Despite Dan Ellis stopping 41 shots, Charlotte Checkers lose to Chicago 2-1

  • Chris Terry, after a three-game suspension, scored the loan goal for the Checkers tonight at 12:44 in the first period.  In typical #Terryiffic   fashion, he was in front of the net at the right place and right time.  He deflected a pass from Brett Sutter, and put Charlotte on the board.
  • Drayson Bowman;s scoring streak came to an end after eight games.  Tonight was the first time in a long time he didn’t score a goal.
  • Dan Ellis had an incredible night.  He faced 43 shots on goal, stopping all but two of them.  The team in front of him at times appeared incredibly flat, not showing nearly the energy they had during Sunday’s home opener.   With Marc-Andre Gragnani back in the lineup, the defense pairings were different, and didn’t seem nearly as effective.
  • I’m anxious to see if Zack Kassian gets any kind of a suspension or fine for his penalty box temper tantrum that resulted in a bloodied off-ice official in the box with him.  I have no idea if this could happen, but it should!
  • The Wolves scored twice in the second period.  Both goals came from Steve Pinizzotto, who formerly tormented the Checkers as a member of the Hershey Bears during the inaugural Checkers AHL season.  His first goal came after splitting the Checkers defense and getting Ellis out of position and as a result, finding the back of the empty net.
  • Pinzzotto’s second goal came as a near breakaway with Nicolas Blanchard trailing him all the way o the net, but even Blanchard’s ferocity wasn’t enough to stop the puck from getting past Ellis.
  • The save of the night came with 13:10 to go in the third period.  There was a lot of traffic in front of Ellis, which was a theme of the night, and he ended up on his back, head away from the play and practically blind with his head under the net, and legs flailing like a dying roach when he swatted the puck away with his hand.  OK, so comparing him to a dying roach isn’t the best description, but honestly, it was awesome and hands down the save of the game.
  • The Checkers had two disallowed goals on the night.  The first was the result of goaltender interference with a Chicago player way to deep into the crease when he made the play.  The second disallowed goal was the result of a hand pass from Darren Haydar with three minutes to go in the third.
  • The biggest difference between Sunday and tonight’s game was the effectiveness of the Checkers forecheck.  On Sunday, the Wolves couldn’t even make it to their end of the ice the Checkers were so strong, and tonight, the Wolves were able to skate wherever they wanted.
  • After the game, Dan Ellis commented that he felt good about the game. In reference to the 43 shots on goal he faced, he said that he came out with somethi.ng to prove, and proved it.  He didn’t seem fazed by the SOG, and actually said it pushes his cardio and pushes his body and enabled him to stay in it with so much action.  Ellis appears to be a true leader in the room with a group of much younger and inexperienced teammates.  He said, “The season is a long journey.  You’re not going to get everything right at the start of the season.”
  • Not having Wilson again was a disappointment from a fan’s perspective.  There was so much dead air between plays. Elle did a nice job reading the script for the spots sponsors pay for, but she didn’t rally the crowd.   The most the crowd got going was when he was shown on the video board.  (Which made me wonder, does he get royalties from those appearances?)  It’s going to be great to have him back on Thursday night.
  • Photos to follow (maybe) tomorrow.  I think I figured out how to use my camera… don’t use the fancy white balance settings like I used to, and instead let the fancy camera figure it out, and I end up with perfect shots!

Charlotte Checkers dominate in home opener win against the Chicago Wolves

Tim Wallace is fierce. I like him a lot (though Nate Beasley is the president and founder of his fan club, I’m merely a member!) (Photo – J. Propst)

Hits and misses… I know it’s a cliche, but it’s easier to separate my thoughts out this way!  What did you all think of the game? Of the crowd? Of the experience?  If the rest of the season goes the way the first month, we’re in for a treat in Charlotte!

