Lucky 13 – the Charlotte Checkers and their quest for the playoffs

I know that for many, 13 is considered an unlucky number.  But it happens to be one of my favorites.  Good things seem to happen in and on 13s for me.  I got my Master’s degree in 2013.  Friday the 13th tends to be a very good luck day for me.  I bought my car on the 13th of August.  I like 13.  And I like the Checkers chances during their last 13 games of the 2013-14 season.

The AHL has a fantastic playoff primer that is updated daily, and can be found here, but I wanted to focus on the matchups during the Checkers month of play.

San Antonio – Two home games against the Rampage remain on March 21 & 23, with a third game in San Antonio as a part of a three-in-three weekend in April.  The Checkers are 4-1 against the Rampage this season, and all but one of those games was decided by only one goal, including a shootout win on March 7.  The only two-goal game was the Checkers only loss, at San Antonio in November.  While the Rampage sit in last place in the Western Conference, but the games this weekend could be very close if history repeats itself.

Iowa – The Checkers haven’t seen Iowa since mid-October, during the second weekend of the AHL season, and face them two times at home on March 25 and 26.  Charlotte lost both games in Des Moines.  The Wild are in a tough Midwest division, in which all of the four other teams (Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Chicago and Rockford) all sit in a playoff position.  The Wild are currently in 12th place in the Western Conference.

Oklahoma City – Of their final 13 games, the Checkers will face the Barons four more times.  Two at home, and two away.  As I write this, each team has played 63 games, and only one point separates them in the standings, with OKC sitting in 9th place in the Western conference, and the Checkers are in 10th.  The matchup between Charlotte and Oklahoma City has been a dramatic one this season.  The Checkers are 6-1-1 against the Barons.  After winning the first six games of the season in a dramatic fashion, the Checkers have lost their last two against Oklahoma City here at home, which were in early in February.  Needless to say, the key to the Checkers playoff hopes may lie in these four remaining games against the Barons, because if the Checkers can take the much needed points against a fierce opponent, they may have a chance of making the post season.

Grand Rapids – On paper, Grand Rapids may be the toughest opponent the Checkers have to face in their remaining 13 games.  They were last year’s Calder Cup champions, and are certainly in contention to repeat.  They sit atop their Midwest division, and are second place in the Western Conference.  The Checkers split a pair of games in Michigan in October, including a dramatic 5-0 shutout win by John Muse.  Taking a couple of points from the reigning Calder Cup champions will be a big victory for the Checkers.

Milwaukee – During the final weekend of the regular season , the Checkers have a quick two game roadtrip to the Midwest where they will face the Admirals and IceHogs.  Two years ago, Milwaukee was a sight of heartbreak.  I’d traveled to Milwaukee for the Checkers final game, and the winner of the game was playoff bound, the loser would have to cross their fingers and hope other games around the league turned out in their favor.  An overtime game would have resulted in both teams locking in a playoff berth.  Well, the Admirals won the game, the wildcard situation didn’t go Charlotte’s way, and the Checkers were eliminated from playoff contention.  To make a long story short, the game against Milwaukee will be huge.  The two teams are currently separated by only five points, and that margin could be much smaller in April.  Can the Checkers pull out a win?  Let’s hope so!  Charlotte is 2-1 this year against a tough Admirals squad, with both victories coming from John Muse.

Rockford – Charlotte faces the IceHogs for the eighth and final time this year on the last weekend of the AHL season. They are 4-2-0-1 against Rockford, who sit in eight place in the Western Conference.  They have four more points than Charlotte, and have the same number of games played, but fewer games in the win column. The IceHogs have nine OT and shootout losses has a lot to do with the extra points, as Charlotte has only three OT and shootout losses. There’s no doubt, the post season hopes could come down to this final game in Rockford!

 

So…. Where would you put the playoff outlook for the Charlotte Checkers this year?

 

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.

The History Behind the Cup

It’s game day, so what better way to prepare than learning a bit about the ultimate goal of the playoffs! Thanks, as always, to the great writing team of Tess and Sara here at Chasing Checkers! – Jenni – Editor-of-Awesome

Most hockey fans know the history behind the Stanley Cup, but what about the Calder? The Calder Cup is 77 years old and bears its namesake from the late great, Frank Calder. This Cup is awarded to the American Hockey League’s final playoff championship winner. It is also the second oldest trophy of it’s kind, only trailing Stanley itself.

Frank Calder is a familiar name to many. Another piece of hardware claims the Calder title, the NHL’s Calder Memorial Trophy given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.” Calder served as the NHL’s first president from 1917 to 1943 and was instrumental in making hockey what it is today.

The first Calder Cup was given in 1938, the same year that the IHL (International) and C-AHL (Can-Am) formally merged together as one, to the Providence Reds. The season prior, when the leagues merely had interlocking schedules, the 1937 Syracuse Stars allegedly never got the privilege of receiving the Cup despite being the rightful champions and in 1996 finally had the chance to hoist it.

