The AHL and western expansion: What does the future hold?

The AHL is bound to be a very different league next season, with as many as four teams moving west to a time zone that currently doesn’t have a single AHL squad.

The chips are falling, one by one, and soon the AHL will have their coveted “Pacific Division”… teams that will mostly be based in California, and will be closer to their NHL affiliate.

Most NHL teams will state they desire to have their AHL squads closer to home. It enables them to have easier call ups (Zach Boychuk can probably drive up I-85 to Raleigh with a blindfold on) and allow them to monitor their development, but the close by model is one that doesn’t always work. Charlotte has had success as an AHL franchise since 2010. Thanks to a dedicated front office, a strong fan base and consistent ticket sales, the Checkers seem to have found a home here, and the upcoming move home to Bojangles Coliseum only solidifies that.

The Checkers move (three miles east, to BoCo) shows a long term commitment to the city of Charlotte and its hockey fans, which is comforting to see when so many AHL clubs are being ripped from their homes and moved to California. The Checkers have found success where other franchises far away from the overly saturated AHL north east, despite a tough travel schedule thanks in part to being a member of the Western Conference but also because their closest AHL team is the Eastern Conference team of Norfolk, 325 miles and over five hours away. For the past five seasons, the Checkers have played the Admirals an average of 10-12 games per season, and the same can be said for the Oklahoma Barons, who have been the Checkers most common Western Conference opponent for the past four seasons. Next year, both of these rivals will be in southern California, and become cornerstones of the new AHL Pacific division.

Oklahoma City already announced the Barons will cease operations at the end of the 2014-15 season.  The Barons have been the Checkers most frequent opponent over the past four season, and they will (likely, unconfirmed but as the old magic eight ball says, all signs point to YES) play in Bakersfield, replacing the current ECHL squad there that the Oilers own. As of right now, there are no plans for another team to replace the Barons, which is quite the blow to the loyal fans in OKC. Neal & Co. at Tend the Farm have had great coverage of the move, and it’s worth a read for more in-depth information.

The Norfolk Admirals have been trying to deny a move for weeks, with facebook posts promising that they are staying, yet nobody was buying it.  Yesterday, Ken Young, the owner of the Admirals said in an interview that he had been forced to sell his team to the Anaheim Ducks.  You can read more about it here, but it’s a pretty sad story.  In a nutshell, since the Ducks want their team close, the only way to have that happen is to buy an AHL franchise (much Michael Kahn did to bring the River Rats to Charlotte in 2010.. the difference there was that Albany was ultimately able to keep an AHL team, albeit with a different NHL affiliate, but at least they kept the high caliber of hockey the fans of Albany were used to.

The good news for Norfolk is the Admirals have a replacement ECHL team that will relocate from California to Norfolk next season.  The Oilers plan to move the Bakersfield Condors to Norfolk, who no longer need an ECHL team in SoCal since they will have their AHL squad instead. It is rumored that the Ducks AHL team will be located in San Diego, leaving a vacancy in Stockton for another potential AHL move.

Another domino that’s recently fallen in the Pacific division is the news a couple of days ago that the Worcester Sharks would be moving to San Jose, California and will share a building with their parent club.  No word on what the AHL team will be called, since having two teams named the Sharks in one city and one building would be confusing.  If it was my team, I think I’d name them the Minnows, in honor of my favorite pool game “Sharks and Minnows” from summer camp.

The third NHL team in California is, of course, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. Their AHL affiliate is the Manchester Monarchs, who the Checkers haven’t faced since their inaugural season in 2010-11.  The Monarchs are owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the same group who owns an ECHL team in California.  The Ontario Reign have had great success in the ECHL, breaking attendance records and would have no trouble continuing that should they get promoted to the AHL next season.

