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Ultimate Standings 2009: No. 2

Last Year's Rank: 17
Title Track: 4
Ownership: 10
Coaching: 37
Players: 15
Fan Relations: 6
Affordability: 10
Stadium Experience: 4
Bang for the Buck: 3

Surprised that the Canes are an ice chip (.01 point) away from topping our list? Fans from this unconventional hockey market aren't. In fact, they ­embrace their underdog role, although references to Hartford South still rankle ("When was the last time you heard the Avalanche being referred to as the 'Nordique-Avs'?" complained a poster on canescountry.com). What doesn't rankle is the wallet- and fan-friendly Hurricane Experience. After all, what's better than an elite team that loves you back at a bargain-basement price? Not much. Even before this spring's playoff run, which included two Game 7 road wins, the Hurricanes offered an "Ice Your Price" plan that guaranteed a two-year freeze on season-ticket costs. As it was, the Canes' average ticket price of $38.38 was already fifth lowest in the NHL, and only one (the Blues) of the three teams with cheaper ducats made the playoffs. As for the requited love, PR chief Mike Sundheim says the team prides itself on making players accessible to the community. Practices at the RBC Center are open to the public, and weekend workouts draw hundreds of fans. Best of all, players stick around afterward to sign autographs. Even visitors are impressed by the Canes-Caniacs love affair. "They know that they are no longer a bandwagon mob," blogged one Bruins supporter who road-tripped to Canes country during Boston's unhappy conference semis, "and they want everyone to know it." Thanks to the team's showing in our Ultimate Standings, everybody does.