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OTF Travel Diary: Raleigh

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I’m 0 for 1 in road games. :(

So I decided it was time for a road trip.

Not only did I need to get out of Nashville for a few days, I figured it was about time OTF’s Travel Diary had a new chapter. In the past, fellow OTFers have visited Tampa, St. Louis, and Columbus, and it looked like a blast. You should check out those episodes, if you haven’t already.

But I needed to visit somewhere new. This was tricky. Lord knows I wasn’t going to Chicago. And I didn’t have the resources to go on an extended vacay to the West Coast. I considered a drive down to Sunrise, FL to see the Preds take on the Florida Panthers, but the travel arrangements in early January were difficult for my schedule.

So I ended up going to Raleigh, North Carolina to see the Preds play the Hurricanes this past Saturday. It was my first ever NHL game outside of Bridgestone Arena and it was a neat experience.

The Trip

While I do not mind a longer drive—after all, what’s a road trip without a solid 8 hours in the car?—this particular drive was even longer than I anticipated.

Here’s the best route, in case you are interested in driving it yourself someday.

You just take I-40 all the way to Raleigh. The most enjoyable part of the trip is the cut through Great Smoky Mountain National Park, between Knoxville and Asheville. It’s beautiful, really.

The least enjoyable part of the trip was the traffic. A trip that should have taken about 8.5 hours took closer to 10 because of construction, car accidents, March Madness, and general Friday afternoon getaway volume.

Still, it wasn’t an awful drive. A few long-winded podcasts and I was there.

The City

Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, is roughly two-thirds the size of Nashville in population. It’s conveniently designed with a couple interstate bypasses (I-440 and I-540) that circumvent the city. They give a nice berth to the city, but still leave it fairly accessible.

There’s lots to do in downtown Raleigh, as I found out Saturday afternoon. I planned for a two-hour jaunt in the downtown area, but ended up spending around four hours ducking into a museums, meandering the main streets and tasting the local flavors.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is a free museum that is definitely worth a visit. You can learn all about the formation of the major rifts during the Triassic period! Neat!

But if museums aren’t your thing, there’s plenty else to walk around and see. I took a nice walk all through the downtown area... I probably covered 20 city blocks in a couple hours.

This is looking north on Fayetteville Street towards the Convention Center and PNC Bank tower. This was a nice stretch of downtown that reminded me of Nashville. The Gulch meets Demonbreun, sorta.

Just north of this is the State Capitol and the Bicentennial Mall.

It’s not as cool as Nashville’s, but it’s decent.

Anyway, downtown Raleigh is a nice way to spend a few hours if you’ve got nothing better to do. Parking is very easy (at least it was on a Saturday) and it took me seven minutes to get in and out from my hotel in north Raleigh.

The Arena

PNC Arena is located a few miles west of downtown in a sprawling sports complex that is the permanent home of anything NC State. Though as I mentioned earlier I have not been to any other NHL venues outside of Bridgstone Arena, I would imagine that PNC Arena is unique in that it is decidedly nested in a college sports atmosphere.

From the South Entrance of the arena, you are pretty much in the shadow of Carter-Finley Stadium, home to the NC State Wolfpack football team.

The massive parking lots are no doubt teeming with tailgaters in the fall, but on this day they were huddled around the ticket boxes of PNC, hoping to get a glimpse of Viktor Arvidsson.

Continuing this theme of borrowed collegiate athletics venues, PNC also hosts the NC State basketball teams. You can see some of their many banners in this picture here.

The concourse is maybe a bit cramped. There’s not a ton of room to move about between periods. But this fits the pattern of behavior you’ll see at the games. During intermission, most people just get up quickly, hit the restroom, grab their concessions, and return to their seat. Not a lot of just “standing around” and chatting. Further, there isn’t as much of a “cocktail hour” feel as there is in some areas of the Bridgestone Arena. It’s pretty much just down to business. We came here to watch a game, so that’s what we are gonna do.

I respect that.

My particular seat had very little leg room, but it was a decent price and I didn’t find I had anything to complain about.

The Concessions

I already ate prior to the game, but I did check out some Carolina BBQ while at the arena. Pulled pork BBQ sandwich with some... sauce?

I really didn’t know what was going on here, so I just used my intuition.

There were some other tempting edibles scattered throughout the arena, but I’d already had my fill of BBQ and didn’t need any more lb’s while sitting in a cramped seat (again, I’m not complaining, it was just a reality).

The Game

Well, the good team lost 4-2, so that stunk. But it was still enjoyable to experience a hockey game with a new group of people who have their own set of expectations and preferences.

The overwhelming majority of the people in attendance were families with their children and young-ish couples. None of them were inebriated, none of them were shouting angrily, none of them were vulgar, and none of them were rude. The general attitude wasn’t “Hey, our hockey team is under-performing and is unacceptably out of a playoff spot, get mad!” it was “Hey look! Our hockey team!”

This was so refreshing to be around. Seriously, I loved it. When the Hurricanes scored, they cheered. When the Predators scored, they shook their heads in brief disappointment and returned to their popcorn. When Eddie Lack made one of his 27 saves, they pronounced excited confidence in their goalie, despite his .898 save percentage. And when Elias Lindholm potted home the empty netter with 26 seconds left to seal the game for the home team, they rejoiced appropriately.

Maybe it’s who I sit near at Predators games, maybe it’s just the crowd I was around on Saturday, or maybe it’s the calming influence of having a Stanley Cup banner hanging in your building, but I hear more complaining and anger at Bridgestone Arena in 30 seconds than I did for three hours at PNC Arena.

So, in closing, I’d like to give a shout out to those fans in Raleigh who are just happy sports fans. They don’t need wins to make them happy, even though that’s what they got on Saturday.

Also, shout out to this dino: