Flyers vs. Hurricanes
Tracking the Storm

Guy Behind the Guy: The Secret Weapon

Tuesday, 04.21.2009 / 10:10 AM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Mike Sundheim
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Guy Behind the Guy: The Secret Weapon
My very first business trip with the Hurricanes began in late August 2000. Fresh out of college, I had been hired to an entry-level position with the team in media relations, the department I had recently completed two years of internships with. My first travel assignment was to spend a week in Kitchener, Ont., at the team’s rookie camp, a four-team tournament at the home of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers.

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That morning, I flew up to Toronto with Jim Rutherford, a few other hockey staffers and a couple of the rookies who had come to Raleigh before going to Canada for the camp. Among those I rode with from the airport to Kitchener was a big defenseman from Sweden named Niclas Wallin. Mr. Rutherford had traded up on day two of the draft that summer to get Wallin, who had several years of professional experience already under his belt in Sweden. I remember having a pretty basic conversation with Nicky in the van before our arrival in Kitchener, but what I learned about him in the van was about all I knew about him personally before we arrived at the hotel in Kitchener.

I learned a little more about Wallin as a person later that day in the hotel. Upon our arrival, I basically had to spend the rest of the day in the hotel lobby. I needed to sit there and wait for the rest of our rookies to arrive individually, so I could give them their per diem and itineraries and answer any other questions they may have. A number of them were driving to Kitchener because they lived in the province, or they were arriving on various later flights into Toronto.

It was a pretty long day, with our own travel and then the long wait in the lobby. A few hours into my lobby time, Wallin came back through on his way to dinner. He was surprised to see me still sitting there, and asked me if I had eaten at all. In fact, I hadn’t, and I was pretty famished, but I couldn’t leave my post until the last player arrived. He said he would be right back. About 15 minutes later, the Swede returned with a big pizza and some paper plates. And we had ourselves a little pizza party right there in the hotel lobby, waiting for the final arrival.

That’s pretty much Niclas Wallin. He had known me for less than a day, but saw me sitting there in the lobby and thought to bring me some dinner. It was a glimpse into what the Hurricanes had in store for them over the next decade: a selfless team player who gives all of himself to his team on and off the ice, and is loved by his teammates. There may be no player who enjoys playing for the Carolina Hurricanes more than Niclas Wallin, and I honestly believe he has absolutely no interest in playing for any other organization in the NHL. He is a Hurricanes lifer.

There were other future Hurricanes at that rookie camp that summer, including Erik Cole, Josef Vasicek and Jaroslav Svoboda, but none of them have played more games wearing the Canes crest than Wallin. In fact, Glen Wesley is the only defenseman with more games in a Carolina sweater than the big Swede, who has played 470 regular-season and 54 playoff games for the Hurricanes. Wallin’s most well-known accomplishments are his three playoff, overtime, game-winning goals (anyone else gasp when Wallin wound up and fired a slapshot a few minutes into overtime on Tuesday night?), for which John Forslund gave him the nickname, “The Secret Weapon.” And Wallin added to his own playoff overtime legend through Tim Gleason’s overtime winner the other night in Jersey, following the infamous “blessing” of Gleason’s stick. But where Nicky has consistently shined through the years is in his every day grit: the little blocked shots and hits that helped his teams get to two Stanley Cup Finals and win a Cup. At no time of year are those factors more evident than this time of year.

Which is why yesterday, during our media access, I made Wallin speak to the cameras. It’s not something he enjoys doing, or something I ask him to do often. But the media wanted a defenseman to talk to about the challenges of stopping Parise and company. And despite his hesitations, Nicky gave thoughtful, honest answers about the difficulties facing the blueline corps against the Devils forecheck. (You can see the entire interview here on WRALSportsfan.com, which also has extended interviews of Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Tuomo Ruutu, Ryan Bayda and Paul Maurice from yesterday’s media access session). John Forslund even ribbed him a little afterwards, telling him he has “come a long way from that first one in Montreal” (His walk-off interview after his game-winner in the “Miracle at Molson”).

From an interview perspective, he sure has. But when it comes to being rock-solid, he’s been there all along. As I found out eight-and-a-half years ago in a hotel lobby in Kitchener.

Media Alert: Charlotte’s “Primetime with the Packman” will pay its first visit to the RBC Center for hockey this evening. Hosted by Mark Packer, Primetime will broadcast live from the Backyard Bistro (which is now open in the space that used to be Damon’s, across the street from the RBC Center), between 3-7 p.m. Ric Flair will be among Packman’s guests, and the show airs in Raleigh on 620 The Bull. The hosts will come across the street to witness playoff hockey Carolina-style when the puck drops at 7:30.

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