The Charlotte Checkers future with coach Mark Morris: A teacher, mentor and development coach.

After Jeff Daniels was relieved of his coaching duties last spring, many anxiously awaited the name of his replacement. Mark Morris, who most recently served as an assistant for the Florida Panthers, was named by the Hurricanes last week as the Checkers new head coach.

Morris has been touted for his proven win record at the AHL level and as a leading coach in NCAA. The statistics I find even more impressive than winning percentage, however, is the ability to develop championship players at the AHL and NHL level.

Morris’ AHL coaching experience comes from the Manchester Monarchs, where he spent eight seasons, becoming the winningest coach in Manchester history. The Monarchs were a part of the LA Kings organization (the club is moving to Ontario, California next season to become the Reign). During Morris’ tenure in Manchester, many of his players graduated to the NHL and won two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 (with the potential for more in the future.) A few of Morris’ former players in Manchester who won championships with the Kings include:

Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, Martin Jones, Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Jonathan Quick, Tyler Toffoli, Slava Voynov, and Kevin Westgarth

Last month, the Monarchs won the AHL’s Calder Cup, and while Morris was no longer the coach in Manchester, his fingerprints are all over the 2015 championship (just like they are on the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cups) through the players he spent eight seasons developing.

During Morris’ tenure in Manchester, the NHL club changed coaches a number of times. From Morris’ winning record with the Monarchs, it’s shows that he was able to adapt to new coaching styles from the parent club, and continue to develop players in the vision of the Kings organization. Earlier today, Morris affirmed it would be a continuing trend. “We’re going to play Carolina’s systems, there’s no doubt about that.”

When asked about his experience with Manchester, Coach Morris was very candid.

“Winning is hard. You just can’t flick a switch. It takes time. You’ve got to work on fundamentals of the game. There’s no secret to it other than the fact that you have to be thorough,” Morris said. “Without good players, it’s hard to make it happen, but you can take players that perhaps don’t have the confidence and pull them up and raise them to another level. You have to keep people accountable and responsible and make them realize that, in the end, it’s how hard they play for one another. We can wish winning to happen, but in the end good teams win because they play hard for each other.”

Now – a more personal explanation of why I’m excited about Morris’ upcoming debut in Charlotte. I was born in L.A. I’m a Kings fan, through and through, so clearly, I like seeing someone with ties to that organization come to Charlotte. But more than that, when I look at the past five or six seasons in the Kings organization at both the AHL and NHL levels, I see a pattern of success and growth. A winning NHL team doesn’t always equal a winning AHL team, or vice versa. With the way many teams develop prospects, often the NHL team may struggle while the AHL thrives with young talent on their way up. The reverse of course, can also be true, but during Morris’ time in Manchester, both the AHL and NHL squads in the Kings organization were thriving, despite being thousands of miles apart.

Morris is a development coach. It’s something I believe the Checkers has lacked over the past five seasons. Morris is a teacher, a mentor, a true young man’s coach. From his days in the NCAA and AHL, he has learned how to work with young players.

“What I’ve learned over time is that people develop at different rates. You can never count a kid out,” Morris said, “Sometimes you may think a guy’s career has a ceiling, but I’ve learned over time that you just have to be patient as an organization, specifically as a coach. “

Can this be something in the Checkers future? I believe so. With the continued strong relationship between Charlotte and Raleigh and a new vision from Coach Morris, the future looks bright.

“The important part is creating that expectation that we’re going to win,” Morris said, “We expect to win and we’ll find ways to make that happen. There’s no shortcuts.”

I can’t wait until November 7… can you?

AHL Realignment and the Charlotte Checkers, Part V.

In their fifth major realignment related move in their six seasons in Charlotte, the Checkers will be joining the brand-new Central Division of the western conference for the 2015-16 season.

The American Hockey League is changing from a six-division league to a four-division league that mimics the National Hockey League. The Checkers Central Division rivals include the Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Wolves (from their 2011-12 season in the Midwest Division), the Iowa Wild (from the past two seasons in the West Division. The Grand Rapids Griffins, who has been a part of the Midwest Division since the Checkers vacated, also join the Central Division, along with the Lake Erie Monsters. The Manitoba Moose, who return to the AHL after a four year hiatus, will be the eighth and final team in the Checkers Midwest Central Division.

So… who are the NHL squads affiliated with the Checkers new division rivals?

