Don’t let Don Cherry watch the Washington Capitals play the Carolina Hurricanes twice this week. He might not like what he sees.
On Sunday, Cherry renewed his criticism of Evgeny Kuznetsov for performing his “birdman” celebration after scoring a goal — a celebration that’s become so popular among Capitals fans, the team is giving away Kuznetsov bobbleheads that feature him in the birdman pose at Tuesday’s game against Carolina.
Though Kuznetsov didn’t score Sunday, the 85-year-old Hockey Night in Canada host said the Capital was a “jerk” whose celebration “inspires the other team.”
But the Hurricanes have caught Cherry’s ire on a broader, team-wide scale. The Capitals’ Metropolitan Division rival has begun a new tradition of choreographed team rituals after victories they call “Storm Surge” celebrations.
The Hurricanes have played “Duck, Duck, Goose.” They’ve done the limbo. They’ve wheeled a basketball hoop onto the ice and dunked on it in honor of March Madness. Boxer Evander Holyfield guest-starred in one where he pretended to knock out a player.
In February, Cherry called the Hurricanes a “bunch of jerks” for the perceived slight against the sanctity of the sport. It’s become a flashpoint in the debate between hockey’s old guard and new wave of fans: Are the Hurricanes’ antics disrespectful or harmless fun for the fans in Raleigh, North Carolina?
Capitals players at Monday’s optional skate stopped short of saying what the Hurricanes should or shouldn’t do.
“Just like the White House stuff, everybody has a different opinion,” alternate captain Brooks Orpik said. “I think you should respect everyone’s opinions. If someone says they don’t like it, then that’s their opinion. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong. But if someone likes it, then good for them.”
“I guess they do whatever they want. It’s not something that I would like to do when we’re winning, I can tell you that,” Andre Burakovsky said. “But everyone got their own opinion and I’m not gonna comment.”
The feelings might be complicated by the Capitals’ relationship with Justin Williams, Carolina’s captain and the man who first came up with a “Storm Surge” idea. Williams played for the Capitals for two seasons in 2015-16 and 2016-17, but he is no ordinary former teammate; Washington players reportedly FaceTimed him around 4 a.m. the night after winning the Stanley Cup.
“We didn’t really have plans to make it this different and have people react the way they have, but it’s been good,” Williams told Canada’s TSN last month. “We’ve enjoyed it, we’ve had fun with it. I think the most important thing is we don’t take ourselves that serious, right? There’s a time to be serious and there’s a time to let your hair down every now and then.”
Fans in Raleigh, not a city with a long-standing or traditional hockey fan base, have embraced the “Storm Surge” celebrations and the “bunch of jerks” moniker now associated with it.
On the other hand, Kuznetsov — who was not at Monday’s optional skate — has said in the past he does the “birdman” celebration for one fan in particular: his daughter.
After playing host to the Hurricanes Tuesday, the Capitals see them again Thursday in Carolina.