This season nurtures the Checkers’ second run at the Cup, their first was in their AHL inaugural season (2010-2011) where Charlotte made it all the way to the semi-finals only to lose four straight games to the Binghamton Senators and relinquish their fight to glory.

The Calder Cup stands at 24 inches tall, a beautiful mix of sterling silver and Brazilian mahogany boasting the names of the last 20 teams to hoist the hardware.
Be sure to go out and support your Checkers on the road to the Calder and help to make them a bigger part of this history!

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.

 catokc

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.

 

IN THE CREASE

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.

 

DEFFENSE

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.

OFFENSE

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).

SERIES PREDICTION

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!

 

 

It’s Staal over in Raleigh: Jared gets his first NHL recall

I was pretty excited to read the news that Riley Nash and Tim Wallace would once-again be members of the Charlotte Checkers for this weekend’s trip to Oklahoma City. (Even though Wallace’s assignment in Charlotte would last only about five hours!)

Jared Staal as a rookie in 2010 for the Charlotte Checkers.  (Photo - J. Propst)

Jared Staal as a rookie in 2010 for the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo – J. Propst)

I was also pleased that Nicolas Blanchard was getting the opportunity to stay in Raleigh.  Blanchard’s presence with the Hurricanes is a huge loss to the Checkers, but I can’t think of a player who has worked harder and given more heart, soul and grit to the team in each of the six full seasons as a part of the Hurricanes organization.

And when I heard about Wallace and Nash, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Hurricanes had enough healthy players to field a full roster for their final games, and since it’s now public knowledge that Alexander Semin has a concussion, it’s obvious the Hurricanes weren’t healthy enough for tonight’s game.

So of all of the potential players the Hurricanes could have recalled, they chose Jared, youngest son of the famed Staal clan.  And the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Jared does not have the same skill level his older brothers did at his age.  He’s had a much steeper learning curve adjusting to life in the American League during his time with the Checkers, but there has been a huge amount of improvement.  He played more games than ever this year in Charlotte, and the number of minutes played also increased.

This year, it’s almost as if Jared’s physicality has finally matured into his body.  He’s finishing checks and using his size to overtake opponents.  He’s played more minutes, and been more of a threat on the ice than in the previous two years I watched him play.  Jared might not be the offensive scoring machine his brothers are, and doesn’t have the smooth skating stride of them, but he’s come a long way.  He still looks surprised when he scores during practice, and as it was pointed out on Twitter, isn’t really an offensive force, but not every player needs that to be their role.  His seven points this year (4g, 3a) in 52 games are about average for his scoring in the AHL… last year he had eight (3g, 5a) in 44 games.  But honestly, despite what one might see on the score sheet, Jared Staal is a much improved player this year, and if he continues to get grittier, maybe the NHL could be in his future.  He’s got size, genetics, and all kinds of potential, he just needs to keep working hard to get there.

Jared Staal plays the puck against the Milwaukee Admirals in Charlotte in December, 2012. (Photo - J. Propst)

Jared Staal plays the puck against the Milwaukee Admirals in Charlotte in December, 2012. (Photo – J. Propst)

Jared might not ever win a Stanley Cup like Eric and Jordan, or wear a letter on his sweater in the NHL like his three elder siblings, but he has a potentially bright future if he can focus and continue to improve as he did this year.  I’m pretty confident Eric, Marc and Jordan will never win a Kelly Cup, but Jared has one with the Florida Everblades, and that is something to be proud of.

Did Jared Staal deserve an NHL recall over guys like Zac Dalpe, Zach Boyhuk, Chris Terry or a handful of others in Charlotte? Probably not.  But let’s be honest, the Hurricanes season is done, and as a fan of the Charlotte Checkers, I applaud the Hurricanes for doing what they can to make it fun for the fans in Raleigh and booster the lineup in Charlotte, a team with real playoff potential this off-season. And a third Staal in the lineup in Raleigh is certainly newsworthy.  Having one of the superstars and NHL caliber guys from the Checkers won’t change the fate of the Hurricanes, so why not build on the FUTURE of the Canes, and support the AHL squad for what seems like the first time all season.

Also? With the lineup in Charlotte these days, there’s nothing even close to a guarantee that Jared would have been one of the lucky 18 skaters to play against the Barons on tomorrow.  There was a time that a dozen guys were injured in Charlotte, but that number is dwindling, and there are more healthy scratches available each night, and Jared would have been one of five or six skaters fighting for a spot on the fourth line.  So the entire Hurricanes organization is better off with him in Raleigh, exciting the national media, and letting the Checkers excel as they have the potential to in Oklahoma City this weekend.

Good luck tonight in Raleigh, Jared.  I’m sure many of us will be cheering you on in your NHL debut!

 

P.S.  I will definitely e wearing my “Party like a Staal brother” t-shirt today in honor of the game!  #LetsGoStaals

Charlotte Checkers – Playoff Outlook and regular season wind-down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other teams to watch out for:

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

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

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

Checking in around the division – the playoff outlook

February is always a crazy month in hockey, with the trade deadine coming, and teams making that push for the playoffs at all levels of professional hockey.

