Checkers flattened by Iowa Wild in OT.o

Though the Checkers record against the Iowa Wild this season is 4-0-1, the victories haven’t come easily. Two shoot out wins, and two regulation wins, the most recent of which was a six goal rally in the third after starting the period with a 3-1 deficit, were the precursors to tonight’s 4-3 overtime loss by the Charlotte Checkers at home.

Charlotte’s Coach Mark Morris was disappointed at the team’s effort level.

“I thought we were flat from the get go. I didn’t like our game at all. I thought our energy was low,” Morris said, “We had a lot of passengers.”

The home team got into penalty trouble early, with the first of six visits to the sin bin just three minutes into the game. Midway through the first period, the Checkers former captain, Michal Jordan, scored a shorthanded goal while teammate Brock McGinn sat in the box for a slashing penalty.

Rasmus Rissanen, who has missed nearly half of the season due to injury and is only three games back onto the roster, scored the second goal of the game from the point. It was his first goal of the season.

Four goals were scored in the third period, but only one of them was by the good guys, an even strength goal by Brock McGinn. Iowas’s Cristoph Bertschy scored first for the Wild, and Jordan Schroder scored two for his team, including the game tying goal that led to overtime.

Checkers Captain Derek Ryan, who had two assists in the game and shared the ice with two former Checkers captains, Michal Jordan and Brett Sutter of the Wild, spoke candidly about the Checkers record against Iowa this season, and the differences between Charlotte’s victories against them and tonight’s loss.

“The biggest difference between previous games and this one is that we’ve never quit. They’ve gotten some leads on us, and we’ve found ways to win, which good teams do,” Ryan continues, “Tonight it was almost the opposite where we were giving up a lead and not playing our best hockey for most of the whole 60 minutes.”

Michal Jordan, who is the Checkers former captain and made his first appearance in a Checkers sweater since February 19 of last season, said this year’s squad is one of the best Checkers team he’s been a part of.

“They have lots of good young players and great veteran guys…. It’s a great group and they should be real successful this year.”

Coach Morris said a lack of effort from Charlotte led to the Iowa victory.

“They deserved the win because they worked harder than we did.”

The Checkers face the Iowa Wild again on Thursday night at Bojangles Coliseum. Hopefully, the home team will have a better showing.

 

 

 

 

And now for a poll:

 

Brock McGinn, who is tied for the goal scoring lead with 10 this year, needs a hashtag, one as awesome as #Terryiffic, #Shuggernaut and #MACnificent.  Here are the nominations. What’s your pick?

 

  • #BROCKtacular
  • #OopsHeDidItMcGinn
  • #Brockalicious
  • #McGinneriffic

 

 

 

#MACnificent Checkers make it two in a row against Iowa.

After less than 24 hours since their dramatic comeback game against the Iowa Wild, the Checkers were able to defeat the visitors once again in a 2-1 shootout win.

The first period was a bit sluggish for both teams with few SOG and lots of dump-and-chase style hockey.

The second period brought the first point on the board, a power play goal from the point from Ryan Murphy, who made his second appearance with the Checkers this season after starting the year with the Carolina Hurricanes

The Wild rallied back early in the third period, tying the game with a breakaway goal from Zack Mitchell.

Charlotte’s Drew MacIntyre made glorious save after save, stopping all but one of the shots he faced, including every shot in the shootout. This was his second appearance between the pipes in as many goals, after coming into the game last night in relief of Rasmus Tirronen.

The overtime period, which is a shortened from last season five minutes of sudden-death three-on-three overtime, was filled with lots of back and forth play and two penalties, one for each team.

Ultimately, the winner came down to the shootout with the Checkers scoring two goals (Justin Shugg and Derek Ryan) and coming away with the win.

 

The number one star was clearly the Checkers Drew MacIntyre, even before he made all of the saves in OT and the shootout. After struggling with consistency early in the season, MacIntyre is building on each save and each win to put himself back on top.

“It’s been a frustrating season, to be honest. It’s been really frustrating,” MacIntyre said, “It’s nice to get this weekend. I haven’t been able to get in the groove. I have a good game and then the next game takes away from that…. My playing time has gone down and I’m not happy when that happens. I want to get back in the net and I want to show that I can do it consistently like I have my whole career.”

The Checkers return to home ice next Saturday and Sunday against the Ontario Reign, the Los Angeles Kings AHL team who, as the Manchester Monarchs, won last year’s Calder Cup.

Checkers win! McGinn and Boychuk help Charlotte defeat San Jose Barracuda.

