Charlotte Checkers beat the OKC Barons in OT, Game 2 of the first playoff round is tonight

First, I must be completely honest. I did not pay 100% to this game. I was running a show (ballet…. the ballet always interrupts hockey watching! Good thing I love the ballet!) Therefore, some of my observations may not be as thorough as I’d like them to be. Because much of my game-watching was done from a muted laptop, I’m sure I missed a lot. But hey, some observations are better than no observations, right?

Now…. my own personal observations, in no particular order:

  • Rob Madore.  I was not surprised in the least that he was the starter for the Checkers last night. I also believe he will continue to play in that role, but, and I mean this is the most positive of ways, he’ll be on a short leash. A couple of bad games (that are his fault or his teammates, and I must say I believe it will be the latter more than the former), and he may get replaced by one of the Checkers other two willing and able goaltenders. In what has become Madore’s true fashion, he was able to stop shot after shot.  This was particularly important in the first period, when the Barons outshot the Checkers 13-5.  Not only that, but the Checkers had an entire powerplay where they didn’t register a single shot on the Barons goalie, Yann Danis.
  • After the first period and the disgustingly unbalanced SOG stats, all I could think was YIKES. As it’s been in the past month it seems, the Checkers came out a bit sluggish, but whatever was said in the room between periods seemed to work, because the second period was a drastically different pace, and one that favored Charlotte. SOG were nearly equal, and the Checkers scored two goals.  The first was from Justin Shugg, one of only two Justin’s that remains on the Charlotte roster (insert sad faces here).  Shugg’s goal was a beautiful one, coming of of a rebound while the Checkers were on their second powerplay of the game.
  • The next came from Brody Sutter, younger cousin of Brett who was possibly the biggest star of the Checkers playoff run two years ago.  Brody’s goal was a slick one, a wraparound goal on the backhand. The Checkers had the lead, but it was for a very brief period of time.
  • In a span of only 21 seconds late in the second period, the Barons scored two more goals. With only eight seconds left in Charlotte’s penalty kill, Mark Arcobello scored a wraparound goal, catching the visiting team off guard a bit in the midst of a line change, and there was little that could be done to prevent that Barons goal. 
  • Moments later, the Barons Josh Green scored another on Rob Madore, thanks in part to some sloppy defensive play by Charlotte.
  • A penalty at the whistle to end the second period and another right after it expired early in the third period would have given the Checkers nearly four straight minutes on the powerplay, but they didn’t need it.  On his first shift of the second power play,  Zach Boychuk scored, tying the game for the Checkers.  
  • The remaining 17 or so minutes of regulation were scoreless for both squads, taking them to overtime.
  • It only took a couple of minutes in overtime for the Checkers to end the game.  Brody Sutter’s game winning OT goal was a gorgeous deflection off of Brett Bellemore’s shot. 

Other thoughts:

  • Last night, Mike Murphy was the backup to Rob Madore, and John Muse was a healthy scratch.  It was a pleasant surprise, seeing Murphy’s name on the scoresheet. Does this mean in the “goalie rankings” he’s moved up to number two? Maybe. Murph is, of course, the winning-est goaltender in Checkers history, and nobody can ever forget his stellar performance in the 2011 playoffs that saw him relieve Justin Pogge of his starting duties just a couple of games into the first round.  Charlotte went on to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were defeated by the eventual Calder Cup winning Binghamton Senators.
  • I was really impressed with Brock McGinn. Though he didn’t make it onto the score sheet, he continued to be physical and has no problem using his body at the right times to make big plays.  He appeared to be hit late in overtime, but left the ice on his own.  Here’s hoping it was nothing serious!
  • Once the sluggishness of the first period was over, the Checkers played like a team I recognize.  While they seemed to slip a bit late in the second period, they generally stayed strong and physical throughout the second and third periods.  Overtime, though it was only a few minutes long, was completely controlled by Charlotte.  More play like this will result in plenty more playoff games won by the Checkers.
  • Game two is tonight at 8p.m.  I will be watching, as always, from a lightbooth while working a ballet performance.  Let’s Go Checkers!

A few links to get you through game day two:

From Tend the Farm: Charlotte Beats OKC In Overtime, Takes 1-0 Series Lead

From The Charlotte Observer: Checkers rough up Barons

From Paul Branecky: Brody Sutter’s OT goal wins game 1

With Muse to Raleigh, who’s the Checkers next goalie?

While having lunch with my best friend and discussing the goaltending situation in Raleigh and Charlotte, we began reminiscing about some of the interesting characters who have played goal in the Hurricanes organization, and since the Checkers are now in need of another goalie, which of those past players could be invited back?  Fortunately, Dan Ellis isn’t expected to be out of work for long. Right now, there’s a critical need in Raleigh right now for help between the pipes, which is why John Muse was recalled today by the Hurricanes, and leaves the Checkers one short for tomorrow’s game against Norfolk.

 

Warning in advance: Please take most of this with the grain of salt that its intended to be taken with. 

 

In alphabetical order, so it doesn’t appear that I’m playing favorites, here are some goalie possibilities for the Checkers and/or Hurricanes:

 

Nathan Beasley – I’m not sure if he’s ever played goal, but I feel like he’s a pretty quick learner and a hard worker, plus he works out and eats healthy and doesn’t binge on ice cream at Harris Teeter in the middle of the night, so that’s good, right?