So, what other Western Conference teams might be affected by the TBA Pacific Division of the AHL? Only time will tell, but here are a few facts and figures:

  • The Utica Comets are owned by the Vancouver Canucks. It’s their second full season in New York, and they are hosting the AHL All Star Game next week. While it seems easy to consider the Comets moving west since they are owned by their NHL club, they signed a lengthy lease and spent a lot of cash on arena improvements in Utica, so only time will tell if the Canucks decide moving their prospects closer to home is worth the broken contracts and expense.
  • The Arizona Coyotes’ AHL team is the Portland Pirates. Last year, the Coyotes purchased a the Arizona Sundogs, a CHL team in Prescott, AZ, but decided to cease operations, though rumors have them joining the ECHL in 2015. They are a team that would obviously like to have their prospects closer than Maine.
  • The Colorado Avalanche also purchased a CHL team last year, and like the Coyotes, decided to cease operations in August, prior to the start of the CHL season. Rumors continue to circulate that the Denver Cutthroats could resume operations in 2015-16 as a member of the ECHL or AHL. Currently, the Avalanche’s AHL squad is the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, OH.
  • The Calgary Flames have said they want their AHL squad closer, and there may be an opening in Stockton, CA. It must be noted, however, that their attempt to have an AHL team close by in Abbotsford failed due to lack of fan support and a brutal travel schedule (remember last season, folks, when they were in the same division as Charlotte…) The Flames are playing their first season in Glen Falls, NY after moving their AHL Flames from Abbotsford following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Glen Falls has a three-year contract (they are in year one) with the Calgary Flames, but contracts are easily broken.
  • Albany, which has been the home of the New Jersey Devils AHL squad since the Hurricanes left in 2010, is in the final year of a five-year contract.
  • The Winnipeg Jets, who own the St. John’s Ice Caps, are planning to move the team to Thunder Bay, ON. Despite being in a time zone of their own and traveling more miles than any other team in the AHL, the IceCaps have had great success since they moved to St. John’s in 2011. Sell out crowds and a consistent winning record are just a couple of examples of this.  While it’s not as far west as California, Thunder Bay is about 2000 miles from St. John’s, and almost as far from every AHL team in the league as St. John’s is.

So… what does all of this mean for Charlotte? Only time will tell.

It is certain that Norfolk and Oklahoma City are gone, and in those two teams are 20-24 of the Checkers 76 games each season. Another realignment will have to happen in the AHL, since three to four eastern conference teams are leaving for California, and St. John’s is probably moving west to Thunder Bay. This makes rooms for “Eastern” Western Conference teams like Charlotte, Toronto, Hamilton and Rochester to potentially move conferences, though changing conferences won’t necessarily improve travel for the Checkers. Many I’ve spoken to with the Checkers have told me the Western conference travel is much nicer than the bus runs the Checkers used to make in the north east.

The AHL Board of Governors meet this weekend in Utica, so we will likely know something sooner than later.

Charlotte Checkers defeat OKC Barons in (another) shootout to win fourth straight.

For the second time in as many days, the Charlotte Checkers game ended in a shootout, with the Checkers fourth straight victory.  With their win, they moved to seventh place in the Western Conference standings.

The second period was the game changer for both teams, with six of the eight goals scored over a period of less than eight minutes.

The first two goals of the second period came off strange shots and weird angles.

First, Ben Eager roofed one over Murphy’s glove, a puck that hit the crossbar as it went into the net.

Charlotte Checkers goaltender John Muse stops a shootout attempt by OKC Barons center Alex Lavoie.  (Photo credit: Gregg Forwerck/Charlotte Checkers)

Charlotte Checkers goaltender John Muse stops a shootout attempt by OKC Barons center Alex Lavoie. (Photo credit: Gregg Forwerck/Charlotte Checkers)

Chris Terry kept the score even at two a piece with a strange shot from behind the crease that deflected into the goal off of Barons goaltender Richard Bachman’s skate.

The Barons came back with a vengeance, peppering Mike Murphy with pucks from all angles.

At the time of Mike Murphy getting pulled from the net, he’d faced many many more shots than the box score revealed, and the defense appeared invisible at times, and even Checkers defensemen Matt Corrente scored on Murphy (though the Barons Taylor Fedun was credited with that goal).


The goalie substitution in the second  period was a wakeup call for the Checkers bench.  Immediately, the focus and style of play changed. The defense in front of John Muse appeared to be much more present, and the team’s offense struck quickly and erased the deficit with a pair of goals.


Coach Jeff Daniels acknowledged that the decision to change goalies worked in the Checkers favor.  “There was still have the game to play there, and we knew we were going to get some chances, it was just a matter of bearing down in front.  We were hoping it would provide a spark, and it did.”


Within moments of Muse taking over the crease eight minutes into the second period, the Checkers scored twice more.  The first from Zach Boychuk with a great assist from Matt Pistilli.  The third Checkers goal in the second period came from Jared Staal, his second of the year, who roofed the puck over Richard Bachman’s blocker.