In a game where the Checkers were outshot by the visiting San Jose Barracuda 29-19, the home team was victorious. The highlights are plentiful. Zach Boychuk scored his first goal since March 22 of last season in Iowa. The 16 game drought is the longest in his career, and a true anomaly for the Checkers all-time leading goal scorer.

 

The last five minutes of the first period were action packed, with three goals scored by the Checkers in quick succession. Brock McGinn scored his first goal since returning to the Checkers roster from a stint in the NHL, and then a few minutes later, scored a second. Zach Boychuk scored the second goal of the game, and the eventual game-winner with 1:41 to go in the first period.

 

After the first period, the goal horn (which, by the way, is one of the best goal horns I’ve heard… it really is the perfect tone and timbre and is far superior to the noise we heard at TWCA!) was silent for the home team. With less than 14 seconds to go in the game, the Barracuda robbed Rasmus Tirronen of what could have been his first professional shutout. Tirronen, who the Hurricanes signed last spring to a one-year contract, has only six professional games to his credit, but continues to make great impressions with his confidence and skill. Tonight’s win was his first back-to-back start of the season, and his first (of hopefully many) back-to-back wins with the Checkers.

 

The game and post-game interviews left a lot of impressions on me.

First of all, Coach Morris seems to be exactly what this team needs. He’s a development coach in the truest sense of the word. He appears to be an excellent judge of skills and character, and has the ability to shape and groom good young players into excellent ones. I heard it in his analysis of the game and his athletes, and was impressed by his candid honesty about the players strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what he said about Zach Boychuk and whether the end of his scoring drought would lead to more goals:

“I sure hope so. He’s starting to throw his weight around and create space for himself. I’ve encouraged him to shoot more pucks and nobody’s going to ever condemn a guy for shooting the puck,” Coach Mark Morris continued, “He’s certainly a skilled guy but I think the more he gets involved and gets his juices flowing, the better he’s going to be and he’s going to play with more jump in his step.”

Zach Boychuk seemed (obviously) relieved to have the scoring jinx off his back, and has a realistic idea of what to expect tomorrow night when the Checkers face San Jose again:

“Staying engaged…. Sometimes it’s tough playing the same team in back-to-back nights. Sometimes you don’t come out as hard,” Boychuk continues, “[We’ve got to] come out hard. Hopefully we can keep this streak going.”

 

Boychuk on tonight’s game and continuing the momentum:

“We came out hard in the first period and kind of weathered the storm a little bit and put them on their heels. Once we were up three-nothing I feel like the ref was calling some penalties on us and we weren’t getting any of the breaks,” Boychuck says, “We’ve got to stay on the gas pedal a little more and we’ll try and focus on that tomorrow.”

 

You can stop reading now if you’re only interested in the game coverage… because from here on it’s purely editorial!

 

 

As I mentioned on Twitter before the game, tonight was the first time I got to see a game from start-to-finish at Bojangles Coliseum. A big promotion at work means I have even less evenings free, so it was a luxury to see a game on home ice. Charlotte is so lucky to have an amazing, historic rink like we do with so many great amenities. Sure, there’s no WiFi (though, it was just as bad at TWCA) and there aren’t any theatrical lighting effects (I’m a lighting designer by trade… I have to complain about the lack of special lights!) the things that actually matter are top notch. While the LED lights provide great coverage of the playing surface, and are a really nice, warm color temperature, it always seems dark right under the video board and I wish that could be fixed.

 

 

Some of my critiques are so minor I feel bad even mentioning them. Most are out of the control of the organization anyway, so there’s even less of a point talking about it…

  • The only thing I miss about TWCA is I had a place to sit, out of the way in the corner, but with enough space to set up my laptop and take notes. BoCo is a bit cramped, and that’s annoying, but I made do and got to see the game from a number of vantage points throughout the night.
  • I really hope the built-in ice system is fixed next off-season. The tank ice set up and the sub floor around the ice surface is annoying, mostly because I almost tripped walking up and down them tonight. Fingers are crossed whatever leak exists can be easily fixed.
  • I found some of the ribbon boards distracting, and lacking crucial information… like when both teams had a player in the box, there was no distinction between who was who. Such a minor, silly complaint, really!

The great stuff, because I’d like to end on a high note:

  • There’s an organ!!!!! (more organ music and less jock jams, please!).
  • There’s a goal horn that has serenaded championships and hockey games for the past 60 years. And it sounds amazing.
  • Sightlines! Awesome! There isn’t a bad seat in the house… and there were a LOT of bad seats uptown at TWCA.
  • The rink is less than two miles from my house, and my neighborhood sports bar where I watch so many NHL games is advertised on the boards. So meet me at Steamers, y’all. Their Wednesday night drink special is one of the best in the city!
  • Most of all, what I love about the “new” arena is there’s a hockey organization at home there that has embraced the history of the sport in Charlotte and all of the Checkers different incarnations, as evidenced by the amazing intro video and love of history. Charlotte is so lucky to have this team, and this organization.

