Professional hockey in Charlotte – six decades of awesome

The first professional team in Charlotte to win a league title was the Charlotte Clippers in 1957, following their first full season in town.  The previous year, the Baltimore Clippers relocated to Charlotte mid-season after their own rink had burned down.  Charlotte was home to the brand-new, state-of-the-art Charlotte Coliseum that is now known as Bojangles Arena on Independence Blvd, and the perfect place for a homeless hockey team to move into.

In the early days of professional hockey in Charlotte, there were multiple titles and trophies won.  Charlotte won the EHL regular-season title (called the Walker Cup) in 1957, and also the playoff championship, called the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy against an IHL team, the Philadelphia Ramblers.

In 1956-57, the first season of hockey in Charlotte was one for the record books.   Six of the league’s top-10 scorers played for the Charlotte.  The team was the first professional hockey team   in the South to win a league championship.  Charlotte’s 50-13-1 record and 101 points broke Eastern Hockey League Records. (By comparison, that record came in a 64 game season.  Last season, the Checkers had 92 points in a 76 game season).

Charlotte came close to a championship repeat in 1958.  They won the Walker Cup in the regular season, and it came down to the seventh game of the finals and Charlotte lost to the Washington Presidents.

The Clippers changed their name to the Checkers in 1960, a decade that was full of ups and downs for the team, though they did reach the finals once in 1968.  Things turned around for the 1970-71 season, with the Checkers crowned Champions.  Just a few months before the Checkers defeated the New Haven Blades in the finals, the team published a photograph of the first Charlotte team to win a hockey championship, in the season’s program.  Did the photo serve as inspiration for a team that had struggled since that first championship in 1957?  Maybe so!  The Checkers repeated as EHL champions the following season as well.

 

The Charlotte Clippers won the championship in 1957.  Over a decade later, and just a month before the team's second championship, the photo was published in the team's official program. Is it time to re-print this photo in a 2013-14 program? (Photo credit - Charlotte Checkers, used with permission)

The Charlotte Clippers won the championship in 1957. Over a decade later, and just a month before the team’s second championship, the photo was published in the team’s official program. Is it time to re-print this photo in a 2013-14 program? (Photo credit – Charlotte Checkers, used with permission)

The Checkers continued their winning ways during the 1970’s.  They Changed leagues in 1973, and won the Southern Hockey League Championship in 1975 and again in 1976.  Unfortunately, the league folded midway through the following season and the Checkers weren’t able to go for a championship Crockett Cup hat trick.

From 1977 to 1993, it was a dark time in Charlotte.  For 18 years, there was not professional hockey in Charlotte, but that changed when the Checkers returned  as a team in the East Coast Hockey League.  In the Checkers third season in the ECHL, in 1997, they won the league championship, which at the time was called the Riley Cup.

It’s been 18 years since the Checkers won a league Championship of any kind, but I’d hardly say these have been dark years in Charlotte.  Checkers teams have visited the conference finals in both the ECHL and AHL.  The teams have had MVPs, league-leading scorers , and now compete in the highest level of professional hockey that Charlotte has ever had. The teams have received local and national press for the great things they do in the Charlotte community, and continue to make an impact throughout the region.

The future continues to be bright for the Checkers.  With the list of talented prospects and hockey veterans who will be a part of the 2013-14 roster, I can’t wait to see what’s in store in Charlotte.  I will say though, maybe a photo of the first Charlotte championship hockey team could make an appearance in a game program this season.  It can’t hurt, right?

 

 

So, readers, other than the obvious “Calder Cup Championship,” what would you like to see the Checkers do to continue their history of awesome?

 

 

P.S. Much of my research comes from Jim Mancuso’s Hockey in Charlotte.  It’s my go-to book for school paper writing, and Chasing Checkers research.  Pick up a copy if you haven’t read it yet!

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.

https://twitter.com/JChaimo/status/355374440302919681

 

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!)

 

 

 

Fighting Fires with Mike Commodore – where he’s been, and where he’s going

I spent some time on Thursday with Mike Commodore after his morning skate before the Charlotte Checkers game.  He talked about the AHL, what’s on his bucket list, where his career has been, and where it’s headed.  If you read this site regularly, you know that me interviewing this veteran, Stanley Cup winning defenseman was something on my own bucket list.

Mike Commodore, a defenseman for the Texas Stars, played his first-ever game in Charlotte against the Checkers on Thursday. (Photo - J. Propst)

Mike Commodore, a defenseman for the Texas Stars, played his first-ever game in Charlotte against the Checkers on Thursday. (Photo – J. Propst)

After leaving the Hamilton Bulldogs in January, Mike Commodore spent a month at home near Edmonton, skating with the University of Alberta’s hockey team.  But when the Golden Bears went off to the National Championship, he lost his opportunity to use their ice, and had decided he was going to pack up the hockey for the season.   It was Commodore’s first time at home in almost 16 years, but when the ice left, he too, decided to hit the road.

