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.

Checkers play another Admirals team, lose in OT.

It only took 25 seconds for Justin Shugg to score the first goal of the game against Norfolk’s goaltender Yann Danis. It was Shugg’s 50th career AHL goal, and his seventh in just 12 games after starting the season injured. Despite missing eight games, he is still second on the team in goals scored this season.

Coach Jeff Daniels has been emphasizing the Checkers need to play a full 60 minutes of hockey every game, and they nearly did that.  Charlotte led for over 58 minutes of the game, but it wasn’t enough, because in less than two minutes, late in the third period, and two quick goals by Nic Kerdiles , the harder-working Norfolk Admirals were able to tie up the score and take the game into overtime. (Kerdiles, by the way, was credited with 11 SOG for Norfolk)

John Muse faced 50 shots by the Admirals, but it was the final one, with 7.8 seconds to go in overtime, that got the win for Norfolk.  The Checkers were outshot 44-18 in regulation and only got two shots off during the nearly seven minutes of overtime.

Charlotte had five power play opportunities, but were unsuccessful scoring on any of them.

“We got two timely goals, but other than that we didn’t create much offense,” Daniels said, “The power play was awful. They outworked us and they deserved the win.”

  • The point Charlotte earned in the OT loss at home was the fifth point in the past four days.
  • The Checkers have gotten seven points (out of eight) in their past four games against (both) Admirals teams at home.
  • The Checkers will face a team named something OTHER than the Admirals on Saturday night at home.

Thanks to #MACnificent play by Drew MacIntyre, Checkers win back-to-back games against Milwaukee Admirals

On this final day of Thanksgiving weekend, I’m grateful for many things, but especially a second Checkers win in a row, and the piece of leftover pumpkin pie I’m enjoying while I write.

Pumpkin pie is delicious. I'm thankful for this and a second Thanksgiving weekend Checkers win.

Pumpkin pie is delicious. I’m thankful for this and a second Thanksgiving weekend Checkers win.

With a goal by Justin Shugg, the Checkers 3-2 shootout victory over the Milwaukee Admirals led to their first back to back wins of the 2014-15 season, thanks to stellar goaltending from first star Drew MacIntyre, who I gave the hashtag #MACnificent to following another outstanding performance.

The game was full of firsts for the Checkers.  It was their first win of the season after trailing at the end of the first period, their first trip to the shootout, and their first back-to-back wins.

The Checkers, who reached overtime for only the third time this season, faced the three-on-three portion for the first time. A new rule in 2014 saw OT being lengthened to a seven minute period, with the first four minutes being 4-on-4 and the final three 3-on-3 hockey. The formula for what skaters to play was constantly changing between two defensemen and one forward, or two forwards and one defenseman.

“It’s exciting. It’s crazy on the bench. You’re trying to see f you want to go two D or two forwards.  It was our first experience with it but for me, it’s exciting,” Daniels continued, “We won the game in a shootout, but I’d rather see the game won four-on-four or three on three.”

Beau Schmitz, who was back in the lineup for his second game in a row after sitting out since October 25, saw a lot of ice time during the afternoon matchup, and contributed an assst on AJ Jenks game-tying goal in the third period.  His perspective on Justin Shugg’s recent play, and game-winning shootout goal is one shared by Checkers players and fans a like.

“He’s [Shugg] been playing great. He’s a benefit to have back in the lineup. Goal scoring and getting pucks out.”

(Editors note: Shugg was standing nearby when this was said, and even after Shugg chirped Schmitz a bit, Beau stayed positive, so it must be true!)

Schmitz, like all of the Checkers players, experienced three-on-three OT hockey for the first time in his career.

“It’s a bit different. It’s exciting,” Schmitz said, “I haven’t even watched something like that before.”

Drew MacIntyre, who stopped all five of the shots he faced in extra time and then perfect in the shootout, had an intense seven minutes of overtime, including the first minute that left the Checkers short handed to a late third period penalty by AJ Jenks.