It was a great first night for me… and I can’t wait to see many, many more wins at BoCo this season and beyond!

 

Bojangles Coliseum: A sneak peak where #CheckersComeHome

Today I had the privilege of checking out the new and amazing Bojangles Coliseum. Wow. It has charm, character, and sightlines that can’t be beat, and all of the amenities a larger NBA arena might have. Checkers fans are going to have one of the best rinks in the AHL this season, and one of the oldest arenas in the league. The Toronto Marlies’ Ricoh Coliseum was built in 1921, but most other AHL arenas were built in the 1980’s and 1990’s.


A panorama from the middle aisle of section 108.

A panorama from the middle aisle of section 108.

Bojangles Coliseum is a unique and amazing 60 year-old building. It’s the first place I ever saw a professional hockey game, and the birthplace of professional hockey in the south, so sentimentally, I’d say it’s pretty special.

High at the end of the ice

High at the end of the ice

I’d stopped by to watch practice, but found myself too distracted by checking out the upgrades to focus on the skating, so instead I wandered around the seating bowl, walking to the top of all of the sections and choosing seats to sit in. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. Honestly, the higher up I got, the more I liked the view because of how well I could see formations and plays being created on the ice.

Almost as high as the rafters, and still an amazing view.

Almost as high as the rafters, and still an amazing view.

As I sat in about a dozen different locations, I continued to be filled with excitement for the upcoming home opener, and the historic venue coming to life again.

Observations and educational tid bits I learned today:

  • The seats are comfortable! I was sad they were plastic and not wood, but they feel great, even without padding like TWCA had.
  • The lighting is fantastic. It’s all LED, but it’s not a gross, harsh cold LED light. The color temperature was relatively warm and appealing (and now I will step down off my lighting designer soap box).
  • There honestly is NOT a bad seat in the house. I sat low and high on the sides, the corners, the end of the ice… it’s all a great view!
  • According to a handout the CRVA gave me, the Checkers plan to use the Hammond B2 organ that is original to the building. How awesome is that??!?!??!? I love organ music at a hockey game (it’s so much better than the awful “Jock Jams” stuff we hear so much of).
  • The roof of Bojangles Coliseum is made of tin. I guess I should have known that with its beautiful silver sheen, but that makes me love it even more. Nothing like a tin roof in the South, y’all!
I love the color of the ceiling, and how much brighter the arena is with new LED lighting!

I love the color of the ceiling, and how much brighter the arena is with new LED lighting!

By the numbers: Charlotte Checkers 2015-16 schedule

The 2015-16 AHL schedule has finally been released, and here’s the annual Chasing Checkers analysis of it, in a “by the numbers” format.

Editor’s Note: Some of the following numbers come with a healthy dose of sarcasm, but let me assure you, the Checkers schedule is WAY better than some. One California team I analyzed is facing only eight opponents, and only two teams outside of their own division. I’d much rather see 13 opponents and no eastern conference teams than the same six squads over and over again California teams appear to be playing each other 12 times each! Be grateful, Checkers fans. I am!

For a .pdf version of the schedule, head to GoCheckers.com

0 – The number of times Charlotte will face Oklahoma City and Norfolk this year. Previously, the Checkers played nearly one-third of their games against franchises in those two cities, but both moved to California for the 2015 season. I can’t believe there’s #Norfolkingway Charlotte will ever play in Virginia this season…. But I won’t miss those clown barf uniforms!

0 – The number of games the Checkers will play against Eastern Conference Teams, despite being further east than many teams in that conference.

1 – Month in the AHL schedule without a home game for the Checkers. Charlotte will have 10 road games during that time, in a row, facing Iowa, Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Rockford and Lake Erie.

2 – The number of three-in-threes the Checkers will face. Both instances are on the road and feature Grand Rapids/Chicago and Milwaukee/Rockford. This is an all-time-low. Last season, Charlotte had three. In 2013-14, five, and way back in 2012-13, the Checkers had seven three-in-threes

3 – The number of new California teams the Checkers will face this season. Ontario, San Jose and San Diego all made the cut.