Hits:

  • Only four days shy of exactly seven months ago, the Checkers played their last home game in Charlotte. Though they lost 2-1, their playoff hopes were still in tact, only to be dashed a week later in Milwaukee. Tonight’s return to home ice was a triumphant one. After a stellar nine-game roadtrip to start the season where the Checkers racked up 13 of a possible 16 points, hopes were high for the home team, and they didn’t disappoint.  Justin Peters was strong between the pipes, but the skaters in front of him played an even bigger role as offensive dynamos who continued their power play dominance
  • Chubby rappelled down onto the ice from the catwalk while wearing hockey skates, over 100 feet above the ice floor, and it was awesome.  I must send a special shout out to I.A.T.S.E. Local 322 riggers for their expertise in helping facilitate it and keeping our favorite mascot safe!
  • Drayson Bowman and his eight-game goal scoring streak is not a fluke. That guy is on fire, and gave it his all every single shift.  I’m going to cherish every moment of the NHL lockout because he’s in Charlotte, and I know he won’t be back in the AHL after it ends.
  • The Checkmates have new uniforms, and I’m a fan.  Though the sleeves are shorter, the tops give me confidence that I’m not at risk for seeing any nip during a particularly energetic dance move.
  • The D-pairings caught me off guard at first, but the more I watched the chemistry, the more I liked it.    For the most part, Sanguinetti and Bellemore played together and Jordan and Faulk skated together.
  • Speaking of defense, I love their role in the Checkers new highly touted forecheck. All of the defenseman were more aggressive and physical, and had a huge role in a number of the Checkers goals.
  • The Checkers as a whole made some great passes.  A specific example that comes to mind was Justin Faulk finding Riley Nash in the third period which led to the Checkers fourth goal of the night.
  • Justin Krueger continues to impress me with his fierceness.  He’s taken pucks and sticks to the face, and he isn’t afraid to use his body to prevent the other team from scoring.  He might not have lots of points on the score sheet, but his role is so much more important than those numbers.  If I was to buy a new Checkers jersey, it would be his!
  • The more I hear the Checkers goal song, the more I like it.  I love that it is original, and can only be heard here in Charlotte. (And hearing it four times on opening night was a treat!)
  • I can’t believe that Justin Faulk is only 20.  Do you know what I was doing when I was 20? Well, it definitely wasn’t anything close to what he’s doing as one of the best defenseman in the highest level of professional hockey.

Misses:

  • The three stars.  Justin Peters was the first star? Yeah, I get It, he was the

    Drayson Bowman is so fast he’s almost blurry! (Photo – J. Propst)

    winning goaltender and allowed only one goal, but he wasn’t even close to the best player on the ice. He was incredibly lucky to have a talented group of skaters in front of him, and he definitely made some good saves, but he also was fortunate that the at least two shots hit the posts and deflected away, or each of them could have been goals. I like Peters, and think he’s incredibly skilled, but he was not the first star of the night.

  • Not having Wilson on opening night.  There were a lot of fans in attendance this afternoon.  Many were local die-hards and long-time season ticket holders, some were new to Charlotte’s incredible hockey team, and many were down from Raleigh and surrounding areas to see the first taste of Hockey in North Carolina.  Wilson’s absence to old and new fans alike was incredibly noticeable. He is, hands down, one of the greatest assets this hockey team has.  Wilson has the charisma and energy to get a dead crowd moving, and an alive crowd on fire. The Checkers arena is one of the loudest in the AHL because of Wilson, and he was VERY missed this afternoon.
  • I know it was her first game filling in for Wilson, and his are HUGE shoes to fill, but Elle Bunn was just not very effective at getting the crowd involved.  Maybe she was overwhelmed with the countless sponsorship plugs.  Maybe they didn’t get a good sound check on her mic, because she could hardly be heard over the music (but other in-arena announcements were heard loud and clear). Maybe it’s because she kind of blended into the crowd in a plain black tee instead of a full-fledged team-color hockey sweater. It was a rough start.  I work in theater, so I’m going to chalk it up to opening night jitters.
  • My photography skills.  I’m still learning about my new camera, and everything about tonight’s shots are terrible! They will get better though, I promise!  If you want to see the only ones that don’t suck, head to the Chasing Checkers facebook page.

Quick Hits, and Wolves at Checkers gameday preview

Quick HIts:

  • This is a great article about Charlotte Checkers goaltender Dan Ellis, and his return to the AHL this season.  Personally, I’ve been incredibly impressed with Ellis’ play, and a player like him can take this team far.
  • On the subject of goaltenders, former Checkers goalie and fan favorite Mike Murphy was released by Spartak Moscow on Thursday.  The KHL is a very different league than any of those in North America. The teams that win are the ones with an unlimited payroll, and Spartak has about the lowest in the league. Murphy would face as many as 40-50 shots in any given game, an impossible feat for nearly anyone.  I heard from him on Friday, and he told me he tried hard and learned a lot, and closed our conversation with, “It is what it is.”