The third period was scoreless, as was the five-minute overtime, and for the second game in a row, the Charlotte Checkers and Oklahoma City Barons headed to the shootout, with the same result, a victory by the home team.  After five shooters for each team, the game was decided. Justin Shugg and Chris Terry both scored on their shootout attempts. The Barons Jack Combs scored his teams lone shootout goal.



Notes and quotes:

  • After the game, Zach Boychuk recognized that at times, the team plays very differently in front of the two Checkers goaltenders.  “Obviously, we’ve been really pulling for Murph the last few games, and we haven’t really been giving him much support.  It’s tough for him,” Boychuk continued, “But at the same time, when Muse comes in it seems like we’re able to find those goals and find ways to score and shut them down defensively. It’s just one of those things where all Muse is doing is winning and it’s good to have a guy like that we can lean on.”
  • Matt Pistilli made another big impact on today’s matchup against Oklahoma City, playing on a line with Boychuk and assisting on his second period goal, and the chemistry Pistilli continues to display with his past and present teammates is very apparent.
  • Zach Boychuk was complimentary of Pistilli’s contributions to the team.  “It seems like we’ve brought a lot of guys back this year. Guys that have played in the past and guys that have been huge contributions to our success this year, guys like Jenks and Pistilli who keep coming back. It’s nice that we’re finding chemistry and he (Pistilli) is a huge contributor.”

Charlotte Checkers lose a close game in OT to Oklahoma City.

First, a few administrative notes:

  • Holy cow, Queen city! Could today have been a more beautiful day? Blue sky, warm weather, and I get to sit on my patio sipping a beer writing my post-game story while my 11-year old puppy Will Shakespeare rolls in the grass. Life is good.
  • Every four years, February is my favorite month. I can feel, taste and smell (in my dreams, anyway) the Olympic ice. And I’m not just talking about hockey (USA USA USA!).  Curling is possibly my favorite Olympic winter sport, and I am also a huge fan of short track speed skating. And Olympic ski jumping for women this year! It’s a first!!! I can’t wait for those events to begin.
  • Knit your own Team USA hat like the athlete's are wearing in Sochi! (Designed by me, photo credit -  E. Kinsman)

    Knit your own Team USA hat like the athlete’s are wearing in Sochi! (Designed by me, photo credit – E. Kinsman)

    And about the Olympics, do you want your very own Team USA themed hand knit hat? I designed a free pattern that replicates the hat our team wore in the opening ceremonies.  You can download it here.

  • Speaking of February, happy birthday to Chasing Checkers.  According to my hosting site, it celebrated it’s anniversary this week. I can’t believe I’m going into my fourth year here. What a fun and wild ride it’s been.

A giveaway by Charlotte Checkers captain Brett Sutter in front of Mike Murphy resulted in an overtime defeat by the Oklahoma City Barons. They won the game 4-3 in another heated matchup between the two Western division rivals. The one point OT loss by the Checkers ended the team’s three game regulation losing streak.

The first period looked good with a nice goal from Justin Shugg that went over the Baron’s Richard Bachman’s blocker. The steep angle made it a nearly impossible shot to stop.  Shugg, who has appeared pretty regularly on the scoresheet for Charlotte, made his first appearance in the goal column in six games.  He now has six points (3g, 3a) in eight appearances against Oklahoma City.

Brendan Woods, who had family in attendance, had a stellar game. After missing nearly two weeks to an injury in January, this was his first goal in only his fourth game back.  He nearly missed having a Gordie Howe hat trick after a fight with Baron’s tough guy Ben Eager.  Woods ended the night with one goal, one fight, four shots and nine PIMs.

AS0D3361“I guess you can look at the positive and we got one point, but we’d like to have two (points) with the standings being so close,” Woods stated, “These next few games will be crucial.”

Forward lines were moved around, with Chris Terry moving off of the top-scoring line with Zach Boychuk.

Coach Jeff Daniels acknowledged the change was meant to shake things up a bit.  “We were trying to get more balance and more scoring throughout our forward lines. I thought a couple lines were good and a couple were just okay.”

Brody Sutter scored with 37 seconds to go in the game, tying it at three a piece and leading the team to overtime.  The excitement was short lived, as halfway through overtime, a costly giveaway by Brett Sutter led to a goal by the Baron’s Roman Horak.

