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.

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.”

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.

Despite stellar goaltending from Drew MacIntyre, Charlotte Checkers lose home opener 2-1.

In front of over 7277 Charlotte Checkers fans, the team lost their home opener to Grand Rapids by a score of 2-1.  The Griffins outshot the Checkers 43-19, and if not for stellar goaltending by Checkers newcomer Drew MacIntyre, the final score would have been very different.

Brody Sutter scored the Checkers lone goal, only 24 hours after he made his NHL debut with the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. Sutter became the ninth member of his family to play in an NHL game. His was the first shot of the second period, and came mere seconds after one of the Checkers five power plays expired.

Sutter recognizes that his role on this year’s team is going to be a new one he’s still charting the course for.

“I need to be a leader. I know what kind of player I am,  I’m a defense first guy,” Sutter explained,  “but I need to step up a little bit more offensively…  JD has given me the opportunity, and I need to capitalize on it and help the boys out.”

Ten players new to the Checkers team made their regular-season home debut. Some of the newcomers include rookies Trevor Carrick, Carter Sandlak, Phil Di Giuseppe, Brock McGinn and Patrick Brown, who made his Charlotte debut tonight after starting the season with the Hurricanes.

The most notable new faces in today’s lineup include Chad LaRose, who won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, Ben Holmstrom, a veteran defenseman and former AHL captain who is one of the Checkers alternate captains, and goaltender Drew MacIntyre.

MacIntryre, who was robbed of first star honors (they really should have asked me), made 39 saves, and prevented the Griffins from scoring on either of the two 5-on-3 opportunities they had during the game, made countless amazing saves.

MacIntyre comes to the Checkers with a long list of records, awards and statistics that will hopefully bring the team a veteran presence in the crease that the desperately need.

MacIntyre cited a lack of confidence in the reason for the team’s jitters. When asked if the abundance of new faces on the team was a reason for that, he was adamant it wasn’t.

“I don’t like the youth excuse. I don’t like excuses. I don’t like any of them. We just have to find a way to get better.”

 

 

 

Assorted notes:

  • Kudos to the team for the history introduction video. The Checkers are the longest lasting franchise in this city, and it’s something to be proud of!
  • The Checkers came close to breaking a record they only sat last Saturday in Chicago, with only 15 SOG all game. I counted two power plays where the home team didn’t register a single shot on net.
  • The Checkers had to kill eight penalties. Two of them included 5-on-3s.
  • My first opening night didn’t end with a point in the win column, but it sure was nice to see a season from the very beginning!

Introducing the 2014-15 AHL Schedule

Schedule day has arrived! A quick analysis tells me that the schedule is a bit easier than last season. The Checkers are still in the “West” division of the Western Conference, and are still the only team in the Eastern Time Zone in their division, but with the Abbotsford Heat moving to New York, there aren’t any cross-country flights in the Checkers future.

 

You can download the schedule in a variety of formats from the Checkers website here.

So… the 2014-15 schedule, by the numbers:

 

1 – The number of eastern conference teams the Checkers will face this year. Not surprisingly, those games are against Norfolk, the only driving distance team Charlotte has in the league.

2- The number of Canadian “American” Hockey League Teams the Checkers will play this year. So if you are a fan of hearing Oh! Canada, make sure you come see the Checkers play the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Toronto Marlies.

3 – The number of three-in-three series the Checkers will have this season. This is an all-time-low. Last year, Charlotte had five three-in-threes, and in 2012-13, they had seven three-in-threes

5 – The Checkers longest home stand, which takes place from October 31 until November 10. They will face Hamilton, Texas and Norfolk during that stretch of games.

6 – The Checkers longest roadtrip in number of games, which takes place March 14-25. The team will visit exotic locations like Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Des Moines and Norfolk.

8 – Games against an Eastern conference team, all of them versus the Norfolk Admirals

12 – The number of times the Checkers will face the Oklahoma City Barons. That’s a lot

13 – The number of opponents the Checkers will face this season, the same number as last year. This year’s only new addition to the schedule is four games against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

24 – Games against the Midwest Division, who this season consists of the Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Lake Erie Monsters, Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford Ice Hogs.