“It’s not ideal, not good for the old heart,” MacIntyre sad with a smile, “It was a good test for us. Our PK wasn’t good enough last night. It was a good test for us. We played well tonight.”

MacIntyre was glad Charlotte had the first try at three-on-three OT hockey, but it’s not his first choice for ending a hockey game.

“Obviously, I like it in the playoffs where you just keep playing. That’s hockey. That’s intense…. I like overtime. I like shootouts when I win, but when I lose I hate them.”

Other Admiral thoughts (get it? Admiral thoughts?)

  • The Checkers are in the midst of a four-game home winning streak, including three games against Admirals teams (of Norfolk and Milwaukee, combined).
  • Maybe, with the recent Checkers home-streak against Admirals teams, the Checkers can get the league to change all the other teams to the Admirals. But then it would be like the Harlem Globetrotters facing the same team every night, but they have a great win-streak going, so I might be onto something.

Checkers win a fight filled, goalie brawling game against the Milwaukee Admirals.

At first, the game tonight between the Charlotte Checkers and Milwaukee Admirals seemed like a typical game between former-division rivals with a long history (well, four years, but that’s the majority of the Checkers AHL existence!).

It was no surprise that the Checkers first goal of the game came from Chris Terry of the Carolina Hurricanes, who spent the past four seasons in Charlotte and is the Checkers leading scorer of all time. Terry tipped in a shot by Trevor Carrick, who finished the game with three assists.

By three minutes into the second period, the Checkers were up 3-0 over a very tough Admirals team, who’s Magnus Hellburg,  the hulking 6’5” goaltender who’s GAA leads the league (not surprisingly) at 0.96, and a save percentage 0.961, was between the pipes opposite Charlotte’s John Muse, in his second home appearance of the season.

That’s when the dreaded 3-0 hockey lead came back to bite the home team. The Checkers got into penalty trouble (Keegan Lowe, Gabriel Dejardins and Dennis Robertson, in that order). The Admirals scored three power play goals in a row, and tied the game by the midway point of the second period.

The score stayed 3-3 for the next 20 minutes, when things got a little crazy. A fight in Muse’s crease between Milwaukee’s Michael Liambas and Rasmus Rissanen. It appears that Liambas took offense to a huge hit Rissanen had dealt an Admirals player, and after Kyle Hagel joined the fight, Muse decided to add a few of his own jabs.

Moments later, Hellberg crossed the red line and swapped blows with Muse, joining a chaotic frenzy that took a while to clean up.

In the end, Muse and Hellberg were both ejected from the game with matching secondary altercation/game misconducts and fighting majors. Hellberg was given the additional two minutes for crossing the red line.

Keegan Lowe received a game misconduct for his secondary altercation, and Michael Liambas received a game misconduct for two fighting majors in one game, or rule 20.4, which was added to the AHL rulebook this season.

So with only nine minutes to go in the game, the Checkers and Admirals were both forced to send a new goaltender into the game, and it quickly became a showdown of which off-the-bench goalie could make the best saves.

Marek Mazanec faced eight Checkers shots during his half-period of play, and stopped all but two of them. In the end, it was Drew MacIntyre who prevailed. He faced two shots in his 9:16 of ice time, and the one save he made was enough for him to come away with the win.

 

With only about 18 hours until the next matchup between the Checkers and Admirals, emotions may still  be running high tomorrow. Coach Jeff Daniels

“Well, we want to play the game on our toes and excited.  We don’t want to get into penalty trouble like we did today.”

Brock McGinn, who scored Checkers fourth goal, said the third period scrum gave the Checkers a new burst of energy.

“It definitely gets us going,” McGinn said, “You know, we wanted to go out there and keep our concentration the rest of the period, and I think we did.”

Trevor Carrick, who contributed three assists in the Checkers winning effort, expects the rematch tomorrow will be exciting.

“The emotions were running pretty high there. Tomorrow is going to be a big test for us. The game today is going to carry on tomorrow,” Carrick said, “It should be a pretty physical game. Pretty heated. So, those are the fun kind of games and I’m looking forward to it.