  • The Nashville Predators are the parent team of the Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee, like Charlotte, is a city filled with great craft beer. It’s a city passionate about their hockey team, and I’m already tentatively planning another roadtrip there to sample their hops… I mean, hockey!
  • The IceHogs of Rockford, Illinois is the birthplace of my favorite NASCAR cheater crew chief Chad Knaus, and home of the famed Rockford Peaches of A League of their Own. Their parent club is the Chicago Blackhawks, ranked number 30 on my personal list of favorite NHL teams.
  • The Manitoba Moose of Winter Winnipeg is home to both the NHL and AHL teams. The Jets and Moose will share an arena in the 2015-16 season and beyond.
  • The Chicago Wolves are currently the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. Their arena is one of the loudest in the AHL, but they have never played in Bojangles Coliseum, and I’m certain the Checkers will be taking over the “loudest” honors this year.
  • The Lake Erie Monsters have a new NHL affiliate, and that’s the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Monsters arena in Cleveland is the easiest drive for Checkers fans, a mere seven hours north on I-77. I forsee a visit by yours truly there in the near future. (Plus, Cleveland is another great beer city, and home of the incredible Great Lakes Brewing Co.).
  • The Iowa Wild of Des Moines are affiliated with the Minnesota Wild. I think it’s a travesty that they chose the name the “Wild” instead of adopting the past hockey team name of the “Chops” in honor of the hog farming industry of Iowa. Iowa is not known for it’s beer, but the corn fields likely provide many of the adjunct grains required for good farmhouse ales.
  • The Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins are located a little over two hours apart. The Griffins share their hometown with Founders Brewing, who make a number of outstanding beers. Grand Rapids is just north of one of my favorite breweries in the land, Bells.

With the departure of the Manchester Monarchs, Norfolk Admirals and Worcester Sharks to California, three teams from the Western Conference were able to move East. Though many speculated Checkers would be one of them, all three teams are (barely) further east then Charlotte. The Rochester Americans (who the Checkers have still never played, despite sharing a conference for four years), Utica Comets and Toronto Marlies all join the Eastern Conference in 2015.

What does another division realignment mean for the Checkers as far as the schedule go? Likely, not much will change due to their new division mates. The biggest difference Checkers fans will notice is the lack of Oklahoma City and Norfolk on the travel schedule. These two teams represented approximately one-third of the Checkers games over the past two seasons, and both teams were bought and subsequently moved to California. Travel to Manitoba will be the most challenging for the Checkers, but at only 1600 miles, it’s only a bit more than half as far as Abbotsford, British Columbia, who the Checkers spent a season with as division rivals.

So, Checkers fans: What do you think of the latest AHL alignment? Is there a division you would have rather seen them in? What about the AHL’s decision to go from six to four divisions? There’s lots to think and talk about!

#CheckersComeHome: The chance to make history

When I think about the Checkers move home to Bojangles Coliseum, one wish continues to come to mind, and that’s a reconnection with history.  The Checkers aren’t a team that simply arrived in Charlotte in 2010.  They also aren’t a team that moved to TWCA in 2005 after 13 years at Bojangles that began in 1993 with the ECHL (even though the Charlotte Business Journal alludes to that being the only history the Checkers have at Bojangles Coliseum).

The Charlotte Checkers are a team that has spanned decades in Charlotte. My parents attended games on dates when they were high school and college sweethearts.  I attended my first pro hockey game there when I was in high school. The Checkers roots run deep at Bojangles Coliseum, and I know the current organization embraces this beyond the simple(yet eloquent!) “Checkers Come Home” phrase. The leagues and franchises have changed, but Charlotte hockey teams have won five championships over the course of the past 60 years.

The first Charlotte Hockey team, the Charlotte Clippers, were the Eastern Hockey League Champions in 1957, in their first full season in Charlotte.  After changing their name to the Charlotte Checkers in 1960, the franchise went on to win championships in 1970 and again in 1972. After moving to the Southern Hockey League in 1973, the Checkers won the championship in 1975 and 1976. Unfortunately, the following season was cut short when the league folded, and it wasn’t until 1993 that Charlotte had a professional hockey team again.

My dream for Bojangles Coliseum is to see five championship banners hanging from the rafters, or at least prominently inside the rink, because each of the five championships Charlotte has are significant, even if they aren’t from the current AHL era.  Having visited a number of AHL arenas, I’ve seen teams that embrace their history of past leagues and championships. I hope the Checkers show off their history, because they have a rich and storied one.