With a bit of a grin, Woods acknowledged that having family in attendance added to his energy. With his dad an assistant coach in Anaheim, his mom and dad were both able to make it to this afternoon’s game.  “It definitely gives you a little extra jump. I’m sure she was a little nervous with that fight against Ben Eager, but yeah, it was fun.”

The Charlotte Checkers had another sellout this afternoon. It's great to see the arena filled to capacity on a regular basis! (Photo - Jenni Propst)

The Charlotte Checkers had another sellout this afternoon. It’s great to see the arena filled to capacity on a regular basis! (Photo – Jenni Propst)

The Checkers head into the (brief) All-Star break with a few days of rest after a tough travel schedule, and return on Friday for a couple of “home” games in Raleigh. They sit a few points out of a playoff spot, and divisional games will continue to be incredibly important, especially the two against Abbotsford next weekend, who sit atop the West division.

John Muse gets a shutout as the Checkers drill the Barons 4-0

John Muse had his third shutout of the season as the Charlotte Checkers defeated the Oklahoma City Barons 4-0 in front of an enthusiastic dollar beer fueled crowd.

The Checkers won their fifth of the season against the Barons, and will face them seven more times, including tomorrow.

Seth Lakso of the Charlotte Observer mentioned that after tonight’s victory against Oklahoma City, 25% (5 of 20) of the Checkers wins have come against the Barons.  Including tomorrow night, the Checkers face the Barons seven more times this season.

Numbers don’t always tell the truth of the present, as Charlotte’s penalty kill still sits in 23rd in the league, but performed as if they were number one tonight, killing off seven penalties, including a brief 5-on-3.

“Well, I think our PK has been real good these past couple months.” Coach Jeff Daniels said, “I didn’t like our power play at all.  I thought we were too casual and tried to get too cute with it and it showed. We’ve got to get better.”

The Checkers continue to be a team who scores by committee, with two from Justin Shugg, one from Greg Neimisz (his second game in a row) and a short handed goal by Captain Brett Sutter.

Chris Terry, who got an assist on Sutter’s goal, broke his four game point drought.

Justin Shugg, who scored two goals for Charlotte, knows tomorrow will be a different game, with hopefully the same result.  “Like playing any team back to back, you’re going to see another hockey club. So we just have to make sure we’re pushing the pace.”

The Checkers face the Barons tomorrow night for the annual Race Night.  Let’s Go Checkers!



Odds and ends:


  • The Barons amassed 32 PIMs during the game.  Of those, 26 belong to Ben Eager, who was finally ejected from the game due to “Abuse of officials” late in the third period.
  • After tonight’s loss, the Barons have been shut out four times this season.  The Checkers, on the other hand, have not been shut out.
  • The Checkers sit only one point out of a playoff spot.  This is quite a change from the team that was in 14th in November!
  • In less than two weeks, Chasing Checkers will celebrate it’s third birthday.  Oh, how time flies!  It’s come a long way since the early days!

Four-for-four – The Checkers will play in the West Division in 2013-14 following AHL realignment

I feel like I left my CD player on repeat… because I believe I’ve written about the Checkers changing divisions a few times already…

For the fourth time in the Checkers four seasons in the AHL, they will be in a new division in 2013-14, though this time, for the most part, the change is in name only.  For the AHL’s official release, you can go here.

The new division will be called the West division, which is comprised of four teams from last year’s South division, and one new addition.  The Abbotsford Heat are set to join the Checkers West  division, and nothing says West Division better than a team from North Carolina, in a city a short drive from the Atlantic ocean and about as far East as you can get! 

With the Houston Aero’s departure to become the Iowa Wild, the move of Peoria to New York to become the Utica Comets, other division moves occurred as well.

The Iowa Wild will become a part of the Midwest Division, filling in the hole that was left by the departure of the Peoria Rivermen.  The Utica Comets will join the North Division of the Western Conference, where Abbotsford was last year.

It’s interesting to note that the city of Utica is farther east than a number of New York Eastern Conference teams, including Syracuse, Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey.  They will have to ride a bus through the Eastern conference city of Syracuse to reach their Western Conference division mates in Rochester, Lake Erie, Hamilton and Toronto.