Chicago Wolves (6-2-1-0) at Charlotte Checkers (6-2-0-1)

  • This afternoon marks Charlotte’s first home game after a nine-game roadtrip that left the team 6-2-0-1.  The Checkers last game was on Wednesday, a 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals.
  • The Checkers and Wolves are pretty evenly matched with nearly identical records.  Each team has 13 points and sits atop their respective divisions.
  • Chicago last played on Friday night in Rockford, a 6-3 victory.  They are currently 6-2-1-0.
  • Charlotte tops the league on the power play, while the Wolves are near the bottom.
  • On the penalty kill, the Checkers are in a very respectable sixth place.  The Wolves are at the bottom of the pack (get it? Wolves….. Pack.  I know, it wasn’t that funny.  I won’t try so hard next time!)
  • Drayson Bowman is in the midst of a seven-game goal scoring streak, a stat that leads the league. Here’s hoping that can extend to nine!
  • Former Hurricane and Checker Derek Joslin is playing for the Wolves this year.  In eight games, he has two assists.
  • The Checkers attendance has been so bad this season, they aren’t even listed on the AHL’s attendance rankings. Oh, wait… they haven’t had a home game, so being unlisted is ok.  If there are 10K fans at the game this afternoon though, they’ll be number one tomorrow!
  • Opening night (afternoon) at the Checkers is always a time for me to stroll past the merchandise stand and see if there’s anything new and awesome. Mostly though, I walk past with my fingers crossed that there aren’t pink and/or sparkly jerseys for sale.  I hate pink jerseys.  I don’t understand why they are an acceptable item to show team pride.  Stick to the team colors, please!!!!! (Edited to say: I am a HUGE fan of Pink in the Rink jerseys, but those are for charity, and therefore awesome. But pink girl jerseys are not okay EVER, and if you wear one, I will mock you!)
  • Mrs. Mike Fisher Carrie Underwood was in concert last night at TWCA. The ice was uncovered at around 2 a.m.  I would expect the concert festivities may have an effect on today’s ice.
  • Speaking of concerts, who do I need to suggest to the Checkers staff that they should make Justin Bieber a personalized Charlotte Checker’s jersey when he plays the arena on January 22? He’s Canadian, loves hockey, and his favorite number is 6.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Cause don’t tell me it wouldn’t be AWESOME to see him wearing it sometime… this of all the free media coverage!

Gametime:  3:00 p.m. EST

 

Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,@MikeLappan@Jason_Shaya@ChasingCheckers

Chicago Twitter: @Chicago_Wolves@TheShaves

Chasing Checkers game-day twitter list: https://twitter.com/ChasingCheckers/checkers-game-day

The One About the ’12-’13 Schedule.

Tess and Haley here again! First of all, our apologies for not posting our thoughts earlier, Haley and I have been pretty busy between moving, school, work, and life. Regardless, better late than never!

We’ll go ahead and start this off with the massive elephant in the room. To rip it off like a band-aid, the Checkers don’t play at home until November 4th, nearly a month after their season starts. Luckily, the nine away-game stretch that starts out the season is the longest our fellas will be away. The hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh… and thankfully they made up for that nine game stretch by giving us a 10 game stretch at home from November 24th to December 15th!

As for the competitors this season, though the Checkers have once again changed divisions, the opponents won’t be all too unfamiliar. All of Charlotte’s adversaries this season are in the Western conference, with the exception of area rival, Norfolk Admirals. The team will face each of their South Division foes (Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Texas). Since joining the Western Conference the Checkers have yet to face Hamilton, Rochester, and Toronto and will continue not oppose them during the regular season. However they will face Norfolk, Houston, OKC, Peoria, Milwaukee and Texas eight times and Abbotsford, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Lake Erie, and Rockford four times.

There are a few notable games in the schedule. The Checkers will have two doubleheaders with the Bobcats this season, December 15th and January 12th. On both dates the Checkers will play at noon and the Bobcats will follow at 7 pm. The November 24th game coincides with the team’s 5K Run & Walk, which is still open for registration and volunteer help.

