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Hurricanes, Local Officials Hope Success Of NHL Draft Leads To Bigger Future Events

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Though the National Hockey League draft was just two days long, its effects could linger for years.

Raleigh was the center of the hockey world over the weekend. The NHL draft was at the center of Raleigh's ongoing strategy to host future major events, including an NHL All-Star Game.

The draft drew more than 15,000 fans to the RBC Center -- the league's largest turnout in more than a decade. With the crowds came the money -- Early estimates indicate $3.6 million dollars was injected into the local economy.

Across the street from the arena, Damon's Grill cooked the register with three straight days of brisk business.

The draft may be just an appetizer.

Carolina Hurricanes President Jim Rutherford is lobbying NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for a chance to host an All-Star Game, which is a week-long event.

Rutherford said the two-day attendance total and the fans' obvious enthusiam, seen throughout the Triangle, sent a powerful message to those in the NHL who have had their doubts about hockey being a money-maker in this area.

"Gary Bettman has made a commitment to this market for an all-star game," Rutherford said. "This is just antother step toward it, and certainly how things went this weekend will help us. But there are conditions."

Those conditions include building the new convention center in downtown Raleigh and building more hotels that are closer to the RBC Center. Over the weekend, NHL personnel had to shuttle back and forth from the Sheraton Imperial, more than 10 minutes from the arena.

Right now, the closest hotel to the arena is the Comfort Suites. NHL representatives said they need larger, higher-end accomodations for an All-Star Game. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker reportedly told Bettman that plans are in the works to build three new hotels in the area.

If the pieces fall into place, a Carolina Hurricanes representative told WRAL the Triangle would be ready to host an All-Star Game as early as 2008.

Fanfare has not always surrounded the draft.

Until the 1980 draft in Montreal, the event was closed to the public. That year, only 2,500 people turned out to watch. Compare that to the last two years, with more than 13,000 fans on hand in Nashville in 2003 and the 15,000 here.

Next year, the draft returns to Canada, with the Ottawa Senators as host.

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