He flew to Tampa, where he’d ended last year’s NHL season, and a number of his belongings still were.  And Commodore started golfing, making his way across the gulf coast towards Texas when he was offered another PTO for another western conference AHL team.

Commodore is now playing for the Texas Stars, a team who leads the Western Conference and the South Division.  With the playoffs right around the corner, he knew he was signing with a good team that had a lot of post-season potential.

Commodore has played for 14 teams in his 13-year career.  The three seasons he spent in Raleigh with the Hurricanes was the longest he ever spent with an NHL club.  He enjoyed his time in Raleigh, at least after getting past the initial culture shock and learning his way around a new city filled with tall trees, and curvy roads that seem to lead to nowhere, which is quite different from the flat prairies of Alberta where he’d grown up and played professionally in Calgary.

“It’s unfortunate I got traded out of there. Obviously it was a business decision for the Hurricanes,” shared Commodore, of the time he spent in North Carolina, “Other than to play a couple of games and to run in Pete Friesen’s charity run there, I haven’t been back for any kind of period of time, which is too bad.  I should try and change that.”

When you’ve played for as many teams as Commodore has, you can understand how he would become a self-proclaimed gypsy.

“I never travel anywhere without a computer. And I always have my passport because I’m never sure what country I’m going to be going to,” Commodore recounted, “Clothes and stuff, I learned a long time ago with all the trades and stuff that I went through that all that extra stuff is just a pain in the ass.  Furniture and all that, get rid of it.  So I travel pretty light.”

During Commodore’s hockey career, he’s competed in two Stanley Cup finals, won one of them, and was a black ace in a third.  In college, he won the NCAA Frozen Four with the University of North Dakota.

Other than the obvious dream come true of winning the Stanley Cup, one of the things he is most proud of is winning a World Championship with Team Canada in 2007.

“You know, that was my only time that I’ve had a chance to play for Team Canada, and I think I played really well.  We had a good team that went 9-0.  We had a team where the people at home were all ‘This team is brutal, where’s Sidney Crosby, the D-corps are brutal’, and we went there [to Moscow] and dominated teams.,” shared Commodore, of his experience on the Gold Medal winning Canada team, “The toughest games were at the beginning of the tournament where we were getting used to each other, and then that was it.  I’m really proud of that.”

Commodore also spoke of his time in Columbus, and the positive experience it was, despite the turmoil in his last season there.

“I’m proud of the team that made the playoffs in Columbus. We didn’t win a playoff game, which was unfortunate, but that was probably individually, my best year as a pro,” Commodore continued,  “ It gets overlooked now, because whenever me and Columbus come up it’s always assumed it was a complete disaster, but that was one of my best years as a pro.  It would have been nice to win a game or two, and I thought I played very well.”

On and off the ice, he’s played in a number of NHL and AHL cites. As far as the AHL goes, he said the warm cities of Texas, Quebec City, Wilkes-Barre and Manchester were some of his favorite to play in. Cleveland is the city he says he saw the biggest turn around, from an awful place to play when he was with the Cincinnati Ducks, to an arena filled with passionate fans.

As for AHL cities he’d rather not play in again, Commodore was quite animated. “Springfield is awful, terrible, the rink sucks.  Worcester is terrible.  Portland, I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t have to go back there,” With a smile, Commodore went on, “God, there’s a few… that’s probably enough. I don’t want to badmouth the whole league.”

Off the ice, Commodore seems to be a fun, passionate individual.  He wants to travel and see other countries.

“I’ve been to Scotland, and I’d like to go overseas maybe to Ireland for golfing.  Scotland was great, and I’ve heard Ireland is like Scotland, but there’s more to do off the golf course,” he spoke of what his post-hockey life may include, “I enjoy traveling when it’s not for work and I’m not hauling around hockey gear.”

He’s also thought about post-hockey careers.  After spending a month in his mom’s basement, he knows it’s not how he wants to spend the rest of his life.

“Yeah, I had a really good time being Chazz Reinhold there,” recounted Commodore of the Wedding Crashers robe-wearing character played by Will Ferrell,  “That was enough. I’d like to keep those trips a lot shorter.  I’ve got to do something.  I’ve been fortunate that I’ve done well enough off the ice with hockey where I don’t think I need to, but what else am I going to do? I can’t just sit around.”

Become a fireman? Well, that’s one of the things Commodore is considering for years down the road when he’s done playing.