The last game to keep your eye out for is on January 6th. The team will play in Raleigh against the Norfolk Admirals, the reigning Calder Cup champions. Keep in mind that the ‘Canes play the Isles the night before in Raleigh as well so make a weekend out of it! We’d also like to make note that the promotional schedule has yet to be released, so we’ll be sure to make mention of more notable games later.

Lastly, the Checkers have a huge advantage towards the end of the season. During the month of February the team only plays eight games, two of which are at home, then play 14 of their next 18 games at home, spanning from March 1st to April 12th. After the 12th, the team closes the season with four away games, ending regular season on April 20th.

To check out the Checkers schedule for yourself, go here. For the full AHL schedule, click here.
As always, we look forward to writing much more about the season to come!

 

 

Charlotte Checkers – Playoff Outlook and regular season wind-down

Eight games, and a maximum of 16 points are on the line in the next two weeks.

The Checkers play the next four games at home, then play four more during the final week of the regular season (three of which I will be at, live and in person!).

The race to the post season in the west is a tight one.  Only three points separate positions four through nine in the conference.

Here’s a brief look at Charlotte’s remaining opponents:

Milwaukee Admirals – The Checkers face them three times in the next two weeks.  Twice at home, and once on April 15, the final game of the regular season for both teams.  While Milwaukee isn’t currently in the playoffs, if they were to take all six points from Charlotte, the post season wouldn’t be out of the picture.  The Admirals have a record of 34-28-2-4 on the season, and have 74 points in 68 games played.  They are 1-3-1 against Charlotte, the only victory coming last November in Milwaukee.

Abbotsford Heat – The Checkers have back-to-back matinee games against the Heat next weekend at home.  Abbotsford is fourth in the conference with 80 points.  They are in what is probably the toughest division in the entire league, and are one of four teams from the West currently sitting in a playoff position.  The Checkers are 1-1 against the Heat after they split a pair of games in January in Abbotsford.

Rockford IceHogs – Currently in 11th, the IceHogs are just on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but if they took four points from Charlotte, that could potentially be enough to get them into the post season.  The Checkers are 4-1-0-1 against the IceHogs, and both games in Rockford resulted in wins for Charlotte.  With two more games there in a five-day stretch, those two games will be crucial to the Checkers playoff hopes, and quest for not only a spot in the post season, but home ice advantage that will probably require them to sit atop the Midwest division.

Peoria Rivermen – The Checkers have a record of 5-2 against Peoria this season, and face them one more time during the final weekend of the season.  The Rivermen are currently in eighth place in the west with 78 points in 71 games played.  Mike Murphy is 3-0 against the Rivs this season, so I for one hope he gets the start in two weeks against them in Peoria.

Other teams to watch out for:

Chicago Wolves – I’ll be doing a lot of scoreboard watching regarding the Wolves.  They currently sit atop the Midwest division, and are three points ahead of Charlotte with 82.  The scheduling gods were smiling on Charlotte when they made up the Wolves final weeks of the season.  From April 4-13, Chicago has a five-game roadtrip that has them play Oklahoma City, all three Texas teams, and finally a game in Grand Rapids, Michigan before returning home for their last two games of the season.  Needless to say, I’ll be cheering for their opponents over the roadtrip stretch.  With the Vancouver Canucks playoff future bright, there’s also the chance of losing valuable prospects to the NHL club, something the Wolves never had to worry about during their tenure with the Atlanta Thrashers.

San Antonio Rampage – Currently in a three-way tie with Charlotte for fourth place, the Rampage have 79 points in 70 games played.  Five of their final six games are at home, a factor that may prove to be incredibly beneficial.

Houston Aeros – The other third of the Checkers three-way tie, the Aeros have 79 points in 70 games played.  They are 32-23-5-10.  Yes.  They have lost 15 games after 60 minutes of play, including 10 lost shootouts.  That’s an incredibly crazy stat if you ask me, and is the highest number of loser-points given to a team in the entire league.

