RALEIGH — Roy Cooper would love to tell you “Oh!” about how busy the beginning of his tenure has been, but the Carolina Hurricanes are under siege “Oh Lord ...” and can’t seem to get it out of their own zone “Arrrrgh!” and the newly elected governor of North Carolina can’t finish a sentence without an interjection “Not good ...” as he writhes in his seat in agony.
If you’re going to try to have a conversation with Cooper, the middle of a hockey game is not the time to do it.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs eventually score, Cooper puts his hands on top of the glass wall at the front of his PNC Arena suite and hangs his head between his arms because, deep down, he knew the entire time they would, just like every other fan in the building.
And that is, beyond a doubt, what North Carolina’s new governor is: A huge fan, and not only of his alma mater, UNC, but the Hurricanes.
There are, in general, three kinds of Hurricanes fans: Those who grew up in the north and abandoned previous allegiances when the Hurricanes arrived; those who grew up here but are young enough not to remember a time when the Triangle didn’t have a hockey team; and those North Carolina natives who were generally unfamiliar with hockey but gravitated toward the game once they were exposed to it.
Cooper is one of the latter.
“I didn’t even go when they were in Greensboro, but went to my first game in here in Raleigh, and I was hooked from the first game,” Cooper said, during a break in play. “…I was so impressed with the speed and the ferociousness of the game; I’m still amazed that these guys play 82 games like a basketball season when it’s more like a football game.”
Last Sunday’s game against the Maple Leafs was only the second Cooper has been able to see in person since taking office, and his basketball schedule has been limited to fewer games than he was able to attend as attorney general.
It’s ironic sports has become a big part of his job. Even before taking office, Cooper worked with the NBA and NCAA on the December attempt to repeal House Bill 2 that failed when the Republican caucus declined to bring the negotiated bill to the floor. Now, he tells sports organizations and businesses that his election was a repudiation of HB2 by the people of North Carolina, but that won’t stop the NCAA from pulling six years of events from the state, which is happening imminently — and the 2019 and 2020 ACC basketball tournaments, scheduled for Charlotte and Greensboro respectively, aren’t far behind.
“It’s hard to believe that they will let this happen,” Cooper said. “I’m working it as hard as I can work it and doing everything that I can. It’s important that whatever solution we have eliminates discrimination and works, i.e. it has to bring back everybody.”
A hockey game is a chance to get away from all that — talking about trades and prospects, about the lamented end of the black alternate jerseys as the NHL switches uniform suppliers, about the possibility of someday traveling with the team on the road. Cooper is telling another story when the Maple Leafs score again. From his suite at the other end of the ice, it’s hard to tell just how tremendous Auston Matthews’ goal actually was.
“Oh man, how did that go in?” Cooper said. “How. Did. That. Go. In. Was that five hole?”
Cooper sighed. “Oh, boy,” he said, deflated, and the state’s Caniac in Chief went home that night as disappointed as his constituents.