 

Bobby Goepfert – Alex, I’ll take “Fan favorite Checkers goaltenders for $800″.  Goepfert spent a season in the Checkers organization, including a stretch in Charlotte. His use of twitter is brilliant, and I’m not sure if any professional athlete has made me laugh more between his Twogs about his fear of flying, and amazing iPhone filmed movie trailers starring himself and his Checkers teammates, I can assure you that Goepfert would add a lot of personality to a team bench.  And the good news is he is back in the U.S. for the summer after spending the past two years in Germany.

 

John Grahame had an epicly awesome mask when he played for the Hurricanes... you know, if you are into fast cars and bikinis!

John Grahame had an epicly awesome mask when he played for the Hurricanes… you know, if you are into fast cars and bikinis!

John Grahame – Though he hasn’t played professionally since he was with the Lake Erie Monsters in the spring of 2011, John Grahame is a former goaltender and fan favorite for the Hurricanes. Last March, he was briefly signed by the New York Islanders to serve as a backup when they were particularly injured, though he never played in a game.  He was my favorite in Raleigh because he had surgically enhanced bikini clad girls on his helmet, and an awesome NASCAR theme. I can’t recall how he was in net, but he sure was fun! I believe he’s half of the only mother/son pair to both have their names on the Stanley Cup.  His mom is a member of the front office for the Colorado Avalanche, and he won the cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay.

Brian Helms – I know nothing about his resume, but on twitter, he volunteered, so I feel like I’ve got to give him a shot, eh?

Chris Jablonski – Jason Shaya loves to refer to him as a “former goaltender of the Portland Pirates,” and while this is certainly true, the full story is that he was a last minute addition to the team, who when in Charlotte, needed a backup for their backup, who was starting that night after a recall of their number one goalie.  Jablonski, at the time, was an intern for the Checkers, and suited up for the visiting team, which is a pretty amazing story for a guy who was getting college credit for working for the team!  Regardless, the fact he has actually knows how to play the position and has in fact dressed for an AHL team probably makes him a more viable candidate than Beasley (Sorry buddy, personally you’d be my first choice!)

Mike Murphy skated with the Checkers last week before the team left on their two-game roadtrip. (Photo - J. Propst)

Mike Murphy skated with the Checkers last week before the team left on their two-game roadtrip. (Photo – J. Propst)

Mike Murphy – The good news is, he’s practiced with the team a couple of times in the past week.  He’s also the winningest goaltender in the history of the Checkers, the reason the Checkers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, and one of my favorite people on the planet.  He had a tough season in the KHL, but I have more confidence in Murph than just about any professional athlete I’ve met, and if he and the team feel he’s ready to be back, then I say #PutMurphIn

Justin Pogge, during his modeling days.  He's got a lot more facial hair and permanent ink these days.

Justin Pogge, during his modeling days. He’s got a lot more facial hair and permanent ink these days.

 

 

 

 

Justin Pogge – I never thought they day would come that I campaigned to bring him back, but here it is.  Hands down, Pogge was one of the most entertaining characters during his season in Charlotte, from the “Justin Pogge has lost his mind” game in Hershey, to the charisma he exhibited on and off the ice, I’d love to have him back in Charlotte just because he makes me smile. Also, good news on the Pogge front, his season in Italy finished in January.  For what it’s worth, Pogge’s numbers this season in Italy were the best of his professional career.

Jason Shaya – Many years ago, I saw him dress in a game for the Checkers, so I know it’s a possibility, especially with the posse of interns and color guys he has accumulated that could cover for him. I’d bid on his jersey at the end of the year!

Tripp Tracy – He likes to bill himself as a former professional goaltender, but his statistics are limited to two seasons in the ECHL and six games in the AHL, however six starts is better than nothing, even if they were 15 years ago. I’m sure he could keep the bus rides entertaining with his stories about texting Jared Staal’s parents and all of the other celeb hockey players he texts regularly.  The good news is Tracy is close by in Raleigh, and just a phone call away!

Bits and pieces:

  • Though I will miss seeing him in Chalotte, congrats to Riley Nash for another call up to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, especially since he’s one of 15 healthy forwards on the roster there.
  • It will be great to see Zach Boychuk back in a Checkers sweater. Though I’m sure he’d rather be playing in the NHL I’m confident that with the right grit and determination, he’ll get there.
  • My whole family is coming into town for the game tomorrow night! My niece and nephews are huge Checkers fans, and can’t wait. This is an especially exciting game because my brother and sister in law who live in Madagascar, Africa are here and seeing their first hockey game in well over a year.

Checkers goaltending, more Canes call ups, and random thoughts

Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo - J. Propst)

Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo – J. Propst)

I spent the morning at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail watching the Checkers morning practice.  For the second day in a row, Mike Murphy skated with the team as a third goalie, and spent a great deal of time working with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso.  For a guy who hasn’t played a pro game in over four months, I was impressed with Murphy’s on-ice work.  I think he’d be a huge asset to the Checkers, especially during this playoff push, but at the same time, I hope he isn’t rushed before he is ready.  He still needs time, but as all Checkers fans who are familiar with Murphy’s experience and work ethic, I know he can do it.

 

Yesterday, in his Ten Thoughts, Jason Shaya mentioned that the Hurricanes are

Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse  both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo - J. Propst)

Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo – J. Propst)

reportedly looking for reinforcements for the Checkers, which is reassuring considering until this point, it seems they have left Derek Wilkinson and the Checkers to find their own reinforcements, most of whom are ECHLers with little or no AHL or NHL experience.  While many have already contributed in great ways (Matt Marquadt comes to mind, in particular) what Charlotte really needs is some NHL caliber talent, either in the form of an up-and-coming prospect, or an NHL veteran trying to get back into the majors.  The Checkers currently have 11 injuries, if you include Zac Dalpe and Justin Soryal, though the former is on the verge of returning.   They have 5 healthy defensemen, and 11-12 healthy forwards, depending on how you count them.