The logos and leagues have changed, but pride in the Milwaukee Admirals remains. (Photo: J. Propst)

The logos and leagues have changed, but pride in the Milwaukee Admirals remains. (Photo: J. Propst)

When I visited Milwaukee for the first time for an Admirals game, I was struck by the history in the building. Hanging prominently in the rafters of an arena shared with an NBA team, hung banners touting the USHL, IHL and AHL championships Milwaukee Admirals franchises have won over the year. Different leagues. Different levels of competitive hockey, but they all shared one beloved name in Milwaukee, and that’s the Admirals.

 

Retired jerseys and championship banners, from three different leagues worth of Milwaukee Admirals. (Photo: J. Propst)

Retired jerseys and championship banners, from three different leagues worth of Milwaukee Admirals. (Photo: J. Propst)

I then traveled to Chicago, and Peoria, and saw the same thing. Cities and teams proud of their history, of their hockey teams, even when they changed leagues.

I’ve always been a bit jealous of that history, or at least, the cities that not only embrace the history, but flaunt it.  And Charlotte has a hockey history that deserves to be flaunted. We have a rich and storied hockey past that at 59 years and counting, is something to be proud of.

So my dream is to walk into Bojangles Coliseum next fall and see banners in the rafters proclaiming the awesome feats that Checkers over the decades have accomplished. I want to see EHL and SHL Championship Banners.  A banner proclaiming the Charlotte Checkers as the Kelly Cup Champions.

Checkers fans have a lot to look forward to next season when the team moves home.  I’m excited about the old and new traditions that the building will facilitate.

January 30, 2016 is the 60th Anniversary of the first professional hockey game in Charlotte (and one of the grand opening events at BoCo?) Now that’s a date to celebrate and I hope it’s a great one.

 

 

So, what are your wishes for the 2015-16 season, and the Checkers return to Bojangles?

 

Checkers announce reduced prices for 2015-16 season tickets

Editors note: Before I ramble about ticket prices, what a game last night! I haven’t seen the Checkers play that well since, well, mid January or maybe even mid December. They were defensively responsible. Offensive (in a good way!). They controlled the puck in all three zones. It was a great hockey game to watch. #LetsGoCheckers

Every time the Checkers announce something else regarding the big move (home) to Bojangles Coliseum, I become more eager for the 2015-16 season to be here.

Today, the Checkers released prices for their season ticket plans at the good old barn, and as expected (or hoped for, at least), they are a savings on the current prices at TWCA, though the savings come mostly to the tickets in the higher price brackets.

For a 76 game season, the new prices look good. If the AHL decides to reduce the number of games, the new prices may not seem as impressive, but AHL President Dave Andrews has said he doesn’t think the owners are supportive of reducing the schedule any more.

2014-15 2015-16 Savings
Glass $1500 $1368 $132
Platinum $950 $798 $152
Rinkside $1102 $950 $152
Gold $722 $655 $67
Attack Zone $570 $456 $114
Corner/Balcony $399 $380 $19

My chart doesn’t include the price of “12-man boxes,” which has been added to the hockey ticket menu for 2015-16.  12-man boxes, Checkers?  Really?  How about:  12-person boxes. 12-seat boxes. 12-fan boxes. The possibilities are endless, and most of them don’t require terms that exclude half of the potential fanbase (myself included!) There had to be a way to fit one more character in that chart. (Stepping off my soapbox now).

2015prices

Now… about parking:

According to a recent piece by the Charlotte Business Journal, parking at Bojangles Coliseum will be $10 per car, which is twice the cost of the average parking deck uptown for a hockey game, and for people like me who usually get validated by visiting Queen City Q or Brixx for a drink, this is astronomically higher.  The minimum of $190 extra for parking (based on a $5 increase per game, for 36 games) makes the reduced ticket prices seem less significant, especially since none of the tickets were reduced by $190 each. For every positive there is about the Checkers moving to Bojangles, the parking situation is the part I am most frustrated with. The parking lot there is big, old, poorly maintained, and there are no options for fans to use outside of paying the city the astronomical fee of $10 for a minor league hockey game.

