Reflections of loss – and why I have renewed faith in the Charlotte Checkers

Sometimes, I just have to let it all out there.  So instead of printing quotes, recaps and photographs from last night’s game, I figured I’d share something a bit different, and maybe a bit personal.  There’s a lot of frustration out there these days for hockey fans.  There seems to be no end in sight to the NHL lockout that has owners and players unwilling to negotiate and instead are sacrificing the fans all across this continent, and here in Charlotte, we’ve got a local team that can’t figure out how to get into the win column at home.

As I sat down in my usual seat last night, and saw the team skate out in those black jerseys, I felt my first seeds of doubt.  I know it’s just superstition, and I’d LOVE to get behind the sweaters, because they are really slick, and look incredible on the ice, but I don’t like them.  I can’t remember the last time the home team won in them, so yes, I cringed.  The game was much as the other’s I’ve seen in the past week or so.  The team came out strong, struggled in the second, thanks in part to a questionable goaltender interference call on Jerome Samson, and then came back in the third period with renewed intensity, but it was too little too late, and the Checkers fell again, this time to the Lake Erie Monsters of Cleveland.

After the game as I listened to Coach Jeff Daniels and a couple of players speak to the media, I was actually pretty inspired.  I’m a fan of the Charlotte Checkers, just like all of you who follow this site.  But despite my passion for the team, there are definitely times that I feel pretty down in the dumps over them.  Times when I feel like the cards are stacked against the team I follow so closely, and when I can almost understand why the people in the seats around me decided to leave the game early since it seemed that yet again, the home team was going to end up in the loss column.  A five game losing streak, the longest in the history of the team, is a time that certainly can encourage a bit of hopelessness in the fans and the team itself.  But for me, for the first time, I actually believed what the guys were saying as they recounted their descriptions of what had happened during the game, and more importantly, the big picture surrounding the team and the current slump.

You have to understand, post-game interviews are filled with clichés.  Sure, the responses are true and honest statements from players and coaching staff, but they aren’t usually deep and introspective, and rarely have a great deal of passion unless you are really lucky.  There are a lot of answers that are pretty generic, and you could probably make a drinking game out of the word “effort” and how many times it is used in a response to a reporter.

Last night, there was a fire in Justin Peters that I hadn’t ever seen before.  He was intense, his eyes piercing as he looked back at the small gathering of reporters gathered to hear what he had to say.  He was passionate, and if he can give a speech like he did to the media to the guys who share his dressing room, I firmly believe that the fans in Charlotte will see a very different team tonight against Lake Erie.  Peters has a huge amount of pride in this team, the men who battle in front of him each and every night, the fans in the stands and the management that surrounds him.   He believes in this team, and to be honest, he did a lot to inspire me to come back from the seeds of doubt that had begun to creep into my mind as I watched the Checkers get beaten by a team that should not have fared so well against the Checkers mighty offense, and a defensive group that has a number of NHLers in its ranks.

Peters said, “Look no farther than in the mirror. You know, you can’t be looking around for answers from someone else. No one feels sorry for us. I think the main thing that I’m doing, and I hope everyone else is doing is look in the mirror.  And you know, make sure you show up ready to play and in turn you are going to help the team.”

Peters continued a bit later with this, confident in his words, and filled with conviction,

“We need to come and we need to give better effort at home. We need to come out and take pride in home ice and take care of business when we can.….We can’t be taking that for granted in this beautiful building…. We need to do a better job for our home fans, too, in our home rink.”

 

I firmly believe the team we see on the ice tonight will be a different one than the group of black jersey wearing athletes that skated last night.  I have a lot of faith, and am looking forward to a great battle between Lake Erie and Charlotte.

Let’s Go Checkers

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!

 

 

Thoughts from the 3 in 3 last weekend

Another great post from Allan… he and I chatted earlier this week about having a hard time recapping a frustrating weekend.  I’m glad he was able to do it.  It’s hard to write about a couple of losses that shouldn’t have happened, but hey, it’s something to build on, and the Checkers still lead the Midwest Division.  Let’s Go Checkers!

 

All in all the end of the homestand last weekend was not too pretty.  The Checkers only got 2 out of a possible 6 points against teams that honestly did not have the same speed or potential scoring ability as the Checkers.

