Nothing could be finer

When the Hartford Whalers headed south and became the Carolina Hurricanes, they played their first two seasons in the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. There weren't too many fans back then, so the team reached out to the community. They played music by The Zambonis. They lowered ticket prices. They even brought in NASCAR's Richard Petty.

One of the easiest ways to connect, we quickly found out, was making the team readily accessible after every home game to get autographs. Fans, collectors and, yes, dealers, could gather inside the players' entrance. Nearly every player, save for Ron Francis or Glen Wesley, stopped and signed. In fact, that's how I got started as a serious collector. It was too easy.

Ten years later, the Hurricanes have changed. The team now plays before sold-out crowds in Raleigh. The fans, rednecks or not, are knowledgeable. And, then there's that little thing called winning the Stanley Cup.

Thankfully, the one thing that hasn't changed is the accessibility of the players. At day's end, and taking part in hounding before the morning skate (with Colin) and game time (Lisa joined us), we added another 63 autographs to our collection, including 10 pucks, an 8x10 from Cam Ward, an Eric Staal T-shirt and, as always, Colin's team sheet.

Granted, some players didn't sign (Tim Gleason, Andrew Ladd and Glen Wesley come to mind), but the stars, including Rod Brind'Amour, Staal and Ward, more than made up for that.

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