Gameday: Chicago Wolves at Charlotte Checkers

Chicago Wolves (32-22-2-3) at Charlotte Checkers (31-19-3-5)

  • I still say the Wolves logo looks more like a rabid dog, and not so much like a wolf… but it does have the vintage 1990’s look about it that the Carolina Panthers (old) font has.
  • Only one point separates the two teams, with Charlotte in the division lead (a place they’ve held onto for all of 2012), however Chicago has one more game played, so even if the Checkers lose in OT or a shootout, they would maintain the lead. (Though they have to get that one point to maintain the lead!)
  • Chicago is on a two-game win streak.  The Checkers have struggled a bit, and went 0-1-1 last weekend against Lake Erie.
  • Against the Midwest division this season, Charlotte has a record of 13-6-0-2, however the Wolves have found a chink in the Checkers armor, and lead the series 2-3-0-1.
  • Special teams may very well be the biggest key to the matchup tonight and tomorrow.  Charlotte is ranked in the top ten in both the power play and penalty kill (PK:7th, PP:6th).  Chicago, on the other hand, has quite polar-opposite special teams records.  They are last in the league on the power play, but 10th on the penalty kill.
  • The third period may be tough to watch no matter which team you prefer.  Both Charlotte and Chicago struggle immensely in the third period.  Charlotte has allowed 62 goals and only scored 45 in the third, and Chicago has allowed 51 and scored 37.  That is a -17 goal differential for Charlotte, and a -14 goal differential for Chicago. Can I please petition to have the AHL adopt a two-period, 40 minute game, because the Checkers would be number one if they did that!

In The Crease:

  • Wolves starting goalie Eddie Lack is 3-1 against Charlotte this year.  On the season, in 35 games played he is 16-15-0-3.  (2.30 GAA, .926 SV%).
  • Matt Climie, in 26 games played, is 16-9-0-0.  He has a 2.59 GAA and .921 SV%.  He is 1-1 against the Checkers.
  • Mike Murphy is 1-2 in four games played against the Wolves.  I was pretty pissed in December when he was pulled after the rest of the team decided not to play any defense.  Though Murphy’s numbers against Chicago aren’t spectacular, he’s 15-11-2-0 on the season (2.68 GAA, .910 SV%).
  • Justin Peters has not faced the Wolves this year, as until this weekend, every game against Chicago was during the time he was with the Hurricanes backing up Cam Ward.  In 15 games played, he’s 6-7-1 (2.46 GAA, .920 SV%).

Scoring and Shooting:

  • Mark Mancari has 49 points in 53 games played (25G, 24A).  In only three games against the Checkers, has five points (4G, 1A). 
  • Darren Haydar has 43 points in 54 games this year (14G, 29A).  In six games against the Checkers, he has only two points (1G, 1A).
  •  In 56 games with the Checkers, Chris Terry leads the team with 47 points (12G, 35A). In six games against Chicago, he has three assists.
  • Zach Boychuk, in 46 games played, has 32 points (14G, 18A). He has three points against Chicago (1G, 2A).

Gametime:  7:00 p.m. EST

Charlotte Radio: None
Charlotte TV: TWCA
Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
Chicago Twitter: @Chicago_Wolves@TheShaves
Officials
Referee:  Keith Kaval (#40)
Linesmen: Terry Wicklum (#58), Mark Hamlett (#81)