Speaking of that piece by the Charlotte Business Journal, part of the money coming from the city to upfit Bojangles for the Checkers is being given back to the Charlotte Hornets, to pay them for the used dasher boards that currently reside in TWCA.  Seriously, Hornets? By losing the Checkers, y’all are going to make much more money in concert and special event revenue, do you really need $140,000 for used hockey equipment? Makes me happy I’ve never bought a ticket to a Hornets game, and certain I never will.

So, what are you looking forward to the most about Bojangles Coliesum? I have an answer, but will save that for a separate piece.

Charlotte Checkers lose 4-1 to Chicago Wolves: The good, the bad and the ugly

The Good:

  • Chad LaRose has points in seven of his last nine games. As the sole goal scorer for Charlotte tonight, he continues to lead the team with 26 points (13g, 13a).
  • The Checkers pink jerseys, socks and helmets looked amazing. They are probably my favorite of the five years of AHL Pink in the Rink uniforms
  • The Checkers sell-out was the highest attended game of the season. Way to go to the Checkers sales team for selling so many tickets to a game that benefits so many great organizations.
  • Jason Bast, who was signed by the Checkers to a PTO on Thursday, scored his first AHL point, in his fourth AHL game this season (he played two with Bridgeport earlier this season). Bast, who has taken an unconventional route to the AHL, has been tearing up the ECHL as a rookie member of the Idaho Steelheads following five seasons in the WHL with Moose Jaw and then four years as a student at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Canadian universities don’t have the same restrictions that NCAA schools do regarding Major Junior being a “professional” league. Bast is a speedy, skilled centerman who was a lot of fun to watch, and will hopefully create the offensive spark the Checkers so desperately need.
  • Tonight is (possibly) the last time Checkers fans will have to see a terrible loss to the Chicago Wolves, or at least, as regularly as they have come the past four seasons the Checkers have been in the same conference as Chicago. Rumors have Charlotte moving back to the Eastern Conference in 2015-16, where they began their tenure as an AHL franchise in 2010.

The Bad:

  • Charlotte lost 4-1, for the second night in a row, to the Chicago Wolves.
  • The Checkers allowed seven power play opportunities for the Wolves. Chicago was successful on two of these, including a 5-on-3.
  • After the game, Coach Jeff Daniels confirmed that Zach Boychuk was a healthy scratch for the Checkers tonight. He has played 13 games for the Checkers this season, having spent most of the first half with the Carolina Hurricanes. He is the Checkers franchise leading goal scorer, with 106 to his credit over the course of five seasons.

The Ugly:

  • The Checkers lost their fourth game in a row following the AHL All-Star break in late January. Following the Christmas break in December, the Checkers also lost four games in a row after a strong month leading up to the break. Coach Jeff Daniels recognized the pattern of the Checkers faltering a bit following breaks. “It’s a trend. It’s a concern. Both times we’ve come off a break we haven’t been sharp. We’ve forgotten how to work.”
  • With another loss for the Iowa Wild, the Charlotte Checkers still sit two points out of last place in the American Hockey League.

The AHL and western expansion: What does the future hold?

The AHL is bound to be a very different league next season, with as many as four teams moving west to a time zone that currently doesn’t have a single AHL squad.

The chips are falling, one by one, and soon the AHL will have their coveted “Pacific Division”… teams that will mostly be based in California, and will be closer to their NHL affiliate.

Most NHL teams will state they desire to have their AHL squads closer to home. It enables them to have easier call ups (Zach Boychuk can probably drive up I-85 to Raleigh with a blindfold on) and allow them to monitor their development, but the close by model is one that doesn’t always work. Charlotte has had success as an AHL franchise since 2010. Thanks to a dedicated front office, a strong fan base and consistent ticket sales, the Checkers seem to have found a home here, and the upcoming move home to Bojangles Coliseum only solidifies that.

The Checkers move (three miles east, to BoCo) shows a long term commitment to the city of Charlotte and its hockey fans, which is comforting to see when so many AHL clubs are being ripped from their homes and moved to California. The Checkers have found success where other franchises far away from the overly saturated AHL north east, despite a tough travel schedule thanks in part to being a member of the Western Conference but also because their closest AHL team is the Eastern Conference team of Norfolk, 325 miles and over five hours away. For the past five seasons, the Checkers have played the Admirals an average of 10-12 games per season, and the same can be said for the Oklahoma Barons, who have been the Checkers most common Western Conference opponent for the past four seasons. Next year, both of these rivals will be in southern California, and become cornerstones of the new AHL Pacific division.