As I was watching the Checkers skate this morning, I got the official word that the Texas Stars had signed an NHL veteran to a PTO by the name of Mike Commodore.  With a Stanley Cup ring, NCAA Championship, and IIHF Gold Medal, he brings a lot of experience to an already brutal Stars team.  I’d be kidding if I said I didn’t wish the Hurricanes organization hadn’t jumped on that veteran first, but kudos for the Stars for getting a great veteran blueliner.  This is the kind of player I hope the Checkers can get, and I firmly believe it’s what they need right now.  They need grit and experience to fill out their roster.

 

Odds and ends:

  • Former Checkers goaltenders continue to shine in Raleigh.  Justin Peters recently had a shutout, and Dan Ellis made 40 saves in a loss last night against Florida, with a shortened Canes bench in front of him.  Justin Faulk left the game in the second period and didn’t return, Bobby Sanguinetti took a skate to the face and received 13 stitches, and Tim Gleason missed a portion of the game as well to receive 16 stitches after a high stick to the face by Panther Scottie Upshall.
  • This morning, the Hurricanes announced that Justin Faulk will be out for 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain.  Brett Bellemore was recalled from the Checkers, which will require recall TO the Checkers as well.  Currently, from what I can tell, the only defenseman under contract with the Hurricanes and not currently with the Canes or Checkers is Joe Sova, who played with the Reading Royals and San Francisco Bulls this season.  Keegan Lowe, Ryan Murphy and Austin Levi are all Canes prospects under contract, but are all but still playing in Major Junior.
  • Zac Dalpe took part in a full practice this morning with the Checkers.  They leave later today for a short road trip to Texas.
  • AJ Jenks, who suffered a wrist fracture in January, was still wearing a yellow no-contact jersey, but looks extremely close to returning, and was skating at full speed throughout the practice.

Summer Vacation Homework: Flat Checkers

So, unfortunately for Checkers fans, summer vacation started WAY too early, and I still haven’t gotten over it (ask me about the pages of statistics I analyzed in recent weeks, and the essay I want to write about why I DO NOT LIKE the AHL’s new schedule format that eliminated four-in-fives, and only allows for a three-in-three, because I am convinced this change is a huge part of why this year’s Charlotte team faltered… an easier schedule facilitated too much down time, and goofing off, lack of focus, etc., thereby affecting the on-ice performance.  But I digress).

Since it’s vacation time, and I’m about to embark on my first-mini vacay of the summer, I thought having a small prop for vacation photos would be a lot of fun.  In years past, my world traveling hand-knit gnomes were used, but I want something new.

Flat Murph

So… enter the Flat Checkers.  If you know any elementary school-aged kids, you’ve probably heard of Flat Stanley, a series of books that date to the 1960′s about a young boy who is squished flat in his sleep, which enables him to see the world as a flat, paper thin boy who can be mailed, slip under doorways, etc.

I think Flat Stanley is pretty awesome, and what better adaption of him than in the form of a Flat Checker, small and flexible enough to fit in your carry on luggage, in the glove box of your Honda Accord (as the case may be for me!) or in an Envelope mailed to Africa!

I’ve created three print-at-home Flat Checkers, and am more than happy to create more if there are players you really want to see transformed into flat versions, just drop me a line and I am more than happy to oblige!  Just click on the names, and you can save and print them at home.

My personal collection of Flat Checkers will be visiting Banff, and sites all over Alberta, Canada this summer, and I can’t wait to share the photos of them!

 

FlatMurph  FlatMJ  FlatNash

 

Enjoy, and happy travels!  If you tweet pics of your FlatCheckers on your travels this summer, I’ll share them!

 

Chicago at Charlotte – the first period demise -an editorial

Two things. First of all, this is going to be highly opinionated, and not in the least journalistic. But thats why I am a blogger, right? I get to state my opinion… Secondly, I’m writing my first ever post on my iPad, so excuse the typeos in advance!

Only moments into the game, I had a feeling that last nights matchup between Charlotte and Chicago was going to be ugly. The black jerseys always make me uncomfortable, and the team wearing them was not the Checkers team that has dominated during the first two months of the season. They were sloppy, and lackluster, and completely unmotivated. I wonder how many more adjectives for SUCK I can think of?

Anyway. I wasn’t impressed. On Thursday night, the Checkers battled. The entire first period, it seemed, was played in front of Lack, with the Checkers throwing countless pucks at him. (ok, we have a count and it was 40, but I’m trying to get my point across!). The Checkers lost the game on Thursday, but they battled, and I didn’t feel discouraged like I did only a few minutes into the game last night.

So 17 minutes into the first period, when Mike Murphy was pulled, I was furious. I was mad his teammates let him down. I have seen countless goalies pulled at games, and most of them have deserved it. Who can forget the games just last year where it would take between three and five soft goals (with him looking over at the bench after each of them as if to ask if that was the one that was going to do it) that we would finally see Murph skate into the crease in relief of the losing net minder? It wasn’t Murphy last night that got pulled…. He was just the human sacrifice that the lack of defensive responsibility and lackluster play by all of the skaters.

There was a noticeable chill in the air as John Muse skated towards the crease. Half of my section
booed (and I NEVER boo my team!) and every one else gasped in shock of what we were seeing. This is the goaltender who played so well in his two partial games in the NHL last week.