1.  The power play just looks terrible, lots of turnovers, slow passes at the point and WAY TOO MANY Shorthanded goals and chances for the other team.  Charlotte leads the league with 4 shorthanded tallies but has given up a horrible 3 and without some good goal tending that number would be a lot higher.

2.  Too many times guys are skating around looking for a pretty pass or high light shot instead of getting the puck on net. Of course not many guys seem ready to go camp out in front and do the dirty work to put in rebounds.

3.  The forwards got caught quite a few times playing in too deep and then not hustling back which has led to quite a few 3 on 2 breaks when the Checkers really had not put on enough offensive pressure to warrant not being able to back check.

4.  The Penalty Kill has looked better but they still laspe at times and let fowards coming off the bench to get behind them and they press a little too hard for shorthanded chances which makes it easier for the other team to get back into the zone easily.

5. Dumb penalties–especially in the game Friday against Texas–Blanchard and Bowman both took horrible penalties away from the puck which helped lead to the loss.

6. Coach Daniels had an interview where he said “he was mixing up the lines more to avoid getting stale”  well too much might be even worse, every game had some type of change on the lines.  At some point when you find 3 guys that are all in sync with each other leave it alone.  Daniels does a great job of using all 4 lines pretty close to even in 5 on 5 play so it is not a case of TOI.  Get 3 forwards on the same page and let them play at least 2-3 games together before mixing it up.

I dont want to sound too down on a first place team but they REALLY should have not lost to either Texas or Lake Erie this weekend.  This team has a ton of talent and a lot of NHL scouts are watching due to the Canes struggles.  They need to take advantage of this time when this whole group is together because the situation in Raleigh is not going to allow that forever.  Anyway know onto some better thoughts:

1. The goal tending is still great and is saving the team from its lack of scoring.  Justin Peters made all the saves he could against Lake Erie and all the goals against were on the D.  Murphy beside a brain cramp is awesome (Congrats on the call-up and making the history books in his first NHL appearance even though it is a dubious record for someone who has not given up a NHL goal yet!!!)

2. Nicolas Blanchard and Justin Soryal are just putting out pure heart and hustle every game.  Neither is a talented goal scorer but they fight and skate hard every shift and the rest of the players need to take a cue from them.

3. Chris Murray continues to play solid D and did a decent job on the PP unit Monday.

4. Justin Kruegar and Rasmus Rissanen are both solid stay at home D-men as rookies and if they add just a little offense to their games will cause a lot of problems for other teams.

5. Brett Sutter just continues to show why he should really be up in Raleigh with his two-way play and the fact he never shows that he gets down when reassigned.  It will be a shame when he is no longer in a Checkers uniform.

6. Jerome Samson is still almost impposible to knock off the puck in the corners and boards and why he is not getting more of a shot at least on the 4th line in Raleigh is beyond me.

Well good luck this weekend taking on Texas and San Antonio bring home 4 points and increase the division lead!

Gameday: Lake Erie Monsters at Charlotte

Lake Erie Monsters (10-10-1-1) at Charlotte Checkers (14-7-1-1)

  • The Checkers play their second game of their three-in-three following a very disappointing loss against Texas Last night.
  • Last night’s game came down to very disappointing performances by Charlotte’s special teams.  Hopefully, this afternoon’s game will not be a repeat.
  • There’s a good chance the Monsters won’t be well rested if they spent last night at a Charlotte hotel following the Clemson/Virginia Tech matchup.  I can’t imagine there was much quiet in any uptown hotel.
  • This is the first regular season contest against Lake Erie, however the Checkers went 2-0 in preseason games against the Monsters at the Xtreme Ice Center.
  • Radio coverage returns tonight after a brief hiatus due to equipment malfunctions.  The game will be broadcast live on WBCN 1660 AM.

