#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.

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:

Continue reading

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.”