I’m not naive to have not understood what was happening. Sure, Murphy had allowed two goals, but his teammates had dropped the ball. Someone had to be made an example of and it was the goaltender. Clearly, it worked (and this is why I wouldn’t be a good coach, cause I wouldn’t be able to do it!) because once the second period started, a team I recognized was back on the ice. They were being physical, aggressive. They scored four unanswered goals, and supported their young, unproven net minder as they should have been supporting Murph in the first period.

The game ended well, with a couple of points in the standings, and another digit in the win column, but it was still frustrating to watch. I love this team. Ive taken off of work twice this week to go to games. I spend money, and drag family and friends to games, and try and support them always, but it sure is hard when they bail like they did in the first last night! It was great to see John Muse get his first win in a Checkers sweater, because it sounds like he is going to be the number two for a couple of months, and we need his confidence!

Tomorrow is going to be a real test for the Checkers. Oklahoma City has a really strong team, and a couple of great goaltenders. They are ranked near the top of the toughest division (by far) in the entire league. It’s not going to be an easy battle, and I really hope that our team can come in fighting. The next two games and potential four points are going to be huge. I’d really like to travel to Rockford and Chicago for New Years knowing the team has a three game winning streak, right?

I also hope I never have to witness play like that any other time this season! Let’s Go Checkers!!!

Mike Murphy plays for the Hurricanes again in Winnipeg, and post game notes from Texas

For the first time in my Checkers-watching career, I turned the game off last night in favor of an NHL game.  It didn’t help that the Checkers weren’t doing well, but I was interested to see how Mike Murphy would do in his second NHL appearance in relief of Cam Ward.

Mike Murphy guards the net against the Lake Erie Monsters. (Photo - N. Huffstickler)

Murph came into the game halfway through the second period.  The Hurricanes were down 4-0, in a Winnipeg building that has become a really tough place to play for visiting teams. (Only four teams have beat the Jets on home ice).  Within moments of Murphy taking the ice, the crowd went wild with chants taunting him, but clearly Murphy didn’t let it affect him.  He stopped all seven shots he faced, and his NHL stats still read a 1.000 SV%.

In Murphy’s 36 minutes of ice time in two NHL games, the Hurricanes have scored five goals, and only allowed nine shots (Prior to being pulled, in 31 minutes, Ward faced 30 shots…. in nearly the same amount of time, Murphy only faced seven… the whole team turned around for that second half).  Clearly, the team is rallying behind their young goaltender, but a lot of it falls on Murph, too.  He’s got confidence which pays huge dividends in his performance.

The Hurricanes have a few days off before their next game, which is on Tuesday in Toronto.  I’d love to see Murphy get an entire game…. he sure has done great in relief this week, and it seems to me he deserves to see what he can do from the beginning!

 

And… since this is a Charlotte Checkers blog and not one just about one of our awesome goaltenders… a few notes about last night’s game:

  • Official gamesheet is here, and you can read Paul Branecky’s much more thorough recap is here.
  • For the second time this season, the Checkers were shut out. This time, Tyler Beskorowany stopped all 29 shots he faced, winning the game and first-star honors for Texas.
  • The Checkers lost their second straight game, a streak I hope ends at two!
  • I feel like by mentioning special teams again, I am beginning to sound like a broken record.  The Checkers powerplay went scoreless in five attempts.
  • On a positive note, the Stars had six power play opportunities, and were also shut down.  Kudos to the Checkers Penalty Kill unit!
  • Last night marked the third time in four games they allowed a shorthanded goal.  The best word I can think of in response to that, which wouldn’t require a bunch of &@%#$ symbols is YUCK.
  • It seems to me while the team is perfectly willing to get physical and drop the gloves, etc., where they REALLY need to get physical is in front of the net. The team hasn’t been in front of the opposing goaltender enough to snag rebounds.  I’d like to see more physicality when it comes to rebounds.
  • When I see 17 minor penalties on the board, I say yikes… (for those keeping track, there were also five majors given out)

 

The one about the Senators/Checkers series preview

Last night, I had dinner with my parents and a friend. I was telling her that I had become so involved with the Checkers and their playoff run that I’d been neglecting most other facets of my life, and focusing only on hockey.  My mom chimed in that she was glad I was dropping everything for something constructive and great, and not just a man.  I promptly responded “No, mom, it’s not just one man.  It’s 20 men, and I’m very much involved with every one of them.”

Like the Checkers, the Binghamton Senators have defeated teams that many felt were unbeatable in the first two rounds of their playoff run.  Also similar to the Checkers, the Senators started the playoffs with a more veteran, experienced netminder (Barry Brust for the Sens, and Justin Pogge for the Checkers) but midway through the first round switched netminders to bring in a rookie instead.  For both the Checkers and Senators, this decision has paid off.  Binghamton is a team that barely made the playoffs, and has been playing in the Atlantic division in the transfer spot, having finished in fifth in our own East division, but higher than the fourth place team in the Atlantic.

During the first round, Binghamton defeated the Manchester Monarchs in a seven-game series that included five contests that went into overtime.  Their second round of the playoffs was against the number one seed in the Atlantic conference, the Portland Pirates.  That series went six games, with no overtime contests, and only two one-goal differential games.  (As compared to the Checkers/Penguins round, which also went six games,  included one overtime contest and saw five of the six games end with a one-goal differential.)

IN THE CREASE

Netminder Barry Brust started all eight games vs. CLT in the regular season this year, but Robin Lehner has started all Bingo games since game six in the first round of the playoffs.