Checkers lose 5-2 in Rosemont to the Wolves

  • After mentioning in my pregame piece that Mike Mancari, the Wolves leading scorer, had yet to appear (and therefore register a point) against the Checkers, he had to go and score the first two of the game, and got a third point in the form of an assist.  I really hope I didn’t jinx the Checkers for that one!
  • The Checkers looked lost out there for most of the first two periods.  Official gamesheet is HERE, and it’s not pretty.
  • The injuries to key guys like Chris Durno, Riley Nash and Justin Shugg hurt the forward lines a great deal.  Mathieu Roy’s absence hurts, but the team has been fortunate with Derek Joslin’s presence to fill in lately.  He’s a guy I will miss when he returns to Raleigh.
  • In case you were wondering, AHL Live is the biggest joke of a product when you have to use it to watch Checkers games.  Tonight was the first time I had to see a game in Chicago online, and disgust is putting it mildly.  They have a single camera angle, probably operated by an intern, that sits in press row.  Every time a media person walked behind the camera, the whole thing shakes because of the rickety platform everyone sits on.  The audio feed was at such a low level, I couldn’t hear Jason Shaya and gave up on video in favor of his audio alone on the radio.  It was the best decision I’ve ever made!  What is frustrating is the Wolves broadcast EVERY SINGLE GAME in Chicago, but do viewers online who subscribe to AHLLive get that feed?  Of course not.  We get the shaky lo-res home video camera from the upper deck.
  • With their fifth shorthanded goal of the year (Thank you, Zac Dalpe!) the Checkers are now tied for fourth in shorties in the AHL.
  • After a couple of weeks of shaking up the defensive pairings, things on the blue line have been consistent for the last three games or so.  Bellemore-Jordan, Krueger-Rissanen and Joslin-Sanguinetti.
  • Eddie Lack made some incredible saves throughout the course of the game. He’s a REALLY fantastic goaltender, who will probably be a number one in the NHL one day.  Having two great goaltenders and an easy travel schedule even during a three-in-three weekend is definitely a benefit that Chicago has with it’s central location in the Midwest division.
  • Last night’s game in Milwaukee was won during the third period with stellar play by the Checkers.  With a last-minute goal in the second by Zac Dalpe, and a second goal by Nicolas Blanchard early in the third, I had high hopes that the Checkers would become a third period team once again. That wasn’t to happen, and the Wolves offense proved to be too much for the Checkers.  The third was a very back-and-forth contest, with countless offensive rushes, but they didn’t amount to anything for Charlotte.
  • The Checkers, as a whole, didn’t do a good job controlling rebounds offensively or defensively, and also lacked the ability to make good second chances turn into goals.
  • While the score was 5-2 on the scoresheet, it was a much closer game than that.  Emotions got too high late in the third, the team got sloppy and that resulted in the final goal, an empty netter.  Regardless, this is a game that Charlotte could have and should have won, and at times, was pretty disappointing to watch.
  • The Checkers return home tomorrow morning on a couple of early flights (I hate it that they never fly direct to Charlotte!  Layovers in Dallas have got to be old by now!).  The team has a four-game home stand coming up, which will be nice to players and fans alike.

Let’s Go Checkers

 

Gameday – Charlotte at Chicago

Charlotte Checkers (21-12-2-1) at Chicago Wolves (18-12-1-3)

  • This is the fourth meeting of Charlotte and Chicago, and the second IN Chicago in a little over a week.  The Checkers are 2-1 against the Wolves.
  • The Checkers score at Chicago last weekend. (Photo - J. Propst)

    The Wolves play for the third time in as many days, and have won their past two games.  They traveled to Peoria on Friday, and played at home against Lake Erie last night.

  • Goaltender Eddie Lack played on the road on Friday, and Matt Climie played at home last night.  The Wolves goaltenders have shared time this season relatively equally, with the goalie who is hotter getting to play.  Lack is 1-1 against Charlotte, and Climie is 0-1… if I was the coach, I’d play Lack, but clearly, I’m not a coach.
  • The Checkers are still without Captain Brett Sutter, who is with the Hurricanes, and Alternate Captain Chris Durno, who was injured in last Sunday’s game against Chicago.
  • Last night, Riley Nash, Justin Shugg and Mathieu Roy also sat out due to injury.
  • Chicago RW  Mark Mancari leads the team in goals with 12, while Center Darren Hadar leads the team in points with 33 (10G, 23A).  Due to NHL recalls, Mancari has not played against the Checkers this year, and Hadar has been kept scoreless in three games against Charlotte.
  • Last night in Chicago, over 15,000 fans were in attendance to see the Wolves beat Lake Erie.  Hopefully, it was an exhausting night, and since today marks their final game of a three-in-three, and the Checkers can capitalize on it!
Let’s Go Checkers!