 

Random thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else:

  • In an ongoing effort to come up with new cheesy hashtags for in-game tweeting, I’m experimenting with #McGinnItToWinIt. It’s fun, but nothing will ever top #Terryiffic of #Shuggernaut
  • A special shout out to the great Nathan Beasley for coming to the rescue when I forgot a pen. This story couldn’t have been written without his hard work and hustle.
  • John Muse’s family was at the game tonight. Is he too old to get a mom lecture where his full name is used?
  • I miss Justin Pogge. It must be a goalie fight that makes me reminisce about the former Checkers netminder who “lost his mind” in Hershey, PA in 2010.
  • Every time I see the #CheckersComeHome video I get a little more excited about the move to Bojangles Coliseum next year.

Checkers announce move “home” to the birthplace of hockey in Charlotte and relocate to Bojangles Coliseum in 2015-16.

The Checkers announced today that they would be moving out of Time Warner Cable Arena next season, and back to the birthplace of hockey in the south, the old Charlotte Coliseum on Independence Blvd, which is known today as Bojangles Coliseum.  The Coliseum is on the Charlotte historic register, and is the largest free-standing dome in the world since Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena was demolished in 2011.

As most hockey historians know, the first professional hockey game was held at Bojangles Coliseum in January, 1956 after the Baltimore Clippers arena burned down, and the team needed a temporary home to play the remainder of the year.  Hockey had never been played professionally in the South, and the Checkers success was crucial to the southern expansion of the sport. In the fall of 1956, the Clippers relocated permanently to Charlotte, and later became the Charlotte Checkers, a team that has been a fixture in Charlotte for much of the past 60 years.

The Checkers moved to uptown Charlotte in 2006 when TWCA was built and the NBA returned to Charlotte with the Bobcats, and now Hornets.  In 2010, the Checkers were upgraded to the AHL after many successful seasons in the ECHL.

I’ve been a fixture at Checkers games regularly since 2010.  The first hockey game I ever attended was in 1993 at the old coliseum.  I don’t have as many memories of games at the old barn, but from what I’ve been told, the atmosphere was electric.

I’ve also been lucky enough to visit a number of AHL hockey arenas over the past five season.  Hershey, which has a similar capacity to Bojangles Coliseum, is an exciting place to watch a game (especially in the playoffs, when the Checkers win a game!).  Rockford and Peoria were also outstanding venues, because the size of the arena was a better fit to the fan base.  A full building is always an exciting building.  Both of those arenas were located in downtown areas, but the smaller size made it much more fun than the vast, empty TWCA on most Checkers nights.

Will I miss having games in uptown? Heck yes.  I work uptown. I spend a lot of my free time there as well, at local bars and restaurants.  I love the convenience of TWCA and the fact I never have to pay to park because I walk there from work, and have dozens of choices of places to meet friends and family for drinks before or after games.

Though those are certainly downfalls and inconveniences for me, the move to Bojangles Coliseum is going to be a good one for the city of Charlotte, the Checkers and the fans, and here are just a few reasons:

  • Instead of having to curtain off the top half of a gigantic building, Checkers fans will be able to fill the coliseum night after night, from top to bottom. Can you imagine the sound of a game under the Bojangles dome? It will be incredible.
  • The Charlotte Checkers will no longer have to pack up and travel to Indian Trail for practice. Having their own home ice for games and practice will be a huge benefit to the team.
  • The Checkers will have their OWN building. They won’t be the minor league team that rents an NBA arena 36 times a year, but as the primary tenant at Bojangles, they will have a space that will be Charlotte Checkers, through and through.
  • The schedule will be much improved for home games. Instead of having to play second fiddle to the Hornets (and the circus, and Disney on Ice, and every other event), the Checkers will have a say in when their home games are played, and won’t be competing with other tenants at TWCA.
  • The Checkers (and Clippers) won six championships (in a number of different leagues) while they played at Bojangles Coliseum. They have not yet won a championship at TWCA, so maybe a move back to their roots is what is needed to get back in the championship chase.
  • An upgraded Bojangles Coliseum will be a huge step towards revitalizing East Charlotte and Independence Blvd. As an East-side resident, this excites me a great deal. The venue has so much history. The list of people who have performed under it’s dome is a long one: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, The Who, The Jackson 5, Judy Garland, The Rolling Stones… you get the idea.
  • I’d much rather see the city of Charlotte upgrade Bojangles Coliseum to what it was designed and built to be, a hockey arena and sports venue, then the dumb youth basketball court they talked about doing recently.
  • The $16 million in upgrades are long overdue for this historic venue. Instead of being a city that bulldozes new construction when it no longer serves a purpose (Tyvola Road Coliseum, most of uptown Charlotte, etc.) I’m happy to see the city preserving and revitalizing what they have. Charlotte is a world class city, and our history is important. I’m excited to see what they can do for $16 million, though I know it won’t be enough.

What are my fears of the move? They are few, and mostly have to do with human nature having a hard time with change.

  • $16 million isn’t a lot of money. Technology is EXPENSIVE, and new videoboards, seats, lighting, a sound system, bathroom upgrades etc. cost a lot of money.  Last summer the Belk Theater spent $1.6 million to replace 2000 seats and upgrade ONE bathroom, and Bojangles Coliseum is five times the size.  New dressing rooms and the backstage areas are in disrepair at Bojangles, and will require more than just a coat of paint to freshen them up.
  • The Hornets claim that they need $30 million to upgrade TWCA… and it’s a much newer building that got a number of upgrades for the recent 2012 Democratic National Convention. Where is all that money going, and why do they need it over a historic building that hasn’t been upgraded practically since it opened in 1956?
  • Parking at Bojangles might be a drag. I live close by the Coliseum, but not close enough to walk, and public transportation isn’t an option. The City of Charlotte charges $10 to park for events at Bojangles and Ovens Auditorium. This is way too much, and I don’t look forward to shelling out that kind of cash!
  • I’m going to miss all of the options in walking distance of the arena. I enjoy sharing a beer before and after games and on the nearly-dead Independence Blvd., this won’t be an option.

All in all?  Two thumbs up for this historic move home to the birthplace of hockey in Charlotte.

There was #Norfolkingway the Ads could stop a red-hot Checkers team. The good guys win 6-2 in Charlotte.

In a game that wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the score may have alluded to, the Charlotte Checkers defeated the Norfolk Admirals 6-2.  John Muse, in goal for Charlotte, stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced, received his first win of the season after making only three previous appearances, one which was in relief of Drew MacIntyre.

In net for the Admirals was Yann Danis, a veteran of the NHL, AHL, KHL and NCAA.  It was his second appearance this season after being signed to a PTO by Norfolk on November 15.  Also in the lineup for the Admirals was Matt Pistilli, a four-year veteran of the Charlotte Checkers.  He was signed by the Admirals yesterday to a PTO after starting the season in the ECHL with Fort Wayne.

The Checkers captain and alternates all had outstanding nights.  Captain Michal Jordan scored a goal that ended up the game winner early in the second period, and the players with A’s on their jerseys also had strong showings.

Alternate captain Chad LaRose had four shots-on-goal in the first period and ended the night with two assists in the third period, including a shorthanded goal while playing on the Checkers top penalty kill unit.

Greg Nemisz had an exceptionally strong third period.  He scored two goals, and assisted on Justin Shugg’s third goal in as many games after sitting out the first month of the season due to injury.

Notes that have little or nothing to do with hockey:

  • Please excuse the lack of quotes in this piece. Writing a game story at a bar means I can’t hear my iPhone for the interview quotes it has stored on it.
  • shuggernautI need new cheesy hashtags. Without #Terryiffic I feel lost, though I was pleased to see the official Checkers twitter account used #Shuggernaut, something penned by @Swamphockey and adopted by me years ago.  We even had a graphic for it… suggestions for new player hashtags? I’m all ears!