Robin Lehner, 19, is a Swedish goaltender who was drafted in 2009 by the Ottawa Senators.  A rookie this season, he finished the year in the AHL.  He played in 22 games for Binghamton and had a record of 10-8-2-3.  He had a 2.91 GAA, and a .912 SV%.  He played for Sweden at the 2011 World Juniors, and spent some time in Ottawa with the NHL club during January.  In the playoffs, Lehner has started in nine games (he was pulled in one contest during the second round).  He is 7-2 in the playoffs, has one shutout.  He has a 2.59 GAA, and a .926 SV%.  I asked Checkers D-man Michal Jordan about him during the playoff rally on Tuesday, and Jordan was quick to respond that he’d played and beaten him in the OHL, so he wasn’t worried.

For Charlotte, Mike Murphy went 1-1 vs. the Senators during the regular season (Pogge made the other six starts).  In the playoffs, Murphy has a record of 7-3, with one shutout.  He boasts a rather impressive 1.79 GAA, and a .944 SV%.

OFFENSE – the Zac(h)s vs. the Ryans

In 13 playoff games, Senators centerman Ryan Potulny has 19 points, scoring 10 goals and nine assists.  He was a mid-season addition to the Ottawa organization, having been traded from Chicago.

Captain Ryan Keller follows close behind Potulny with 16 points.  He has six goals, and 10 helpers in his 13 playoff games.  Other offensive support comes from Kaspars Daugavins, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler and Andre Benoit.  Benoit, a defenseman, is an AHL veteran having won the Calder cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007, the season he and the rest of his team stole the heart of this Chasing Checkers blogger.  But I’ll save more about him for the defense part of this preview!

For Charlotte, rookie Zac Dalpe, having played in all 12 playoff game, with five goals and seven assists.  Brett Sutter is close behind with 11 points, scoring four goals and seven assists in his 12 games, leads the Checkers in offenses.  Other offensive forces include Zach Boychuck, Drayson Bowman and Jon Matsumoto.

Overall, the Senators have allowed 41 goals during the playoffs, and scored 46.  In contrast to this, the Checkers who many consider to be an offensive force, have scored only 29 goals, and allowed 27, mostly due to the goaltending awesomeness of Mike Murphy.

DEFENSE, and PIMs

Andre Benoit skates for the Senators during a regular-season match-up against the Checkers. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

The Senators defense is led by alternate captain Andre Benoit.  I have admired him for years, having followed him to the Calder Cup in 2007, when he scored 13 points in 22 playoff games.  He’s one of those small, speedy defenseman that you can’t help but like when they play for your team, but I can assure you Checkers fans, that despite my past history with number 61, my allegiance lies firmly with Charlotte now!

On the penalties front, Zack Smith has appeared in all 13 playoff games and leads the Senators in PIMs with 14.  All of these penalties were minors, ranging from interference to boarding.

Zack FitzGerald leads the Checkers with 24 PIMs in seven post-season appearances.  He received five roughing minor penalties in game two against Wilkes-Barre.  After that game two loss, FitzGerald was benched for the following three games, finally returning in game six, where he only took one minor penalty for high sticking, and ended the night with a plus two.  It will be interesting to see what defenseman sits against Binghamton, but my guess it it will be Fitzgerald, more often than not, simply because the Senators playing style doesn’t seem to require that of an enforcer like FitzGerald.

 An interesting note in regards to the Senators is that in 13 playoff games, they did not receive any fighting majors, and only one roughing penalty.  By the contrary, Charlotte has 23 roughing penalties, and one fighting major in their 12 playoff games.  While the Checkers have a phenomenal penalty kill, staying out of the box may prove to be a key element to this third-round series.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Binghamton Senators, overall, have a more veteran roster, featuring guys like Corey Locke and Andre Benoit who both won the Calder Cup in 2007 with Hamilton.  The Checkers, while a bit younger, have a very impressive roster, despite inexperience in the playoffs beyond the second round.  (This is the first time in Hurricane’s history that their farm team has gone beyond the second round!).

While it’s not an AHL championship, the Checkers boast guys like Captain Rodney who won the Memorial Cup with the London Knights (and Corey Perry, Danny Syvret, Rob Schremp, and Marc Methot) in 2005, and Justin Faulk, who recently won the 2011 NCAA Championship with UM-Duluth.  Syvret was the captain of the 2005 London Knight squad, and is currently a member of the Philadelphia Flyers (and also a former Calder Cup winner in 2007 with Hamilton).  He tweeted the following yesterday:

I think I’m going to have to aggree on all fronts with Syvret… both on the Rodney fanclub, AND the desire for a final round vs. Hamilton!

PREDICTION TIME

During the last round, I got it wrong when I predicted that the Checkers would beat the Penguins in seven games.  (We did it in six… I’d rather the number of games be wrong more than the final outcome!)  For this round, I’m going to say Charlotte Checkers in six games over Binghamton.  Both on paper and in my heart and soul, Charlotte seems to be the team to beat at this point in the series, but by no means am I discrediting Binghamton’s ability.  They’ve clearly overcome a lot, and have that fierce, determined underdog thing going for them that tends to pay off in the playoffs.

Cut and paste from a post I did last weekend:  I’m sure all of my readers know all of the Checkers twitters worth following, so focusing on Binghamton links.

Binghamton Twitter accounts and Links of Interest:

And with that, I have to finish packing for my flight to Chicago.  Who knew that you could fly direct out of the tiny, two gate Asheville Regional Airport!  I’ll take it, even if my plane may have propellers.  Just a reminder, the awesome @nafsnep at Chirps from Center Ice will be providing tonight’s post-game report.  He’s a Penguins fan, but a really smart guy when it comes to hockey, and a blogging idol of mine.  I wish I could be there with you all in Charlotte, but I’ll be there in spirit! 


