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Personnel file - March 2008: sports

Jim Rutherford, General Manager
Carolina Hurricanes, Raleigh

Professional athletes don’t work all that hard. So says Jim Rutherford, and he would know. He played 13 seasons as an NHL goalie and is wrapping up his 14th year as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes and its predecessor. “As a professional athlete, you work about seven to eight months a year and a couple of hours a day,” he says.

The business world came as a shock when Rutherford, who turns 59 this month, moved from tending goal to managing the Detroit youth hockey program started by computer entrepreneur Pete Karmanos. When Karmanos bought the Hartford Whalers NHL franchise in 1994, he made Rutherford its general manager. “In business, you’re working all the time, sometimes 12 to 15 hours a day on certain projects.”

The effort paid off. It not only kept him employed in pro hockey but also helped the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup in 2006. He and Karmanos thus proved that their wintry sport could thrive in a place where college basketball remains the secular religion. That outcome wasn’t assured when they moved the then-ailing team from Connecticut to North Carolina in 1997. Skeptics doubted that Tar Heels would warm up to a game played on ice. “I thought it was the opposite,” Rutherford, Canadian by birth, recalls. “We have such great universities here. In basketball, you’d always be competing with that. With hockey, you don’t make those comparisons. We felt that we had a niche.”

Fans have turned out, but gushers of money haven’t followed. The privately held team claims — as pro franchises tend to — that it has trouble breaking even. It didn’t turn a profit until that championship season. “You see us drawing big crowds, and you see the advertising. But it’s a very expensive business to run a professional team.”