Oklahoma City already announced the Barons will cease operations at the end of the 2014-15 season.  The Barons have been the Checkers most frequent opponent over the past four season, and they will (likely, unconfirmed but as the old magic eight ball says, all signs point to YES) play in Bakersfield, replacing the current ECHL squad there that the Oilers own. As of right now, there are no plans for another team to replace the Barons, which is quite the blow to the loyal fans in OKC. Neal & Co. at Tend the Farm have had great coverage of the move, and it’s worth a read for more in-depth information.

The Norfolk Admirals have been trying to deny a move for weeks, with facebook posts promising that they are staying, yet nobody was buying it.  Yesterday, Ken Young, the owner of the Admirals said in an interview that he had been forced to sell his team to the Anaheim Ducks.  You can read more about it here, but it’s a pretty sad story.  In a nutshell, since the Ducks want their team close, the only way to have that happen is to buy an AHL franchise (much Michael Kahn did to bring the River Rats to Charlotte in 2010.. the difference there was that Albany was ultimately able to keep an AHL team, albeit with a different NHL affiliate, but at least they kept the high caliber of hockey the fans of Albany were used to.

The good news for Norfolk is the Admirals have a replacement ECHL team that will relocate from California to Norfolk next season.  The Oilers plan to move the Bakersfield Condors to Norfolk, who no longer need an ECHL team in SoCal since they will have their AHL squad instead. It is rumored that the Ducks AHL team will be located in San Diego, leaving a vacancy in Stockton for another potential AHL move.

Another domino that’s recently fallen in the Pacific division is the news a couple of days ago that the Worcester Sharks would be moving to San Jose, California and will share a building with their parent club.  No word on what the AHL team will be called, since having two teams named the Sharks in one city and one building would be confusing.  If it was my team, I think I’d name them the Minnows, in honor of my favorite pool game “Sharks and Minnows” from summer camp.

The third NHL team in California is, of course, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. Their AHL affiliate is the Manchester Monarchs, who the Checkers haven’t faced since their inaugural season in 2010-11.  The Monarchs are owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the same group who owns an ECHL team in California.  The Ontario Reign have had great success in the ECHL, breaking attendance records and would have no trouble continuing that should they get promoted to the AHL next season.

So, what other Western Conference teams might be affected by the TBA Pacific Division of the AHL? Only time will tell, but here are a few facts and figures:

  • The Utica Comets are owned by the Vancouver Canucks. It’s their second full season in New York, and they are hosting the AHL All Star Game next week. While it seems easy to consider the Comets moving west since they are owned by their NHL club, they signed a lengthy lease and spent a lot of cash on arena improvements in Utica, so only time will tell if the Canucks decide moving their prospects closer to home is worth the broken contracts and expense.
  • The Arizona Coyotes’ AHL team is the Portland Pirates. Last year, the Coyotes purchased a the Arizona Sundogs, a CHL team in Prescott, AZ, but decided to cease operations, though rumors have them joining the ECHL in 2015. They are a team that would obviously like to have their prospects closer than Maine.
  • The Colorado Avalanche also purchased a CHL team last year, and like the Coyotes, decided to cease operations in August, prior to the start of the CHL season. Rumors continue to circulate that the Denver Cutthroats could resume operations in 2015-16 as a member of the ECHL or AHL. Currently, the Avalanche’s AHL squad is the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, OH.
  • The Calgary Flames have said they want their AHL squad closer, and there may be an opening in Stockton, CA. It must be noted, however, that their attempt to have an AHL team close by in Abbotsford failed due to lack of fan support and a brutal travel schedule (remember last season, folks, when they were in the same division as Charlotte…) The Flames are playing their first season in Glen Falls, NY after moving their AHL Flames from Abbotsford following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Glen Falls has a three-year contract (they are in year one) with the Calgary Flames, but contracts are easily broken.
  • Albany, which has been the home of the New Jersey Devils AHL squad since the Hurricanes left in 2010, is in the final year of a five-year contract.
  • The Winnipeg Jets, who own the St. John’s Ice Caps, are planning to move the team to Thunder Bay, ON. Despite being in a time zone of their own and traveling more miles than any other team in the AHL, the IceCaps have had great success since they moved to St. John’s in 2011. Sell out crowds and a consistent winning record are just a couple of examples of this.  While it’s not as far west as California, Thunder Bay is about 2000 miles from St. John’s, and almost as far from every AHL team in the league as St. John’s is.