3 – Number of eastern conference teams closer to Charlotte than any team in their own Central division (Hershey, Wilkes-Barre and Allentown)

4 – The number of home and away games the Checkers will play against the San Diego Gulls, or how many wagers on who’s team will come out victorius that Chasing Checkers will make against former Checkers staffer Nate Beasley

4 – The number of times we get to hear Oh! Canada at Bojangles Coliseum, when the Manitoba Moose come to Charlotte. (November 7&8 and January 16&17 for those of you keeping track!)

4 – The number of different divisions the Checkers have played in since coming to Charlotte in 2010. Only when they played with a bunch of teams in Texas did the Checkers have largely the same division-mates for more than one season. This seasons “Central” division includes teams in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Iowa, two teams in Illinois, one in Wisconsin, one in Michigan, one in Ohio and of course North Carolina. Based on this not-so-central grouping of teams, I propose the league rename it the “midwest and leftovers” division.

6 – The number of away games Charlotte will play in their own Eastern time zone

6 – Also the number of games the Checkers will play in the Pacific time zone, AKA three hours later than Charlotte is.

6 – The Checkers longest home stand in games, or about two weeks. This will occur five times this season.

10 – The Checkers longest road trip, which will stretch out for the entire first month of the AHL season.

12– The number of different teams the Checkers will face during the 2015-16 season. This is down from 2013-14 and 2014-15 when Charlotte had 13 different opponents.

24 – The number of games the Checkers will have in the Central time zone, which fortunately, is only one hour later.

38 – The number of opportunities to see the Checkers at the amazing and newly renovated Bojangles Coliseum.

56 – The number of games Charlotte will play against Central Division Rivals (exactly eight games per team)

68 – The number of games the new California teams will play during the course of their (shortened) AHL season

76 – The number of games the Checkers (and the majority of the AHL) play during the seven-month season.

515 – The low, low number of miles to the Checkers closest division rival, the Lake Erie Monsters. (And in tanks of gas, one each way thanks to Chasing Checkers awesome new car!)

1673 – Miles to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Home of new division rivals THE Moose (and a lot of moose).

2675 – The number of miles if you wanted to drive to see the Checkers play in San Jose, California.

But the very most important number:

71 – Days until the Checkers home opener against Manitoba!!!!!

A NY and PA roadtrip – six AHL cities in six hours

FullSizeRender (2)I spent the past two and a half months in Western New York, working at the Chautauqua Institution as a lighting designer for Charlotte Ballet, who has a summer residency there. At the conclusion of our summer season, I took a week long camping trip in upstate NY and Vermont, exploring the sights and sites of the Finger Lakes and the Adirondack and Green Mountains, and tasting as much of the craft beer as I possibly could.

FullSizeRender (3)
In a six hour drive across I-90, I passed through five AHL cities (Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany and Glen Falls). I also could have gotten to a couple other cities had I taken a different route. To say that region of the country is saturated with AHL teams is a major understatement.

Then, after a few days in Vermont and Montreal, I headed south again, this time via I-81, a path that found me in even more AHL cities. I started in Syracuse, then passed through Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey…. Four cities in under four hours. After I drove through Hershey, it was another eight hours before I reached an AHL city, my own hometown of Charlotte.

IMG_3293Eight hours is hardly “driving distance” for a team that travels to 36 away games each season, but for the Checkers, that’s the minimum it would take to visit another city on a bus. The new California teams, however, are within eight hours of each other. As in… the farthest north and farthest south teams can drive to each other in eight hours and pass through the other cities along the way. So each California team has four rivals in an eight hour or less distance, but because travel is going to be so hard for them, the AHL granted them less games in a season so they would have more time to practice.

FullSizeRender (1)I don’t understand. St. John’s, Winnipeg and Charlotte don’t have another team within eight hours of them, but they all manage. Texas and San Antonio are on their own little island with no other teams in driving distance. Five teams choose to move to California, and they demand the AHL shorten their season because the travel is “so hard” for them.

It doesn’t make sense. At all. But I guess when five teams bully the AHL, they can get what they want. It’s too bad the other 25 teams didn’t have the same weight to say “a shorter season isn’t fair for us.”

I don’t want to see Charlotte’s season shortened. I don’t think the organization wants to lose ticket and sponsorship revenue. I know fans don’t want to lose the opportunity to see their team as many times as possible. What I want is to see parity among all of the AHL teams, and them to have similar season schedules.

The travel might be a challenge for the Checkers this year, but they will manage like they always have in the numerous divisions they’ve played in and have a team in Winnipeg, Manitoba in their division, and five new California teams in their conference. With a new coach, and great signings made by Carolina and Charlotte, the future is bright for the home team.

Opening night is just over two months away… is it too soon to start a daily countdown? I wish the AHL schedule would be released already!

#LetsGoCheckers

#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.