Lake Erie Notes:

  • Right wing David van der Gulik leads the team in points with 19 (6G, 13A).
  • Evan Brophy, a center, leads the team in goals with 7.
  • Former ECHL Checker Hugh Jessiman leads the team in PIMs with 44.
  • Rookie goaltender Trevor Cann has started the past three games.  In 13 games this season, he’s 5-8-0-0 (3.89 GAA, .897 SV%).
  • Starting goaltender Cedric Desjardins is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and has missed the past three games.  In eight games this season, he leads the AHL in GAA with 1.62, and a .948 SV%.
  • Goaltender Desjardins played junior hockey with the Rimouski Oceanic, and had a teammate named Sidney Crosby… I think that Sid guy is a pretty good hockey player.  Checkers fans will also recognize Desjardins as the former netminder for the Norfolk Admirals.
  • In case you need a pronunciation key (French names can be tricky), deh-ZHAHR-dahn is how you taunt the goalie.  I assume that Cann is pronounced just as it reads…


Gametime: 5:00 p.m. EST

Charlotte Radio:  WBCN 1660 AM

Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,

Lake Erie Twitter:  @monstershockey, @dmansworldpd

Officials
Referee: Jarrod Ragusin (#42)
Linesmen: Frank Murphy (#29), Ben Shiley (#21)

Justins score, Checkers win!

Another fine showing by the Charlotte Checkers today with a win against the Lake Erie Monsters.  This game had a very different feel and pace from yesterday, with the coaching staff playing around with the lines throughout the contest.  Defense pairings and forward lines were constantly in flux, which resulted in sloppy play by the Checkers at times.  Justin Shugg netted two goals, and Justin Soryal scored the game winner in a 3-1 win over the Monsters.

Thoughts and observations:

  • Brett Sutter.  All I can say is wow.  If this guy doesn’t have a letter on his sweater by the end of camp, I’m going to be shocked. He was feisty on the ice, using his body, taking hits, and making plays.  He seems more mature on the ice, and has a greater level of confidence in his play.
  • Zach Boychuk seemed subdued.  I noticed this in Raleigh last week also, but he’s quieter, not as chirpy as he was last season, and very deflated/  Hopefully, he can find a way to make this stint in the AHL a positive thing and a learning process.
  • Justin Peters made his first start in a Checkers sweater.  He made 26 saves during the game.  I think the biggest learning curve may be with the skaters in front of him, adjusting to Peters being in net.  Half of the skaters today returned from last season’s squad, and had never played in front of Peters before.  With time, this confidence level should increase.  Peters still seems unsure, and some of his saves seemed sloppy, and was out of position on the goal that was scored on him.  I think with time, he should return to the top-prospect form he was in Albany a couple of years ago.
  • Matt Pistilli impressed once again.  He reads plays well, and has a great eye for setting them up.  I look forward to seeing this guy in Charlotte all season.
  • Justin Soryal is going to be a great player to watch.  He’s clearly physical, and knows how to use his fists, but I think he has a lot more hockey potential than many enforcers.  While I’m certain he will take plenty of penalties this season, I think they will be the right kind, and not leave the team shorthanded on the ice.
And thoughts on the roster:
  • Before the game, a few of us made a list of where we think the Checkers roster will stand by opening night.  This is all speculation, but we’ll see what comes of it.
  • There are essentially four or five forwards fighting for one or two roster spots.  Depending on how long Drayson Boyman and Riley Nash stay in Raleigh will determine how many players make the Checkers for opening night.  The guys who I believe are all on the bubble include Justin Shugg, Cedric McNicoll, Mike McKenzie and Jared Staal.  Matt Pistilli may have been a bubble player, but not after this weekend’s preseason games.
  • Justin Shugg, who is in my opinion one of those player “on the bubble” made a strong case for himself to stay in Charlotte.  He’s a clutch player, and may be able to beat out one of last season’s players for a spot in Charlotte.
  • On the D front, assuming that Justin Faulk returns to Charlotte (and I think he will), one or two will probably need to be sent to Florida unless the Checkers plan to carry seven or eight Defensemen.  Ryan Donald is the most likely candidate to go to Florida, and I would put Rasmus Rissanen or Mathieu Roy as the other outside candidate for that move
  • I see at least three or four players all worthy of wearing a letter this season, and am anxious to see who ends up with one.  Chris Durno is an obvious leader, and Nicolas Blanchard is the only returning captain from last season to the Checkers.  Brett Sutter is proving to be a huge leader, and I have always been supportive of Chris Terry in a leadership role.  Only time will tell.