“I’m pretty good with numbers, so I was thinking something business wise, or I think something I’d be fairly decent at, would be a fireman.” Commodore continued, “You know, it’s a lot of teamwork and I’ve had a couple of offers to come join firemen.  It’s a team atmosphere, locker room atmosphere.”

He also thinks about having a place of his own that isn’t a basement in an Edmonton suburb.

“I’d like to get a place in Scottsdale, I think.  Scottsdale’s nice. You know, with me moving around a lot, I haven’t seen much of my parents since I was in high school, and they aren’t young anymore, so as the years go by I’d like to spend more time with them there, but I don’t want to go up to Edmonton to do it.  They put their time in up there in the cold, and they like the Phoenix area in the winter.”

For now, Commodore seems content playing on one of the top teams in the American League.

“It’s been a different year.  The last couple years have been tough. They’ve been tough for me.  To be honest I’m the exact same player I was five years ago, it’s just situations have changed. I’ve had back-to-back coaches that have basically done their best to punt me out of the league.”

So far, Texas seems to be a good fit, and with the playoffs right around the corner, the future is bright.  Playing for the Stars could lead to one more championship on his already loaded resume.

“If we can pull out a Calder Cup I will have won every trophy I ever played for.”

With aspirations of playing golf on the Emerald greens of Ireland to possibly fighting fires, whatever comes next for Mike Commodore is sure to be an adventure.

Charlotte Checkers by the numbers – just a few reasons to support this team!

There’s a lot of talk around the interwebs about why the AHL is going to be so much fun to watch this year, and I have to say that while it is nice to have the extra attention while the NHL squabbles about percentages and CBA’s, it’s really business as usual for the Charlotte Checkers and the other 29 teams in the AHL.  The American league is consistently overflowing with top-notch talent, and while it’s exciting to see a few extra NHL names on the AHL rosters, it’s the organization’s commitment to winning that makes the Checkers such a team to watch.

But in case you still aren’t convinced we have something special in Charlotte, here’s  a few more reasons!

0 – The number of time front office staff such as Nathan Beasley will have to fill in on the ice because the Checkers roster is STACKED with talent!

Charlotte Checkers players celebrate following a win against the Rockford IceHogs in April last year. The majority of the team from 2011-12 will return to Charlotte this year. (Photo – J. Propst)

2 – The number of players who have NHL head coaches as fathers.  Brett Sutter’s dad Darryl is in Los Angeles, while Justin Krueger’s dad Ralph is the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

3 – The number of seasons Charlotte has had an AHL team, and the number of different divisions the team has played in during that time.  This year, following a year where the Checkers played in the Midwest division of Milwaukee, Chicago, Peoria and Rockford, the Checkers move to the South division of Texas, Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

5 – The number of players named Justin who played for Charlotte last season, and are all eligible to play once again this year.  Goaltender Justin Peters, Defensemen Justin Krueger and Justin Faulk, and Forwards Justin Shugg and Justin Soryal should all see ice time with the Checkers.  So when in doubt, say Justin is your favorite player… you really can’t go wrong!

6 – The number of Sutter brothers who played in the NHL.  Two is the number of second-generation Sutters who could dress as Checkers this season.  Cousins Brett and Brody come from hockey royalty.  Brett’s dad is Darryl Sutter, who recently won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Los Angeles Kings.  Brody’s dad is Duane Sutter, who in his first four seasons as a player in the NHL, won four Stanley Cups.  Winning is in the Sutter’s blood, and they will certainly bring this legacy to Charlotte.

10 – The number of Checkers players who spent time in NCAA programs honing their hockey skills.  As a freshman, Justin Faulk won the NCAA championship at University of Minnesota – Duluth.  Riley Nash and Justin Krueger were teammates at Cornell.  Tim Wallace never missed a game during his four years at Notre Dame. Jeremy Welsh helped his team at Union College make it to the Frozen Four for the first time in the school’s history.  As the starting goaltender, John Muse won two NCAA championships at Boston College. At the University of Wisconsin, Sean Dolan played in the NCAA title game as a junior, losing to Muse’s BC team, and served as the captain of his Badger team as a senior.  Zac Dalpe spent two years at Ohio State University where he was the team MVP.  Rob Madore, a University of Vermont alum, was second in save percentage only to Tim Thomas in his entire school’s history.  Joe Sova (of the rap fame) spent three years at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks where he was named his team’s “Rookie of the Year” and as a defenseman in his final year, led the team in assists.

17 – The number Quebec native Jerome Samson wears in Charlotte.  Samson is beginning his fifth season as a member of the Hurricanes AHL affiliate.  He’s a two-time All Star and consistently leads the team in goals.

25 – The number Checkers player Chris Terry wears.  Terry was a 2012 AHL All-star, and leads the team in games played (154) and has led the team in points in 2011-12 with 59, and in goals in 2010-11 with 34.  His play on the ice is Terryiffic!