With the AHL’s realignment news comes very little information on how these divisional changes will affect game scheduling.  Unlike the National Hockey League, the American League does not have an exact formula it uses when scheduling teams as far as how many times each team faces their division, conference and opposite conference teams.  Instead, it is a mix of choosing opponents, and deciding whether or not they wish to play teams outside of their conference.

In 2012-13, the Checkers had an all-time low of only 12 opponents over the course of the season’s 76 games.  They faced only 11 Western Conference opponents, and one in the Eastern Conference.  In the Checkers three seasons in the AHL, they have never played Toronto, Hamilton, Rochester or St. John’s (or it’s previous home of Winnepeg).  All of the other teams in the Checkers division last season faced each of the teams in the Western Conference at least twice. 

Just to put into perspective how few opponents Charlotte faced, here are a few examples of what other teams schedules were like in 2012-13:

  • Abbotsford, a team like Charlotte that has no conference teams within driving distance, faced only Western Conference teams, but played all 14 of them.
  • By contrast, the Rochester Americans, also a Western Conference team, had 15 different opponents.  Six of them were Eastern Conference teams, and the remaining 11 were from the Western Conference.  They only faced one team from the Midwest (Grand Rapids), and did not play the Checkers.
  • The Syracuse Crunch, an Eastern Conference Team, had 15 different opponents, including four in the Western Conference.  They did not play two teams in their own conference though.

While I understand that travel, particularly in the West, can be more of a burden than in the East where a team such as Springfield can travel to 10 different cities without needing a hotel room, it seems unfair to the teams, the competition and the fans, that there is such a huge difference between the number of teams faced.

Many in Charlotte are already concerned about the addition of Abbotsford to their division.  Will the Checkers face them a dozen times? No, of course not, and the AHL’s Jason Chaimovitch has already addressed that via Twitter.


Will the Checkers play Abbotsford more than the four games of two and two schedule of the past two seasons? I’d have to assume so, but one more trip to beautiful British Columbia won’t be any more brutal than Charlotte’s usual travel (though the 10 p.m. starts for us on the East Coast will make for some late nights of listening to Jason Shaya!)



Do I anticipate the Checkers getting to play new teams, or having a more balanced schedule this season? Probably not. With the majority of it’s teams in north east, the AHL isn’t designed for balance, and has become even more unbalanced with one more team in New York, and one less in the west.  The biggest chance for a new city the Checkers will visit in 2013-14 will be Des Moines, home of the Iowa Wild.  I’ve heard the Checkers may return to the cities of at least one of their former Eastern conference foes, but the official word on that won’t come out until August when the schedule is released.


So, Checkers fans… what teams do you wish you could see in Charlotte? What about less of?  Who do you think I want to see in Charlotte? (Have I mentioned enough times here at Chasing Checkers and on Twitter what team(s) I want to see in Charlotte? Ha!)




Game Four Recap – Checkers lose to Barons by a seven-goal margain

It’s safe to say tonight’s game incited many choice words and it’s hard to find a place to begin.

Everything looked clear on the front during warm-ups, the team had obvious high spirits and seemingly no worry as to whether or not this game was theirs. The beginning of the game sported some true playoff hockey despite scoring starting with a seemingly fluke goal by the Barons 34 seconds in. As time passed, probably the longest first period of our lives, OKC showed just how bloodthirsty they were for a win. Edging on elimination they gave all they had and then some as dirty play began to ensue. No one was the poster child for this quite like Ben Eager. Eager’s play was cheap and full of instigation, earning him a ten minute game misconduct before the conclusion of the second period.

Regardless, the end of the first period left hope. After watching OKC take 3 goals without ever looking back the Checkers needed to regroup and come back with a fire. Instead it took 5 minutes and 27 seconds for Rob Madore to be pulled. Current backup and fan favorite, Michael Murphy, entered the game, one he was surely not prepared for and arguably had no chance to be. The second period was awful, no other way to put it or option to sugar coat it. The Checkers had three shots on goal. Yes, three. Instead of regrouping they allowed the Barons to get under their skin and affect their play. For a large portion of the period they were played as puppies chasing their tails in hopes that something would happen. This proved unfruitful though, thankfully only two more goals were allowed in the hellish second.