As I look at the Checkers schedule for the rest of the month, one thing is clear, and that’s the emphasis on the Midwest Division.  Five of the teams next six games are against Midwest Division foes, including the team’s first-ever visit to Peoria, Il.

What’s especially interesting is to look at the bigger picture, beyond the AHL schedule and standings and the upcoming Calder Cup playoffs, and see how the NHL is going to play into it.

The other four teams in the Checkers division all have NHL affiliates that are firmly rooted in the playoff race.  Vancouver (Chicago) is in second in the West, with St. Louis (Peoria), Nashville (Milwaukee) and Chicago (Rockford) in fourth, fifth and sixth.  The Hurricanes are the only team with an AHL squad in the Midwest who will not be making it to the post season (as much as I’d love to see them rally and make it to the eighth seed, realistically speaking, overcoming an 11-point deficit seems like a bit of a challenge.)

So, what does this mean for the Checkers?  There’s a good chance that the Hurricanes will be sellers at the deadline, get rid of pending UFA’s, and make room for the youth that is thriving in Charlotte.  Of course, come the end of the regular season, guys who may finish the year in Raleigh could still be assigned to Charlotte for what will hopefully be a long playoff run.  Clear Day Rosters aren’t due for another month and a half, so anything is possible between now and then.

As for the AHL playoff outlook, all signs point to YES for the Checkers, with Chicago and Peoria also in the top eight, and Milwaukee just barely on the outside looking in.

As for the other teams in the Checkers division, who knows.  Their parent clubs are pretty cemented in the standings, so the teams may not have to “buy” too many UFAs to make it into the playoffs, but they might be looking for veteran depth.  Of course, come playoff time (Stanley Cup and Calder Cup), an organizations Stanley Cup team is always the priority, and leaving an AHL team short handed is not uncommon.

In other Checkers and AHL News:

  • The AHL announced that the 2013 AHL Classic would be held in Providence, RI.  The last time Providence hosted the All-Star event was in 1995, when the Providence Bruins were in their third season of operation.  It’s interesting to note that the last time a Western Conference team hosted the event, it was 2007. Look at the list of sites, and it’s VERY Eastern heavy.
  • Congratulations to Coach Jeff Daniel’s father, Wayne Daniels, on being named an inductee to the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame.  Wayne spent 30 years as an athletic trainer working with the Oshawa Generals.
  • Sounds like the Checkers will be without Mike Murphy again this weekend, as the team embarks on a three-in-three, including two games in Illinois and Wisconsin.  The team has signed a third PTO goalie to fill in.  Fortunately, the team is in good hands with John Muse, who has racked up a 7-1-0 record this season (1.67 GAA, 0.948 SV%).
  • Chris Durno, Justin Shugg and Chris Murray will also be sidelined for another weekend.  Durno has begun practicing with the team in a limited, no-contact capacity.
  • Drayson Bowman remains with the Hurricanes, after being recalled last month.

The one about final thoughts before game four

Today is a good day.  It started good, and it’s going to end even better.  I had to go to the DMV to get my license renewed, and was only there for 25 minutes.  Clearly, the gods are smiling on Charlotte, and I think all Checkers fans and players should get to share in the positive energy.
The game that begins in a little over two hours, is going to be a great game.  Our team is fighting for their lives, and I still have total and complete faith in them to pull through.

We’ve all heard the stats… only two AHL teams have overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series to win… those teams were the 1960 Amerks and the 1989 Red Wings.  Three NHL teams have accomplished the same feat, most recently the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, who went on to compete for the Stanley Cup.  The other two teams were the 1942 Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders.  I think it’s about time that the Charlotte Checkers have their name added to that list in 2011.

This team that didn’t exist a little over a year ago, they have dug themselves deep into the fabric of Charlotte, and buried themselves deep in my heart.  Over the course of 80 games during the regular season, I went from being a casual fan of the team, to believing so strongly in the team, the players, and the organization, that I will do anything in my power to support them, from my living room in front of my laptop and AHL live, to driving to places three states away.

So tonight, I’ll be cheering for my team, confident that I’ll be seeing them in person on Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.  These guys, who’s average age is only 23, they are the heart and soul of the team.  When I was 23, I was barely out of college, so unsure of what the future held, but our team has this level of passion, and energy and maturity that can’t be contained.  They’ve made me laugh, cry, scream.  I’ve had sleepless nights because of them, lost my voice on more than one occasion, shared dozens of beers with friends in celebration of them (and at times, sorrow as well).  I’ve met amazing people because of the Checkers.   They’ve made me smile, and they have made me so proud to be from Charlotte, and a season ticket holder of their inaugural season.  This team, I believe in them with every ounce of my being.  So tonight, tonight I’m going to cheer for them.  I’m going to lose my voice, and I’m going to be there for them for the 60 minutes (or more) it takes.

These Checkers… I believe in them.  I think the rest of you do, too.

Lets Go Checkers