36 – Games against the Checkers West division mates, which include the Iowa Wild, Oklahoma City Barons, San Antonio Rampage and the reigning Calder Cup champions, the Texas Stars.  One-third of these 36 games are against Oklahoma City.

38 – The number of home games in Charlotte. This is up from 36 last year, when the Checkers played two “home” games in Raleigh.

 

 

2014-15 Charlotte Checkers Contracts

First of all, congratulations to the Texas Stars on their first-ever Calder Cup victory.  It was a good playoffs, but I must admit I was too focused on my LA Kings winning a second Stanley Cup to follow the AHL as much as usual!

Oh, so much to report on in this off season…. from rumors of major western expansion in the AHL to places like California, the yet-to-be determined AHL realignment (and my wish for five divisions in five seasons as the Checkers looks to be coming true!), and off season moves by the Checkers and Hurricanes, there is a lot to talk about.  But to keep today’s update simple, I compiled a list of all of the Checkers currently under contract, along with d those who have expired contracts and have signed elsewhere in the off season.

A few days ago, it was announced that Mike Murphy has signed in Austria for next season.  Murphy is a player who I admire so much, both on and off the ice.  He was the Checkers first “Man of the Year” winner in the team’s inaugural AHL season.  That same year, he led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals, and has played some of the most epic games of his career for the Checkers.  2013-14 was a challenging season for Murphy between major goaltending injuries to himself and others.  He will be greatly missed. I will certainly follow his team in Austria (one of my favorite European countries!).

 

So… about the contract situation.  The Hurricanes and Checkers have a number of contracts to figure out in the coming month or so.  RFA qualifying offers should go out in the very near future, and as these are released, I’ll update them here.

2014-15 Charlotte Checkers under contract:

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Charlotte Checkers defeat OKC Barons in (another) shootout to win fourth straight.

For the second time in as many days, the Charlotte Checkers game ended in a shootout, with the Checkers fourth straight victory.  With their win, they moved to seventh place in the Western Conference standings.

The second period was the game changer for both teams, with six of the eight goals scored over a period of less than eight minutes.

The first two goals of the second period came off strange shots and weird angles.

First, Ben Eager roofed one over Murphy’s glove, a puck that hit the crossbar as it went into the net.

Charlotte Checkers goaltender John Muse stops a shootout attempt by OKC Barons center Alex Lavoie.  (Photo credit: Gregg Forwerck/Charlotte Checkers)

Charlotte Checkers goaltender John Muse stops a shootout attempt by OKC Barons center Alex Lavoie. (Photo credit: Gregg Forwerck/Charlotte Checkers)

Chris Terry kept the score even at two a piece with a strange shot from behind the crease that deflected into the goal off of Barons goaltender Richard Bachman’s skate.

The Barons came back with a vengeance, peppering Mike Murphy with pucks from all angles.

At the time of Mike Murphy getting pulled from the net, he’d faced many many more shots than the box score revealed, and the defense appeared invisible at times, and even Checkers defensemen Matt Corrente scored on Murphy (though the Barons Taylor Fedun was credited with that goal).

 

The goalie substitution in the second  period was a wakeup call for the Checkers bench.  Immediately, the focus and style of play changed. The defense in front of John Muse appeared to be much more present, and the team’s offense struck quickly and erased the deficit with a pair of goals.

 

Coach Jeff Daniels acknowledged that the decision to change goalies worked in the Checkers favor.  “There was still have the game to play there, and we knew we were going to get some chances, it was just a matter of bearing down in front.  We were hoping it would provide a spark, and it did.”

 

Within moments of Muse taking over the crease eight minutes into the second period, the Checkers scored twice more.  The first from Zach Boychuk with a great assist from Matt Pistilli.  The third Checkers goal in the second period came from Jared Staal, his second of the year, who roofed the puck over Richard Bachman’s blocker.