Lets Go Checkers

The one about the phenomenal Michael Murphy and his SHUTOUT in game four

Mike Murphy, first star! Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

You know that feeling you get sometimes where you wake up and you just know it’s going to be a good day? That is how I felt yesterday morning. After a night of horrible thunder storms, I awoke to birds chirping and a Carolina blue sky. I KNEW it was going to be a good day. My parents were coming to Charlotte to see the game, their first Checkers game together since 1965, when they were in high school and paid 75 cents each for a ticket.

I knew it was going to be a good night.

We got to the arena, and even before warmups, I just had that feeling. Adrenaline was pumping, my heart was beating just a little too fast, and I just knew it was going to be a good night.

The crowd was electric from the very beginning. We heard the first MURPHY chant midway through the second period after he killed a five-on-three. Hearing his name, chanted by thousands, was so phenomenal, and I think it just fueled him further. The Penguins continued to attack, but nothing they could do would get through the crease. Mike Murphy was ON tonight. His team was behind him and there was nothing that could stop the Checkers from winning.

The Penguins fought hard. They had 44 shots on goal, and Murphy stopped every one of them. The Checkers had 32 shots on goal, but only the one by Chris Terry early on in the third counted. It only takes one, and Terryiffic provided it when we needed it.

I actually wrote everything up until now last night at the bar after the game… but then people started buying shots, and the beer kept flowing (and they had Smithwicks on tap!  Yum!) and I had to put the iPad away, for fear of spilling beer on it, or letting the beer spill into my brain and make the typing fuzzy.  So now that I’m awake, and a bit more clear headed, I can refer back to the few notes I took on the game, and the few observations:

  • Another scrum between the Checkers and Penguins. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

    As I mentioned, Mike Murphy was phenomenal.  Stopping all 44 of the Pens shots was a feat few goaltenders could have accomplished.  He was driven into the net time and time again, with Penguins attacking, sometimes after the whistle blew.

  • There were many moments in the game both teams got frantic, and I just wanted them to settle down and make plays.  Frantic hockey often leads to mistakes, in my opinion!
  • Too many penalties!  Both teams had a too many men penalty, which I believe was a result of the aforementioned frantic play.  There were 18 minors called last night, and the lone goal scored was on the power play.
  • Jacob Micflikier was constantly in the thick of battles for the puck.  That guy can be an aggressive beast (much like a honey badger!) and I love it.
  • Erik Cole was was sitting behind me for much of the game.  I hope he enjoyed himself as much as I did!  I love Hockey in the springtime!
  • We are running out of room in the “press box” for our black aces.  Bobby Goepfert was sporting the exact same suit, tie and shirt last night as Monday.  And you know what?  As someone who wore the same jersey/shoes/clothes to the game last night as Monday, I can TOTALLY get behind that kind of superstition.
  • I didn’t hear any “Thiessen Sucks” chants last night (cause he doesn’t!).  I did however hear (and join in!) on MURPHY chants.  I would much rather support our netminder than mock the other one.  Let’s do this, Charlotte!  I want to hear a MURPHY chant after the anthem on Friday, and keep it going.  Seriously.  MURPHY.
  • My head is a little throbby from doing a celebratory shot after the game, but how can you turn down a baby Guinness???
So… it’s all about tomorrow.  Tomorrow is a huge game.  We all know what it means, and what can happen if we win.  But beating the Pens for a third straight game could be a huge feat.  They have one of the best goaltenders in the AHL (of course, so do we!), and a team that knows how to win, and wants it as badly as we do.  Last night was an amazing game… tomorrow has just as much potential, if the team can control the Penguins as they did last night.
I’m still flying from that win… THIS is Checkers Hockey!
Lets Go Checkers!

The one about winning game one in the second round

Game one of the second round deserves a great write-up, but I fear I don’t have a LOT of stuff to talk about other than the obvious, which is the Charlotte Checkers beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the first game of the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.  You see, I was at a world premiere/opening night of the local ballet company, and while I firmly believe that the Charlotte Checkers > ballet, the ballet pays me to be there, and the Checkers don’t.  The good news is opening night was great, the dancing was good, and the CHECKERS upset the Pens on their home ice.

As excited and proud I am of MY team winning, I know it’s just the first game, and anything and everything can change.  One game does’t win the series, but the team is on a four game winning streak now, which is a nice thing in the Playoffs.  Bottom line is I hope they stay confidence, but keep it in check because this is just the beginning.

I followed online via twitter, and on the radio when I could pop an earbud in to listen to Jason Shaya on the internet feed on my iPad.  So here are my observations about the game itself.

