I was in college the year that it happened and I have to say that I too didn't really give much of a crap about the fact that we were getting a professional hockey team just a mere 70 minutes' drive from where I lived. It seems as though nobody cared really but this ended up in being a good thing for those of us that were at least willing to give it a shot and go see some games.
The year was 1997 and the Harford Whalers were moving to Raleigh, North Carolina and the team was being renamed the Hurricanes or "Canes" which was an appropriate name for the team seeing as how North Carolina is ravaged by actual hurricanes basically every year.
Apparently, the deal was rushed to move the team to Raleigh as it was previously expected that they were going to stay in Hartford until at least 1998 but something happened last minute involving the inability for Hartford to get any fans in the stands due to them being surrounded by much more popular markets of New York and Boston, who had and have very strong dedication to their teams.
All I knew about hockey I had learned from Playstation and my favorite team was the Boston Bruins but this was based solely upon their cool logo and the fact that Adam Sandler wore their jersey in Happy Gilmore.
Now the crazy thing about the first few years was that the arena that was being built for the Canes obviously couldn't be finished with the snap of the fingers, and North Carolina being North Carolina, indoor ice arenas aren't exactly something we have a bunch of. The only place they could play for their first 2 years was Greensboro, which isn't Raleigh (the Canes home and where they are based out of), is not a massively populated city, and the people of the city were upset with the move because it displaced their beloved Greensboro Monarchs hockey team. So the people of Raleigh were unwilling to drive 80 miles, and the people of Greensboro were protesting the team being there at all. Therefore, the 21,000 seat arena failed to attract even half the capacity of the stadium most games.
Believe it or not, this was actually the largest capacity stadium in the entire NHL at the time and after a season opening game attendance of 18,000, the numbers dwindled and to make matters worse, most of the games weren't even televised meaning that anyone who might be considering becoming a fan didn't have any access to the games unless they bought a ticket. Advertisers lost interest and the team was hemorrhaging money.
I didn't even go and see them until 2 years later when they moved to Raleigh and by then they were actually a pretty decent team that ended up making it to the playoffs. Where they lost in the first round to, ironically, the Bruins.
The following year attendance was still really bad. If you had $15 or $20 you could easily get a ticket in the cheap seats and then simply move closer to the ice and the stewards or security or whatever you call those guys, wouldn't even try to stop you. There was literally no reason to buy a high priced ticket.
We went to a few of the games and I gotta say, hockey is MUCH more interesting if you are there in person than it is on TV. Combine this with the fact that pro wrestling legend Ric Flair would regularly attend the games and the fact that his "Whoooo!" came on the big screens every time the canes scored a goal, and it was a pretty great way to spend $20 in an afternoon.
It wasn't until 2003/2004 season that the Canes were deemed really good and attendance increased to around capacity and it was also the year that they won the Stanley Cup. I hate to admit it, but North Carolinians are some fair weather ass fans because it seems like everyone was a Canes fan that year, but not before and when they failed to reclaim that glory the following year (and for many years afterwards) attendance dwindled yet again.
I will readily admit that I have attended very few games and I think I speak for most people in North Carolina when I say that this is unlikely to change for me. When you ask NC people about what sports they like to watch, hockey is probably just slightly higher on the list than soccer and frisbee-golf (it could actually be below frisbee-golf because frisbee-golf is awesome.)
I thought it was a bizarre move to bring a team here when we have a tremendous interest in basketball and football, and everything else people are pretty "meh" about. Combine this with the fact that the Canes home city has a population of a mere 500,000 or so and well, it's difficult to get people to care about the games unfortunately. I admit that I rarely even bother to read how they are doing. But I suppose the team owners had some grand plan in mind and perhaps I will go see a game post-Covid if I can scrounge up $20 to spare.
I suppose it was fun to be there at the start, but honestly, once the stadium starts needing expensive maintenance, it really wouldn't surprise me if they moved it somewhere else since it seems to be very difficult to pull off a profit here. I bet most of the population of North Carolina wouldn't even notice they were gone.