The third period was scoreless, as was the five-minute overtime, and for the second game in a row, the Charlotte Checkers and Oklahoma City Barons headed to the shootout, with the same result, a victory by the home team.  After five shooters for each team, the game was decided. Justin Shugg and Chris Terry both scored on their shootout attempts. The Barons Jack Combs scored his teams lone shootout goal.

 

 

Notes and quotes:

  • After the game, Zach Boychuk recognized that at times, the team plays very differently in front of the two Checkers goaltenders.  “Obviously, we’ve been really pulling for Murph the last few games, and we haven’t really been giving him much support.  It’s tough for him,” Boychuk continued, “But at the same time, when Muse comes in it seems like we’re able to find those goals and find ways to score and shut them down defensively. It’s just one of those things where all Muse is doing is winning and it’s good to have a guy like that we can lean on.”
  • Matt Pistilli made another big impact on today’s matchup against Oklahoma City, playing on a line with Boychuk and assisting on his second period goal, and the chemistry Pistilli continues to display with his past and present teammates is very apparent.
  • Zach Boychuk was complimentary of Pistilli’s contributions to the team.  “It seems like we’ve brought a lot of guys back this year. Guys that have played in the past and guys that have been huge contributions to our success this year, guys like Jenks and Pistilli who keep coming back. It’s nice that we’re finding chemistry and he (Pistilli) is a huge contributor.”

Lucky 13 – the Charlotte Checkers and their quest for the playoffs

I know that for many, 13 is considered an unlucky number.  But it happens to be one of my favorites.  Good things seem to happen in and on 13s for me.  I got my Master’s degree in 2013.  Friday the 13th tends to be a very good luck day for me.  I bought my car on the 13th of August.  I like 13.  And I like the Checkers chances during their last 13 games of the 2013-14 season.

The AHL has a fantastic playoff primer that is updated daily, and can be found here, but I wanted to focus on the matchups during the Checkers month of play.

San Antonio – Two home games against the Rampage remain on March 21 & 23, with a third game in San Antonio as a part of a three-in-three weekend in April.  The Checkers are 4-1 against the Rampage this season, and all but one of those games was decided by only one goal, including a shootout win on March 7.  The only two-goal game was the Checkers only loss, at San Antonio in November.  While the Rampage sit in last place in the Western Conference, but the games this weekend could be very close if history repeats itself.

Iowa – The Checkers haven’t seen Iowa since mid-October, during the second weekend of the AHL season, and face them two times at home on March 25 and 26.  Charlotte lost both games in Des Moines.  The Wild are in a tough Midwest division, in which all of the four other teams (Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Chicago and Rockford) all sit in a playoff position.  The Wild are currently in 12th place in the Western Conference.

Oklahoma City – Of their final 13 games, the Checkers will face the Barons four more times.  Two at home, and two away.  As I write this, each team has played 63 games, and only one point separates them in the standings, with OKC sitting in 9th place in the Western conference, and the Checkers are in 10th.  The matchup between Charlotte and Oklahoma City has been a dramatic one this season.  The Checkers are 6-1-1 against the Barons.  After winning the first six games of the season in a dramatic fashion, the Checkers have lost their last two against Oklahoma City here at home, which were in early in February.  Needless to say, the key to the Checkers playoff hopes may lie in these four remaining games against the Barons, because if the Checkers can take the much needed points against a fierce opponent, they may have a chance of making the post season.

Grand Rapids – On paper, Grand Rapids may be the toughest opponent the Checkers have to face in their remaining 13 games.  They were last year’s Calder Cup champions, and are certainly in contention to repeat.  They sit atop their Midwest division, and are second place in the Western Conference.  The Checkers split a pair of games in Michigan in October, including a dramatic 5-0 shutout win by John Muse.  Taking a couple of points from the reigning Calder Cup champions will be a big victory for the Checkers.