When the third came around, Charlotte actually seemed somewhat rejuvenated and was well aware of the play they had to make up for. Things improved slightly, but nowhere near where they should have been. The Checkers did see some inspired play in the third after Zach Boychuk potted Charlotte’s only goal of the night. The team had not given up but the messy icing on the cake was surely having one of our own players tip in a goal on himself. But that is the story of the game. The loss was one the team gave to itself. Play was sloppy on both ends of the ice and frustrated to say the least, I’m not even sure Brett Sutter properly received a pass all night. Despite this the blame cannot be placed solely on one players’ shoulders, it is a burden that the entire team carries in one way or another.

All in all, this night is past everyone. It’s over. Tomorrow brings a new game, a new opportunity, a fresh start to advance to the second round of playoffs. The Checkers must take that new opportunity and face it as if this is the first game they’ve played against OKC. They have to lay everything on the ice and will have to bring their focus back to the moment rather than focusing on the frustrations of tonight’s game. The Checkers have all the talent in the world to make Calder a reality, but face elimination tomorrow night at 7pm.

Charlotte Checkers trample the OKC Barons 6-1 in Game Three

In the third game of a best-of-five first round playoff series, the Checkers came away with a 6-1 win over the Oklahoma City Barons tonight in Charlotte.  They now lead the series 2-1.

Chris Terry scored two goals for the Charlotte Checkers on the PP early in the first period. (Photo - J. Propst)

Chris Terry scored two goals for the Charlotte Checkers on the PP early in the first period. (Photo – J. Propst)

While there were only 3021 in the building (as opposed to the nearly 7000 average the Checkers had this season), the energy was infectious, and seemed to carry onto the ice.

Yann Danis, last season’s AHL Goaltender of the Year, struggled from the beginning, allowing six goals on 33 shots.  In the previous two games against Charlotte, Danis was the difference maker in both the OT game on Friday and the Barons 5-2 victory on Saturday.

Stellar goaltending from the Checkers Rob Madore kept the Checkers in the game from the beginning. He only allowed one goal on 38 shots, during one of three lengthy 5-on-3 penalty kills the Checkers had to overcome.

Charlotte Checkers captain Brett Sutter goes flying during game three against the Oklahoma City Barons. (Photo - J. Propst)

Charlotte Checkers captain Brett Sutter goes flying during game three against the Oklahoma City Barons. (Photo – J. Propst)

The Checkers got on the board early, and scored three goals in a six-minute span of the first period with an even-strength goal from Matt Marquardt, and two #Terryiffic power play goals from Chris Terry.

Five Checkers had multi-point nights.  Chris Terry had two goals, Zach Boychuk had three assists, Jeremy Welsh had two assists, Dan Biega had two assists, and Tim Wallace had one goal, one assist.

For the first time this playoff series, the Checkers played a complete game from start to finish, with an exceptional performance by special teams.  The power play contributed three goals, and the penalty kill was nearly perfect with only one goal allowed in nine opportunities by the Barons.

“As a team, I think we want to be more disciplined,” said coach Jeff Daniels in response to the nine penalty kills the Checkers had to overcome, “We don’t want to be giving up five-on-threes and being in the box so much, but the penalty killers did a great job.”

Dan Biega had two assists, his first professional points, in the Charlotte Checkers 6-1 victory over the OKC Barons. (Photo - J. Propst)

Dan Biega had two assists, his first professional points, in the Charlotte Checkers 6-1 victory over the OKC Barons. (Photo – J. Propst)

Moving forward to game four following a 6-1 win against the Barons, the Checkers will need to continue to play at the same level they did Wednesday night in Charlotte.

“The first two games we did a lot of good things, but the one thing we didn’t do is play a solid 60 [minutes] and I thought we were pretty close tonight.  Come Friday night, again it’s 0-0 and you’ve got 60 minutes to be great again.”

Momentum going forward is going to be crucial for continued success against the Barons in this playoff series.

“We finally played a full 60[minutes] and that’s what we were looking out to do,” shared Zach Boychuk, who finished the game with three assists, “We got some big powerplay goals so we’ve got to keep that up and keep playing physical.”


Tim Wallace scored for the Charlotte Checkers in the second period. (Photo - J. Propst)

Tim Wallace scored for the Charlotte Checkers in the second period. (Photo – J. Propst)

Tim Wallace, Jared Staal and Nicolas Blanchard returned to the lineup after playing in the Carolina Hurricanes final game oer the weekend.  All made their first playoff appearance for the Checkers this season.   Each added a physical presence to the game, and Wallace contributed an even-strength goal during the second period.