So… what does all of this mean for Charlotte? Only time will tell.

It is certain that Norfolk and Oklahoma City are gone, and in those two teams are 20-24 of the Checkers 76 games each season. Another realignment will have to happen in the AHL, since three to four eastern conference teams are leaving for California, and St. John’s is probably moving west to Thunder Bay. This makes rooms for “Eastern” Western Conference teams like Charlotte, Toronto, Hamilton and Rochester to potentially move conferences, though changing conferences won’t necessarily improve travel for the Checkers. Many I’ve spoken to with the Checkers have told me the Western conference travel is much nicer than the bus runs the Checkers used to make in the north east.

The AHL Board of Governors meet this weekend in Utica, so we will likely know something sooner than later.

Despite return of three veterans, Charlotte Checkers fall 4-1 to Toronto Marlies

In a disappointing loss for the home team, the Charlotte Checkers lost to the Toronto Marlies in a game that was much closer than the 4-1 final score may allude to. Toronto had goals from Josh Leivo, Connor Brown, Carter Ashton and an empty netter by Viktor Loov, late in the final minutes of the game.

The Checkers lone goal came from Zach Boychuk,  his 104th goal of his career in Charlotte, and tied the all-time lead with Chris Terry.

The Marlies have earned at least one point in each of their last ten games, including tonight’s defeat of the Checkers. Thanks to their recent play, Toronto has climbed from near the bottom of the standings to playoff contention.

Tonight’s game saw the return of Checkers veteran Zach Boychuk and Captain Michal Jordan, who both have had extensive call-ups with the Carolina Hurricanes and returned to the Checkers lineup while on the recent Midwest division roadtrip.

Coach Jeff Daniels recognized the contributions Jordan makes to his Checkers team.

“It’s huge. It takes some pressure off the other guys,” Daniels said, “[Jordan] plays in all situations against top lines.  He’s a leader on this team and well-respected in that locker room and a guy who can slow things down out there and make the right play.”

Drew MacIntyre, who faced his former Marlie teammates for the first time since signing with the Carolina Hurricanes organization over the summer, reflected on what having veterans like Zach Boychuk and Michal Jordan mean to a struggling Checkers team.

“It’s a huge addition. Chucky scored tonight. It’s no secret we’ve had a lot of trouble scoring goals, to get a guy like that’s gonna help a lot,” MacIntyre said,  “MJ, like I said, he’s poised. We need him.

With exactly half of the season ahead for the Checkers 38 games played, 38 remain), I’m going with a glass half-full attitude, and believe that the home team can turn things around just as the Marlies have in their past month of play.

Charlotte Checkers 5-2 defeat of the Texas Stars a game of firsts

Only 18 hours after a disappointing loss to the Texas Stars, the Charlotte Checkers came out in the first period on Sunday afternoon with greater energy, physicality and speed after a dismal showing against the same Texas team on Saturday night.

Sunday’s game was also a game of firsts: The first win of what the team hopes will be a winning streak, the first win of 2015, the first goal of the season for Keegan Lowe, and Patrick Brown’s first professional goal.

Patrick Brown’s first professional goal came early in the second period, a flukey deflected shot that went in over Texas Stars goaltender Jussi Rynnas’ glove.

Justin Shugg, who leads the team with 12 goals, had one goal and two assists in only his 23rd appearance on the season.

Alex Aleardi, who played last night in Greenville, SC for the Florida Everblades and arrived on an emergency recall late after his game there, scored an unassisted goal in the second period, his third in the season. It was his 14th game for Charlotte, and he now has six points in the season (3g, 3a)

Kyle Hagel, whose early fight set the tone for toughness, was very candid after the game, still wearing a bloodied jersey with visible cuts on his hands and face. “When I look at our team, I really don’t see us  a losing team. Because almost every single game that we lose it’s by one goal, or it’s a late comeback in the third period.” Hagel continued, “I think we’re a lot better team than our win/loss record and it felt good to get rewarded.”

Drew MacIntyre was in typical #MACnificent form, and played his first game of the new year after spending his holiday break playing for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup. He stopped 26 shots, and allowed only two goals in the game.

