So I think Mike’s doing a very good job there.”
During the season, Vellucci steps back from his AGM role to focus on Charlotte, but he was in town for team meetings this week and still has a voice in Carolina’s decision-making.
While Vellucci has clearly always enjoyed both coaching and management, he could certainly have options as an NHL head coach given his experience and success.
Waddell said the Hurricanes wouldn’t stand in his way if that opportunity came.
“Just like players moving from the AHL to the NHL, we know players, coaches, managers — everybody’s got an ambition to be at the highest level possible,” Waddell said. “And we’re never going to hold anybody back from those kind of opportunities. I’ve never held anybody back through all my years of my career. So if that happens, it’s a positive for the person, It’s a positive for the organization.”
Category 4: Waddell made his third big trade since taking over as GM this offseason, landing Nino Niederreiter from Minnesota in exchange for struggling center Victor Rask. It was a rare transaction between the two teams.
The last time the Minnesota and Carolina were both involved in a roster move was when the Wild plucked forward Patrick O’Sullivan off waivers from the Hurricanes back in 2010.
O’Sullivan played 21 games with the Wild, scoring just one goal and adding six assists, before he was demoted to AHL Houston. He jumped to the Coyotes the next season, playing his final 23 NHL games in 2011-12 before spending the balance of that year in the AHL and then eight games the following season for HIFL Helsinki in Finland.
To find the last time the Hurricanes and Wild made a trade, you have to go way back to the 2001 trade deadline. The Hurricanes acquired veteran winger Scott Pellerin from the Wild in exchange for Askhat Rakhmatulin (move aside, newcomer Nino and McKegg — this guy might have the best name affiliated with the Hurricanes since the relocation), a 2001 third-round pick (became Garth Murray, picked 79th) and a 2002 conditional pick (became fifth-round pick Armands Berzins).
Pellerin didn’t do much with Carolina, but neither did the assets the Hurricanes sent to the Wild. Pellerin ended up with five assists in 19 regular season games with Carolina, then had no points in the team’s six-game exit to the Devils in the first round of the playoffs.
He signed a two-year deal with Boston that offseason, but he was waived and claimed by Dallas, then traded to the Coyotes (along with a pick) for Claude Lemieux. He rejoined St. Louis, where he started his career, in 2003-04, but played just two more NHL games. After his trade to Carolina, he managed just five goals and 19 assists in 102 games with five teams.
As for the players who went to Minnesota, Murray played 116 NHL games (none with the Wild) and had eight goals and two assists to go with 131 PIMs, while Rakhmatulin and Berzins — both Latvian — never made it higher than the ECHL in North America.
Ahead of the Wild joining the NHL in 2000, they selected defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn from Carolina in the expansion draft — the only other transaction between the two franchises.
Category 5: Niederreiter, who will make his Hurricanes debut tonight, will wear No. 21 — the 10th player in franchise history and seventh since the team’s relocation to North Carolina.
Three Whalers — Blaine Stoughton, Sylvain Cote and Andrew Cassells — wore No. 21 in Hartford. The first to wear it for the Hurricanes was Francis, who took No. 21 because Gary Roberts was wearing Francis’ preferred No. 10. When Roberts signed with the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2010, Francis switched to No. 10 — which now hangs in the rafters at PNC Arena.
Others to wear No. 21: Josh Holden played eight games with Carolina in 2001; David Tanabe wore it briefly in 2003 while wearing No. 45 both before and after that during his two stints in Raleigh; journeyman Drayson Bowman wore it in parts of five seasons with the Hurricanes from 2010-14; James Wisniewski played his memorable 47 seconds in red and black wearing No. 21 in 2015; and lastly, Lee Stempniak wore the number from 2016-18.