Milwaukee – During the final weekend of the regular season , the Checkers have a quick two game roadtrip to the Midwest where they will face the Admirals and IceHogs.  Two years ago, Milwaukee was a sight of heartbreak.  I’d traveled to Milwaukee for the Checkers final game, and the winner of the game was playoff bound, the loser would have to cross their fingers and hope other games around the league turned out in their favor.  An overtime game would have resulted in both teams locking in a playoff berth.  Well, the Admirals won the game, the wildcard situation didn’t go Charlotte’s way, and the Checkers were eliminated from playoff contention.  To make a long story short, the game against Milwaukee will be huge.  The two teams are currently separated by only five points, and that margin could be much smaller in April.  Can the Checkers pull out a win?  Let’s hope so!  Charlotte is 2-1 this year against a tough Admirals squad, with both victories coming from John Muse.

Rockford – Charlotte faces the IceHogs for the eighth and final time this year on the last weekend of the AHL season. They are 4-2-0-1 against Rockford, who sit in eight place in the Western Conference.  They have four more points than Charlotte, and have the same number of games played, but fewer games in the win column. The IceHogs have nine OT and shootout losses has a lot to do with the extra points, as Charlotte has only three OT and shootout losses. There’s no doubt, the post season hopes could come down to this final game in Rockford!

 

So…. Where would you put the playoff outlook for the Charlotte Checkers this year?

 

Charlotte Checkers lose a close game in OT to Oklahoma City.

First, a few administrative notes:

  • Holy cow, Queen city! Could today have been a more beautiful day? Blue sky, warm weather, and I get to sit on my patio sipping a beer writing my post-game story while my 11-year old puppy Will Shakespeare rolls in the grass. Life is good.
  • Every four years, February is my favorite month. I can feel, taste and smell (in my dreams, anyway) the Olympic ice. And I’m not just talking about hockey (USA USA USA!).  Curling is possibly my favorite Olympic winter sport, and I am also a huge fan of short track speed skating. And Olympic ski jumping for women this year! It’s a first!!! I can’t wait for those events to begin.
  • Knit your own Team USA hat like the athlete's are wearing in Sochi! (Designed by me, photo credit -  E. Kinsman)

    Knit your own Team USA hat like the athlete’s are wearing in Sochi! (Designed by me, photo credit – E. Kinsman)

    And about the Olympics, do you want your very own Team USA themed hand knit hat? I designed a free pattern that replicates the hat our team wore in the opening ceremonies.  You can download it here.

  • Speaking of February, happy birthday to Chasing Checkers.  According to my hosting site, it celebrated it’s anniversary this week. I can’t believe I’m going into my fourth year here. What a fun and wild ride it’s been.

A giveaway by Charlotte Checkers captain Brett Sutter in front of Mike Murphy resulted in an overtime defeat by the Oklahoma City Barons. They won the game 4-3 in another heated matchup between the two Western division rivals. The one point OT loss by the Checkers ended the team’s three game regulation losing streak.

The first period looked good with a nice goal from Justin Shugg that went over the Baron’s Richard Bachman’s blocker. The steep angle made it a nearly impossible shot to stop.  Shugg, who has appeared pretty regularly on the scoresheet for Charlotte, made his first appearance in the goal column in six games.  He now has six points (3g, 3a) in eight appearances against Oklahoma City.

Brendan Woods, who had family in attendance, had a stellar game. After missing nearly two weeks to an injury in January, this was his first goal in only his fourth game back.  He nearly missed having a Gordie Howe hat trick after a fight with Baron’s tough guy Ben Eager.  Woods ended the night with one goal, one fight, four shots and nine PIMs.

AS0D3361“I guess you can look at the positive and we got one point, but we’d like to have two (points) with the standings being so close,” Woods stated, “These next few games will be crucial.”

Forward lines were moved around, with Chris Terry moving off of the top-scoring line with Zach Boychuk.

Coach Jeff Daniels acknowledged the change was meant to shake things up a bit.  “We were trying to get more balance and more scoring throughout our forward lines. I thought a couple lines were good and a couple were just okay.”

Brody Sutter scored with 37 seconds to go in the game, tying it at three a piece and leading the team to overtime.  The excitement was short lived, as halfway through overtime, a costly giveaway by Brett Sutter led to a goal by the Baron’s Roman Horak.

With a bit of a grin, Woods acknowledged that having family in attendance added to his energy. With his dad an assistant coach in Anaheim, his mom and dad were both able to make it to this afternoon’s game.  “It definitely gives you a little extra jump. I’m sure she was a little nervous with that fight against Ben Eager, but yeah, it was fun.”