Gametime:  4:00 p.m. EST

Charlotte Radio: WBCN 1660 AM
Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,

Chicago Twitter: @Chicago_Wolves@TheShaves

Officials
Referee:  Nick Krebsbach (#35)
Linesmen: Roger Behling (#15), Mathieu Chenier (#71)

A tale of three AHL cities – Part two: Chicago

Two posts down, one to go!  One week ago today I was in the fine city of Chicago watching the Checkers defeat the Wolves.  Wish I was back there this weekend, but my memories will have to get me through another day.  ;)

Day two of my three day roadie (that took me five days to complete, thanks to road conditions and hangovers!) consisted of spending time in Chicago with my best friend and his partner, and heading to the lovely village of Rosemont for the Checkers game against the Chicago Wolves.  Rosemont is a small blip on the outskirts of Chicago, that basically serves as the parking lot of O’Hare airport.  The arena is adjacent to a Target, and looks like the world’s largest Whitecastle from the outside.

The view of the Wolves ice from my seats. Thanks, iPhone, for your fantastic camera! (Check out the smoke that still hangs in the air!)

Like Rockford’s home rink, the All-State arena is also about 30 years old, and home to DePaul University Men’s basketball, and other concerts and special events.  It’s been home to hockey since 1994, when the Wolves moved in.  It’s of comparable size to the Checkers home, but is incredibly dated with gaudy multi-color carpet in the hallways, a terrible sound system and a video board that might have been top-of-the-line 15 or 20 years ago.  Sightlines were clearly designed for basketball, and the shallow rake of the lower bowl makes it hard to see.  I was grateful to be sitting up high above center ice, and advise any Checkers fans who make the trip to Chicago to sit in the upper bowl at center ice!

The Wolves have a pyro spectacular before their games… and it was shocking to the theatrical technician in me. I’m not talking a few indoor fireworks to celebrate a goal.  This is like a full on KISS rock show or Trans-Siberian orchestra pyro show with giant flames, indoor fireworks, and a laser light show that would have been REALLY cool in the late 1990’s.  There was so much smoke that it didn’t really clear until the third period, and then the Wolves scored, which set off a whole new set of fireworks.
The thing about the pyro show is it all takes place in the visitors end.  The Checkers couldn’t skate out until it was over (and it was quite long…. the history of the Wolves and their IHL and AHL championships was all chronicled in laser lights), and I can only imagine that based on the heat I felt in the top of the upper bowl, the ice had to be affected.  Pyro litters a lot of debris, too.  The top of the video board had a grey, chalky film on it, and I can only imagine the ice had bits of powder and charred stuff littering it, right where Mike Murphy was about to take his position in the crease.  Talk about giving the home team some advantage… the pyro show definitely did that!
I was just amazed by all of it… knowing how expensive permits for this kind of thing is, for the safety equipment required, and special personnell that have to be on hand when you have pyro, and of course, there’s the fact that all of Chicago once burned down and therefore their fire rules and regulations are even more strict to this day… so, it was impressive, for sure, both in spectacle and cost.  Personally?  I’d rather see money spent in other ways, but hey, I’m not paying the bills, and obviously, the Wolves have a pretty unlimited budget compared to many AHL teams.
As far as in-game entertainment is concerned, there wasn’t much to speak of.  All of the announcements were simply made over the PA system, without the benefit of an actual face to the voice like we have in Charlotte.  All of the Wolves games are broadcast (home AND away) so the TV timeouts there are longer than most AHL games.  It seems like those times could be better utilized by the team for promo stuff, etc.
I feel pretty confident that like the carpet in the hallways, the sound system at All State arena hasn’t been updated since the building was opened in 1980.  All of the sound seemed to come out of one side of the building, and wasn’t balanced at all.  The one thing that is incredibly awesome inside the Wolves home arena is their goal horn.  That thing is LOUD and legitimately awesome.  It’s what a goal horn SHOULD be.  It’s no boat horn like the Hurricanes have in Raleigh (I’m a big fan of that one!), but the Wolves have an impressive, intimidating horn. Time Warner Cable Arena? You NEED one like this.  I wouldn’t advise them to blast it as frequently as they do in Chicago despite the team only scoring one goal, but it was pretty fantastic!

A view from the upper bowl - Mathieu Roy drops the gloves! (Photo - J. Propst)

As far as the fans in the stands, I saw a couple of Hurricanes jerseys, and a River Rats jersey as well, which was cool.  But then there were the Wolves fans.  Nearly everyone I ran into was decked out in Wolves sweaters and wolves colors, head to toe.  It was pretty great.  There was still a scattering of Blackhawks jerseys in the crowd, and I spotted a couple of Canucks sweaters behind the goal, but mostly?  It was all about the Wolves.