  • This was a TOTALLY different game than any of the first round games vs. Hershey.  We only allowed one power play goal by the Bears (in 26 attempts) and tonight, allowed two Penguins PP goals in eight attempts.  On the flip side, we scored two PP goals in six tries.  Our penalty kill was a huge key to beating the Bears, and I want to see this come back.
  • Speed speed speed!  This was the kind of hockey our guys like to play.  They seemed to find their groove, went with it and excelled.
  • Mike Murphy had a fantastic game.  The first and third periods had him stopping twice as many shots as Brad Thiessen did.  Only in the last few minutes of the second period did the Checkers go on a shooting rampage, bombarding Thiessen with many, many shot attempts.
  • We took way too many penalties overall!  This is NOT how you when playoff games.  I want to see more restraint from our team going forward.
  • Jonathan Matsumoto had two goals, including the game winner.  Of course, right after his second goal, he went to the box for being a hooker which resulted on another Penguins PP goal.
  • I’m glad that Zack Fitzgerald was back in this game.  It sounds like we might need his lovable, enforcer, goon-like skills in this series.
  • There were a few near-misses/potential injuries to Penguins players.  Ben Street didn’t return to the bench for the second period, Brett Sterling left the ice for a bit during the second after a hit behind the net by Fitzgerald.  There was no call on the play, only a roughing call on the ensuing friction between Checkers and Penguins who were each standing up for their teammates.  In the third period, Brad Thiessen took a shot from Chris Terry that dropped him to the ice (it seems to have hit his collar bone) and he was down for a bit afterwards, but finished out the game.  I’ll be interested to see how banged up these guys really are.
Random observations about fans, team spirit, our awesome black aces, etc:
  •  I wanted to throw up in my mouth when I thought I could hear Chelsea Dagger playing in the Mohegan Sun arena.  I hate that song and the fact it’s the dumb Blackhawks goal song.  Did I really hear it, or were my ears playing tricks on me?
  • I loved hearing the fans in WBS.  They were cheering and chanting, and that’s a good thing at any hockey game.  I propose though, Charlotte Checkers fans, that we out-loud them.  Let’s turn it up next week, and make noise and support our team!
  • At my favorite bar, where I went for the end of the game, I talked to about a dozen guys who all asked me about the Checkers since I was the token person there in a Checkers jersey and not an NFL one on their draft day, and many of them said they were going to buy tickets after talking to me.
  • Bobby Goepfert should be the intermission interview at EVERY game.  I was laughing so hard.  He said Mike Murphy had a Justin Bieber-like quality (I mean, they both have nice hair, but it’s nothing at all alike…) and he said he likes spice.  Bobby Goepfert spice… I wonder what kind of spice he is?  Cajun?  Jalapeno?  Something mild like a basil/Italian spice?
  • I don’t know how to type Goepfert’s reaction to Shaya’s question about who drafted him… the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It was a sound of utter disgust, a true BLEH when he said that was who claimed him at the draft.  All I know is I’m glad he’s a part of the Checkers organization now, and would love to see him stick around after the way he’s supported us this year when we needed him.
Game two is Saturday night, and will be broadcast on AM radio here in Charlotte again.  I learned tonight that my iPad is NOT compatible with AHL live, so I was glad to have my radio app installed to listen to the feed that way!  Tune in!
Lets Go Checkers!

The Posse Report: Round One, Game Five

The Posse Report:

By Posse Members: Pete & Blaine Hurdle

Friday, April 22 2011

Charlotte Checkers vs. Hershey Bears in game five of the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Game 5, Round 1

The Posse is here in a guest blogger role to cover one of the greatest games in the history of Charlotte Checkers Hockey. The hockey gods only saw it fit that Charlotte would be without number four tonight, that’s right- Zack FitzGerald the namesake of the Posse did not skate with the team in their morning practice and was a no go on the ice as well. Taking his place in the line up was Bobby Sanguinetti, turns out FitzGerald missed the game with a broken thumb. The buzz in Time Warner Cable Arena is that he should be back in the lineup for game six on Sunday in Hershey.

Mike Murphy started for the third game in the row for the Checkers. The first period was filled with action coming mostly from the Hershey players. There was a definite presence of the fans who came down from Raleigh but the building seemed a little lack luster at the start of the game. While I don’t have the official attendance numbers it looked to me like the building was not quite as full as it normally is on a Friday night.

As the game got underway the Checkers fell victim to a Hershey goal early on, just their forth shot on. The team seemed to be missing each other on their passes, shots were not hitting the net and guys were getting knocked around. Brad Herauf took a stand and started laying some heavy hits and the team slowly started to rally off his lead. Mike Murphy found himself out of position and made an awkward leap towards the post for his first huge save of the game. Despite this the crowd was still very quiet for the most part.

8:34 into the first Jonathan Matsumoto pushed the net off from the side of Murphy. At first glance it did not seem like he was preventing a goal but I am sure he had his reason. TWC Arena showed the replay from an angle that did not give any other explanation. While in the box for delay of game Murphy came back with two more huge saves.

As the first period comes to an end it is easy to see that Hershey is dominating the Checkers physically. Without having Fitzgerald on the ice Brad Herauf took his physicality up a notch from hardcore to insane. Herauf is (generously) listed on the Checkers site as being 5’11 and 195 lbs, he was taking and giving giant hits. The Bear on the other end of much of that play was Sheldon Souray who is listed at 6’4, 233 lbs and played an NHL career including three NHL All-Star games. In my opinion Souray got away with an obvious boarding call with about four minutes left in the first, the refs went out of their way all game to keep the players from breaking into fights.

The second period starts up with the crowd finally starting to get vocal. I personally felt like the fans were not as loud as they have been in recent games, that was until the end of the third period. A few fans who made the trip up from Raleigh made it known that they were impressed with the cheering of the Checkers fans.

18:11 into the second Hershey gets their second goal in a defensive break down from the Checkers. Soon after Riley Nash gets tossed in the box for a very weak hooking call. It seemed that the refs call the second period much tighter than the rest of the game.

Boyd Kane from the Bears gets mowed down by Nicolas Blanchard into the far side boards at 15:36 in the second. Blanchard gets two minutes for boarding, TWC again does not show a replay.

Hershey goaltender, Braden Holtby starts to play much more aggressive in net. Holtby plays the body a few times against the Checkers leaving the puck to fall where it may. In short he created the chance of chance but kept making the saves when needed.