So far, all three playoff games has had a different lineup for the Checkers with the addition of players from the NHL club and players returning from injury.  Though last night’s lineup found a great deal of success against the Barons, it may continue to change moving forward.  After having as many as a dozen players injured at one time during the regular season, the Checkers currently have 17 healthy forwards, and 8 healthy defensemen, and more players may join the roster after last night’s loss by the Florida Everblades, and the WHL playoff completion by Victor Rask in Calgary.

Coach Daniels seems to feel reassured that the number of choices he can make in the lineup will help the team moving forward.

“It’s nice to have options after a month and a half without options, and we’re all in this together.”



Scoreboard watching around the AHL:

  • The Toronto Marlies are the only team to have swept their opponents (so far).  They defeated the Rochester Americans in three games.
  • The Texas Stars lead the Milwaukee Admirals 2-1 in their series.
  • Grand Rapids is up 2-1 over the Houston Aeros.
  • In the Eastern Conference, the eighth seed Hershey Bears lead the first seed Providence Bruins 2-0
  • The second seed Springfield Falcons are up 2-0 over the Manchester Monarchs
  • The Syracuse Crunch, who’s players won the Calder Cup last season in Norfolk, have won both games against the sixth-seed Portland Pirates.
  • Fifth place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is up 2-0 over the fourth place Binghamton Senators.


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

Playoff Preview: Where the Checkers attempt to drill the Barons

It’s been a long time since I had to write a playoff preview.  Too long, really, but I dug back into the Chasing Checkers archives for an example of how I did in in 2011, so here you go.


The overall record:

This year, the Checkers were 4-4-0 against Oklahoma City.  On the road, they were 3-1, but at home in Charlotte, the Checkers lost three of four games against the Barons, including a 7-2 blowout in November that was the beginning of the Checkers 7-game losing streak that carried into December.  The road record could prove favorable with the Checkers facing the Barons for the first two games of the series in Oklahoma City, but clinching the first round back at home for the Checkers could prove to be a challenge, based on statistics alone, and a Charlotte team that at times seemed to struggle in their own building.

Of the eight games the Checkers and Barons played this season, six of them were after the NHL camps and season had begun, which removed guys like now-Oilers Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the mix.  When those four played for the Barons, the Checkers were unable to beat them.  Eberle, for example, had five points (4g, 1a) in only two appearances against Charlotte.



Yann Danis has a Calder Cup and lots of playoff experience under his belt. He will face the Checkers tonight in OKC. (Photo - J. Propst)

Yann Danis has a Calder Cup and lots of playoff experience under his belt. He will face the Checkers tonight in OKC. (Photo – J. Propst)

Yann Danis is the number one goalie for the OKC Barons.  He’s got a lot of Calder Cup Playoff experience.  This is his fifth trip to the playoffs, including a Calder Cup in 2007 with Hamilton (though he was not the starter for that entire playoff run, Carey Price joined the team late after his junior season and took the reigns as number one). Last year with the Barons, Danis was 8-6 in the playoffs, and started every game on the way to an eventual defeat by Toronto in the Conference Finals.  The Marlies, of course, went on to the finals and lost to the Norfolk Admirals.  In his career, Danis has played in 20 AHL playoff games.  This season, Danis faced the Checkers four times, and was 2-2.

Niko Hovinen is the number two goalie in Oklahoma City, and has a better record against the Checkers this year.  He faced them twice, winning both games.

For Charlotte, the goaltending story is a very different one.  The Checkers are still carrying three goalies.  John Muse faced the Barons twice this year, and lost both games with a 4.43 GAA and .829 SV%.  Neither Rob Madore or Mike Murphy has played the Barons this year, though Murphy played well against a similar Barons squad last year, with a 2-1 record. If I had to put my money on who starts the series for Charlotte, it would go on rookie Rob Madore.



Colten Teubert and Alex Plante provide toughness on the blueline for the Barons, and combined for 24 PIMs against the Checkers this year, and are the top to PIM-receivers on the Barons active roster.  Look to them both to stir things up against guys like Brett Bellemore, and Nicolas Blanchard when he re-joins the Checkers next week.