A friend of mine, who I’ve known since high school here in Charlotte, is now a Chicago resident and Wolves season ticket holder.  He said his favorite games are the ones against Rockford.  The IceHogs are undoubtedly the Wolves biggest rival, however with the Blackhawks being THE NHL team in Chicago, those games bring out a huge crowd.  Jeremy said it’s like a game with two home teams, and is just a great night to be a hockey fan.
All in all, despite the nit-picky things I’ve elaborated on, I really enjoyed the game in Chicago… then again, it was a Checkers win, so what’s not to like?  I drove the 30-40 minutes back to my best friend’s uptown apartment, and celebrated the New Year in style, knowing the Checkers had swept the weekend in their two-game roadtrip, and I got to see one more game in Milwaukee before making the 1000 mile drive back to Charlotte!

Postgame – Charlotte at Chicago. Checkers win! 4-1

Random thoughts about Charlotte vs. Chicago:

  • Nicholas Blanchard scores the first goal of the evening. (Photo - J. Propst)

    I still kind of think their logo looks like a rabid dog more than a wolf… and their font is as dated as the Carolina Panthers one.  But hey, why change something with great brand recognition, right?

  • The pyro/laser light show before the game was pretty incredible.  Shocking, really, to have that much pyro in a city that was once destroyed by fire, but hey, the fans seemed to like it a lot!
  • The relationship between Wolves fans and the Blackhawks is an interesting one.  While the two teams aren’t affiliated, and the Wolves are big time rivals of the IceHogs, a friend (and Wolves season ticket holder) said to me that Wolves/IceHogs games are like “Home and Home” with both teams being the home team.  I still can’t grasp this concept… who do you cheer for?  Where is your allegiance?  With your team’s rival, or… your NHL team’s farm team.  It’s a crazy but cool dynamic!
  • Jerome Samson scores the second of the night, and the eventual GWG. (Photo - J.Propst)

    TV timeouts made my mind drift to many random things, like when talking about a single player on the Wolves, do you change their name to “A Chicago Wolf”?  Ahh, grammar… forever making me think about important stuff like that.

Actual thoughts about the game, and the Charlotte Checkers:

  • Fisticuffs! Mathieu Roy and Antoine Roussel drop the gloves. (Photo - J. Propst)

    This was a MUCH different game than last night.  It didn’t seem to be slow because of a lack of energy, but a more disciplined match.  I think this pace paid off, and the Checkers seemed to be more consistent, and clearly had a better outcome in the end.

  • Rasmus Rissanen has really grown a lot during his rookie season.  He’s become more physical in his play, and someone I really enjoy watching.  He was aggressive and physical and a great presence in the defensive zone.
  • The Defense as a whole did a much better job supporting the goaltender all night.  While the Checkers are lucky to have a fantastic goalie in Mike Murphy, it’s nice when he doesn’t have to do all the work!
  • Brett Bellemore had a great game.  While I’ve been questioning the apparent lack of consistent defensive pairings, it didn’t seem to matter tonight.  Bellemore was physical and forceful and had some great blocks and hits.
  • Charlotte did a better job getting second (and third) chances.  Guys were in the crease going after rebounds, and turning those rebounds into goals.
  • The Checkers had a 5-on-3 kill during the second period for about :45 seconds.  During that time, they kept the puck in front of the opposing goalie and even had a SOG by Brett Sutter.  Very impressive to be down two men!
  • Chris Terry is a guy that makes things happen.  He might not be scoring as many goals as last season, but when you watch him, you are watching a player who is in the middle of things and making things happen.  I believe he’s one of the most well-rounded players and contributors on the Checkers.
  • Sometimes, I think Mike Murphy is slightly magical in the way he can grab a puck out of mid air that I don’t even see coming.  This happens frequently, and every time, I’m even more greatful for our fantastic netminding!

This roadtrip has been fantastic.  When it’s all said and done, I will have driven about 1800 miles, seen three hockey games (I still have Milwaukee tomorrow, afterall!), celebrated New Years with my best friend from high school in the great city of Chicago, and of course, seen TWO victories by the Charlotte Checkers.  What more can I ask for, right?

Let’s Go Checkers!