In goal for Texas at the top of the game was the team’s number one netminder, Jussi Rynnas, who allowed four goals during the first two periods of play. With the way Charlotte was putting pressure on him and shooting the puck, any goalie would have been challenged. He was replaced in the third period by Jack Campbell, a fourth year pro who has struggled a bit this season, though that didn’t show during his single period of play. He stopped all nine shots he faced, and had a strong period despite coming in relatively cold.

Patrick Brown, who scored his first professional goal, seemed optimistic about the momentum of a win like today.  “We’ve got to keep this up,” Brown said, “We can’t just win one and lose one then lose another and then win one.  We’ve got to keep wining and rack up some points and start making a climb in the standings.”

Carolina Panthers win, Charlotte Checkers lose: That sums up Charlotte sports today

I only go to about one Panthers game a year, and this season, it ended up being tonight.  Admittedly, I’m not much of a football fan, but my love of sports and sports fan always sucks me into a game, and today was no exception. The energy at the stadium was electric (despite the rainy, cloud-filled day!), but nothing compares to a good hockey game! I love the speed, the athleticism of the skaters, the excitement of a one goal game and of course, the fact it’s played on a sheet of ice.

That being said, I missed the majority of the Checkers game, so I can’t write a fair recap of the event.  I will, instead, jot down some brief observations, and a few great quotes the coach and players shared after the game.

  • I guess I should start by stating that the Charlotte Checkers lost at home to the Texas Stars 4-1. The Checkers led after the first two periods, but Texas took advantage in the third and scored four (including an empty netter) to decimate the home team.
  • The third period was a tough one to watch as a Checkers fan. Before the holiday break, the Checkers were playing some of the best hockey of their season. They took home five of eight points in the week before Christmas, and beat teams much better than they are (according to the standings, anyway). Tonight’s third period was pretty sloppy. They mishandled the puck, couldn’t control the play, and were just the lesser team on the ice.
  • This was John Muse’s fourth start in a row. Checkers regular Drew MacIntyre spent his holiday break playing for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup, but Muse was confident coming into this stretch. “You know, we practice every day, so it’s not like you sit on the bench and do nothing in between starts,” Muse said, “We both are out there every day doing specific drills to get us ready for when we do play.”
  • Tonight was the first time I’d seen Austin Levi skate in about a year. He’s spent the majority of this season in California, playing for the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL. He got a lot of ice time, and I was impressed with his play after such a long absence from Charlotte. He’s filled out a lot over the past year, and seemed much more confident than the last time he skated for the Checkers.  Coach Jeff Daniels reflected on Levi’s play, “It’s a bit of an adjustment coming in at this level to adapt to the speed.  He [Levi] skates well, he’s a big body. He’s trying to use the body, be physical out there,” Daniels continues, “He’s got good reach. It’s just a matter of making harder plays, faster plays, and reading the situation.”
  • The Checkers, who after an impressing stretch in December had climbed a few spots in the standings, are now tied for 30th place with the Iowa Wild.

Despite Drew MacIntyre’s Mr. Miyagi like glove saves, Checkers lose in the shootout to San Antonio

In a game that saw the two most experienced goaltenders to ever play for the Checkers face each other, it was a pretty uneventful matchup until a huge hit by Trevor Carrick led to a pair of fights that changed the momentum of the game for the Checkers.

Checkers rookie Dennis Robertson took on the Rampage’s Garrett Wilson while Kyle Hagel fought Connor Brickley.

Hagel, who as of tonight, took over as the AHL leader in major penalties, was impressed with the physical play of his rookie teammates.

“Dennis Robertson gets in there and just gets the meat tenderizer on that guys face,” Hagel said, “I loved it.”

With momentum and the hometown crowd on the side of the Checkers, a few minutes latelr, Jared Staal fed the puck to Trevor Carrick, who scored a game tying goal, his first as a pro.

Late in the period, Chad LaRose scored his second goal in two nights, and the team’s second power play in as many nights as well.

San Antonio pulled Dan Ellis, and with 17 seconds to go, the Rampage were able to tie the game.

Overtime, as it always seems to be, was a nail biting experience.  Rasmus Rissanen was charged with a tripping penalty, and the Checkers excellent penalty kill combined with Drew MacIntyre’s quick glove kept the home team in the game.

The Checkers and Rampage ended up going into an eight-round shootout, with both goalies stopping nearly every shot.  Finally, Alex Petrovik, the Rampage’s eighth skater, got a puck passed MacIntyre, and the Checkers walked away with a single point.

Charlotte faces San Antonio again on Sunday afternoon.