The Charlotte Checkers had another sellout this afternoon. It's great to see the arena filled to capacity on a regular basis! (Photo - Jenni Propst)

The Charlotte Checkers had another sellout this afternoon. It’s great to see the arena filled to capacity on a regular basis! (Photo – Jenni Propst)

The Checkers head into the (brief) All-Star break with a few days of rest after a tough travel schedule, and return on Friday for a couple of “home” games in Raleigh. They sit a few points out of a playoff spot, and divisional games will continue to be incredibly important, especially the two against Abbotsford next weekend, who sit atop the West division.

Cindy’s Hope Chest – one of the great groups that will be at the Charlotte Checker’s Pink in the Rink on 2/7

I love grass roots organizations that help people on an intimate level that a larger organization can’t.  My brother is a volunteer coordinator in Madagascar, and I’ve seen the work that organizations like Go Jen Go, Cookies for Cancer and the Charlotte Checkers Charitable Foundation do for the Charlotte Community.  Cindy’s Hope Chest is another great organization, and one Chasing Checkers friend @Laurie_AR is involved with.  Read what she has to say about this great group does, and the fundraiser they will have at this week’s Pink in the Rink!

In 2008 Cindy Summers was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  Her husband was away on active duty in the military and she was home raising her three young girls so she knows first hand how breast cancer can turn your life upside down.  Cindy remembers what the treatments make your body feel like, she knows the fears and uncertainties that you feel, and she remembers all of the support she had during her fight.   After completing chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation, Cindy knew she wanted to help others who were going through it too and Cindy’s Hope Chest was born.

Cindy’s Hope Chest is different than other organizations because it provides an intimate, more individualized service.  CHC is not funded by any major corporations and relies solely on word of mouth and events like Pink in the Rink with the Checkers  to bring in volunteers and donations.   Living in the same town that CHC is in, I was drawn in the moment I met Cindy.  Her faith, hope and goodness ooze out of her and make you want to be a part of something so special.  Luckily she recognized my love of hockey oozing out of me and gave me the blessing of working with her so closely on such an amazing event.  In spending time with Cindy, I have had the pleasure of getting to know her even better. I sit on the edge of my seat listening to her talk about “her girls” that she helps through CHC and how much she loves each and every one of them. She tells me of their success stories and about those who have passed, and how she still keeps up with all of her girls and their families.

In addition to helping one of her girls financially, Cindy offers services based on where they are in their lives.  She provides child care and rides for women going to treatment.  If they need their grass cut, she sends someone to cut their grass.  If their child needs a ride to practice afterschool, she gets them a ride.  If a woman needs some alone time with her husband, she sends them away.  She finds out what they need and gets it to them.  In addition to these services, Cindy offers counselling, emotional support and gives away wigs, bras and prosthesis free of charge to women who need them.  It’s hard to put a description on what Cindy’s Hope Chest provides because there is no limit to what she would do for one of her girls.

To find out more about Cindy’s Hope Chest for help or to see how to get involved, people can visit cindyshopechest.org or call Cindy at (704) 529-2935. If you are coming to Pink in the Rink on February 7th, please be sure to stop by our table to meet Cindy and to bid on our great raffle prizes which include:
 -Signed pucks from Brody Sutter, Justin Shugg, Matt Marquardt, Mike Murphy, Nic Blanchard, Chris Terry, and John Muse/Michal Jordan.
-Signed puck from Carolina Hurricane Tuomo Ruutu
-Team signed Checkers Mini Stick
-Tickets to a Checkers Game
-Checkers uncut team cards, signed (STH exclusive)
-Signed promotional Bud Ice jersey from Bruins Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk
RAFFLE TICKETS FOR THESE ITEMS ARE $1 EACH/$10 FOR 15

AND Bobby Sanguinetti’s signed stick- TICKETS ARE $5EACH/5 FOR $25
For information on buying tickets to Pink in the Rink orraffle items, you can contact @Laurie_AR