The Checkers defense is possibly the weakest spot on the team right now.  With injuries to Michal Jordan and Marc-Andre Gragnani , and a possible need for a recall to the Hurricanes to replace Joe Corvo who missed last night’s Hurricanes game due to injury, the remaining defense corps is a bit thin.  Brett Bellemore is the most experienced, and the only one with significant AHL playoff experience.  In eight games against Oklahoma City this year, he only had one assist, but the 20 PIMs shows he’s not afraid to mix it up against the Barons.  Justin Krueger and Rasmus Rissanen, who each completed their sophomore season with the Checkers, are the only two defensemen who spent all of the 2012-13 season with the Checkers.

Bobby Raymond found his scoring ways against the Barons, with four points (2g, 2a) in six games.  Though he’s only played three games with the Checkers so far, rookie Ryan Murphy will certainly be called upon during this series.


Zach Boychuk had three goals in three games against the Barons. All three were scored on Yann Danis. (Photo - J. Propst)

Zach Boychuk had three goals in three games against the Barons. All three were scored on Yann Danis. (Photo – J. Propst)

For the Barons, center Marc Arcobello leads the team with 68 points (22g, 46a).  Six of those points came during his eight games against the Checkers (4g, 2a).  Due to a stacked roster prior to the end of the NHL lockout, Phillipe Cornet was part of a numbers game that kept him on the ECHL squad in California.  In his 46 games with the Barons this year, Cornet has 33 points including eight points in seven games against the Checkers (4g, 4a).  Rookie Toni Rajala also spent a portion of the season in the ECHL, but has 46 points in 45 games (17g, 28a).  In eight games against Charlotte, he had five points (2g, 3a).

Though the Checkers did not make the post-season last year, a number of stand-outs from their 2011 playoff run remain with the team.  Brett Sutter, Zac Dalpe, Chris Terry and Zach Boychuk all led the team in points during the 2011 playoff run, and continue to be the offensive leaders on the Checkers.

Dalpe, though he only faced the Barons four times this year, had six points (2g, 4a).  Other Checkers who had strong performances against the Barons include Terry (3g, 5a) and Jeremy Welsh (2g, 3a).


Back in 2011, I was told by my buddy Jason over at Chirps from Center Ice, that I needed to make a prediction for each round of the playoffs…. And I’ve struggled with which way to go this round.  I’m confident the Checkers can win, the question is how many games will it take.

So… because I believe it’s going to be a fiercely competitive series, I’m going to say the Checkers win in five games (and to go a step further, believe they will be the only Western first-round series that takes five games to settle!)


Who to follow on Twitter/blogs from Oklahoma City:

Patricia Teter’s ArtfulPuck and on Twitter @ArtfulPuck

Neal Livingston’s Tend the Farm and on Twitter @TweetNeal

Chasing Checkers game-day twitter list



Let’s Go Checkers!



Checkers, Barons and Bieber, oh my!

Apparently I’m on a numbers kick…. Yesterday, the Checkers published a piece I wrote for them with a lot of biographical stuff about me by the numbers


So in keeping with the theme of numbers…. Here are a few more.

7 – According to Paul Branecky, The number of hours the Checkers have to spend in a bus to get to Houston from OKC on Saturday night.

8 – The magical number of days left until the NHL season begins.  (Only 96 days late, but who’s counting!)

45 – The number of points the Checkers amassed during the NHL lockout.  With barely more than half of the season left, if the Checkers can get 45 more (and a few to spare), the playoffs should be a lock.

11 – The number of days until superstar Justin Bieber plays at the Time Warner Cable Arena on January 22, home of the most awesome team in the AHL, the Charlotte Checkers.  Bieber, as you know, is a huge hockey fan.  I believe that the Checkers should get him a personalized Biebs jersey with his favorite number, 6, and maybe even give him a PTO…. Come on, think about the publicity it would generate!!!!!

6 – The number of times this season, so far, the Checkers have played 3-in-3s.  All of them have included road games.  The good news is this is the last until mid-April, when the Checkers play two games at home before flying to Chicago for a third.

1 – Game day twitter list you should follow while listening to the game tonight.  It’s limited to the most in-touch Checkers and Barons media (and me, of course).  If you have suggestions of who to add to it, I’m always open to new voices!

2 – Awesome bloggers you should follow this weekend while the Checkers are in Oklahoma City.  Neil at Tend the Farm and Patricia at Artful Puck are some of the best in the AHL, and always provide insightful coverage of the Barons.


As always, Let’s Go Checkers!