Jacob Micflicker had been quiet most of the game but towards the end of the second period he started to step it up offensively and physically. Micflicker and Herauf have been playing high energy hockey from the end of the regular season and well through the first round. Casey Borer also made his presence known on D by breaking up a huge play from the Bears.

Hershey gets their third goal from former ECHL Checker, Andrew Carroll. It seems that the Bears figured out how to beat the fast paced skating of the Checkers, mainly in the form of brute physicality. The Bears are leading in shots 28-16 with 16:27 left in the third. Oskar Osala who had been realitivly quiet thus far in the game starts to play noticeably better.

At a stoppage in play Wilson takes to the microphone and really gets the crowd on their collective feet. Shortly after this during a failure of communication between the Bear’s defense and Holtby the Checkers get their first goal of the game from Brett Sutter. Hershey get’s a boarding minor for a huge hit against Herauf who was quick to get up but slow to get to the bench. The Checkers ended the last 20 seconds on the power play with Bryan Rodney quarterbacking the movement with help from his defensive partner and 19 year old rookie, Justin Faulk. They have a great passing game and came close to grabbing a goal at the close of the second.

Riley Nash continues to impress as we jump to the third, this rookie skates the ice with confidence of a seasoned veteran which is good news for such a young team. One minute into the third Drayson Bowman slaps one into the net for the Checkers 2nd goal. Later in the period they change the credit of the goal to Zach Boychuck in what might have been a tip in or deflection. Rodney and Faulk continue to play great together on the point and created the play that fed Bowman the puck.

The crowd is now going crazy, the Checkers have two unanswered goals. Chris Terry takes a hard hit from Hershey’s Patrick Wellar and Charlotte gets another chance on the power play and more of the Rodney/Faulk action.

Oscar Osala on a second wind steals a goal by taking the puck away from Holtby and forcing it into the net. In the replay it seems like Holtby was looking for some defensive backup but nobody was there. The frustrated Bears rack up another penalty as Charlotte’s Michal Jordan takes a hit from Steve Pinizzotto. To be honest I did not really see the hit too well but it shook up Michal as he stayed on the ground for a while.

It seems that Holtby is starting to play a little more nervous but he come through with some big saves, at one point right after the halfway mark of the third he leaned backwards against the goal, it popped up for a second and then fell back into place, the play was called dead. Seemed a little fishy to me.

The Hershey penalties gave Charlotte a good number of scoring chances as the shot count has jumped to 28 each. Murphy has seen very little action in the third. At 8:36 to go in the game Nick Dodge gets the eventual game winning goal with assists from Bowman and Osala. The goal is reviewed by the refs who keep it as a good goal.

Soon after Chris Terry runs into Holtby on a one-on-one chance and is given a goaltender interference call. Most of the Bears players that are on the ice tackle him to the ground and into the bottom of net. The fans were not happy with the call but it got everyone making noise and the booing of the refs which turned into harder cheering for the Checkers.

Nicolas Blanchard keeps the Bears from getting the puck on goal with a huge defensive play followed by a clear. It’s not long before the Bears are back on full attack in the Checkers defensive zone. An very aggressive game was played by both teams, there are three broken sticks on the ice at one time. The Checkers are in desperate need of a line change and the refs are looking to get the broken pieces of sticks of the ice. After a stoppage Bowman gets a great play off where he missed the inside of the goal by inches, he was skating in a way that showed you how tired he was but how capable and strong he was at the same time.

Holtby makes some more big saves as the Bears are within one goal of the Checkers. They pull Holtby, last time they tried this on Thursday it worked. With the extra attacker Hershey makes their play against the Checkers. Murphy comes up big with little over a minute left in the game, Bowman shoots the puck into the empty net for the insurance goal with one minute left in the game.

The crowd is going wild as the clock ticks down, the Checkers have scored five goals in a row after being down by three. It seems like the game is over but the refs call a penalty with 00.1 left in the game and Michal Jordan steps into the box for the final face-off.

Game over, the fans are all celebrating in the stands, you can tell the team really wanted the win as they leave the ice. The overall end of game atmosphere is out of this world, the fans are celebrating as if the Checkers were just named the world champions of hockey- that is one of the great things about the fans! When leaving TWC Arena there were multiple “we want the cup” and “let’s go Checkers” chants from the crowd as well as a sea of “Whoooooos” that started at the end of the game and might still be going.

Other notes:

During the intermission in the “though the eyes of the Checkers” interview most of the team picks Zac Dalpe as having the worst playoff beard.

I think Braden Holtby wins the award for most taunted player of the year by the Charlotte fans. There was rarely a second in the game where you would not hear the anti- Holtby chants. Holtby always gets some words from the Charlotte crowd but tonight took it to a new level.

The Raleigh crowd defiantly brought their cowbells, there was a noticeable increase in cowbell noise.

It was interesting to see the way that some of the fans who came down from Raleigh interacted at the Checkers game. I could tell many of them were not used to how up close and personal the game can be, the divide between the players and fans is totally different while the skill level is still very high.

Faulk is off to a great start, can’t wait to see what he does either in Charlotte or Raleigh.

It seems like Dalpe and Boychuck are getting caught up in more physical play than they are used to.

If Zack FitzGerald does come back Sunday who will sit? I don’t see Faulk sitting out and I think the team could really use FitzGerald’s physical presence and veteran know how on the ice.

I have total confidence in both Mike Murphy and Justin Pogge but would be surprised if Murphy does not start Sunday’s game.

Family takes pictures with Posse members

You can join the Zack FitzGerald has a Posse group on Facebook.

WHATEVER IT TAKES