29 – The number that defenseman Michal Jordan wears.  Not to be mistaken as the Michael Jordan who owns the Charlotte Bobcats, the Checkers MJ is a native of the Czech Republic and provides comic relief to teammates and fans alike through his Twitter, as well as outstanding defensive performance on the ice.

68 – The approximate number of Jeff Skinner jerseys that will be sold during his first home game if he suits up in a Checkers uniform (this is purely a guess, and I’m probably way off!)

164 – The number of penalty minutes that Checkers forward Justin Soryal racked up in the 2011-12 season.  A shoulder injury sidelined him for the final month of the season, so that number can certainly be higher this year!

380 – The low low price of season tickets to see each of the Checkers home games this year.  I’m not sure there’s a better value in professional sports.

6768 – The 2011-12 average attendance Charlotte had during their second season of play in the AHL.  They were eighth in the league, up from 10th during their inaugural season.

The one about Jeff Skinner and Seventeen magazine, and why it’s a GREAT thing

Jeff Skinner on the red carpet at the ASG in Raleigh this year. For the record, I think this purple tie is MUCH better than the choices in the Seventeen contest! Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

So, if you follow the Checkers or Hurricanes on Twitter, you probably heard about the Seventeen / Cosmogirl promo the magazine is doing with Jeff Skinner, where fans get to vote on what suit Skinner is going to wear to the NHL awards later this month.  As an adult who is probably twice the target age of Seventeen magazine’s readership, sure, the article is a bit cheesy and immature, but I’m not a 15 year old girl who likes looking at “cute guys” and talking about fashion.  That is who this promo is for.  And it’s a GREAT way to get new fans.  I would guess, that if I still had any copies of SEVENTEEN magazine from 15 years ago, or Bop or whatever magazines I read when I was 14 or 15 years old, the style of journalism would be right on par with what was written about Jeff Skinner.

Apparently, “real” fans are posting nasty comments on the article, or on the Hurricanes facebook page.  They fear these new fans who think Jeff Skinner is a “hot guy” are going to vault them self into puck bunnies and potentially destroy the sport of hockey.  I don’t believe this is the case.  I do believe, that these new fans could bring money into a southern hockey team, in a non-traditional market, which is NEVER a bad thing, especially when cities like Atlanta just had their franchise ripped right out from under them due to lack of fan interest.  They will buy t-shirts, tickets and jerseys, and pay attention to a new sport and give it exposure that it always needs.  How is this a bad thing?  And maybe these young girls will grow to understand the sport, want to play it, and inspire other people to become fans as well?

I hate the term puck bunny.  I hate that it’s this broad term that doesn’t truly describe or define a specific type of fan, but is instead used to demean female hockey fans of all kinds.  To one person, a puckbunny is one of those girls who does everything they can to get in a players pants.  You know the type…. they find out where players hang out, and try and date/sleep with/whatever, and many of them are successful.  To another person, a puckbunny is a young girl who goes to games to see the “cute” players, but who’s interest is relatively innocent.  We’ve all seen plenty of these girls at games as well, and I’m sure many readers have referred to them as puck bunnies.

So now, because Skinner is the focus of this promotion, fans are saying Seventeen magazine is going to inspire a new crop of puck bunnies to come to games who are only there for the “hot guys.”  Is that really a terrible thing?  Sure, I’d rather they not sit behind me and distract me from my enjoyment of the action on the ice, but if they are truly open to the experience, it won’t take them long to realize what an INCREDIBLE sport ice hockey is, and how much fun it is to watch, experience and participate in.  I try and be a fan ambassador to the team.  I know what a great thing we have in Charlotte, and while I’m not employed or compensated in any way, shape or form by the team, I do anything and everything I can to get more fans to the games.  I’ve so far convinced four of my friends to buy season tickets for next year, none of whom had ever been to a Checkers game prior to this past season.  We ALL have to find new ways to market and inspire new fans and customers, and Seventeen magazine is a GREAT avenue for this.  Come on, Checkers fans… what would you rather see?  A few dozen teenage girls who think Justin Faulk is DREAMY with his long hair flowing behind him as he skates, or a gaggle of Girl Scouts or NASCAR night fans who want to do the wave during overtime, don’t pay attention to anything on the ice, and distract ME from the game?  I’ll take the teenage girls, anytime, because at least they are there to see the athletes!

I hate being accused of being a puck bunny.  I hate how idiotic it is to accuse another person of being a puck bunny, based on their gender and enjoyment of the sport of hockey.  I can assure you, that just because I am a female hockey fan, it does not discredit my status as a fan one bit.  I assure you, if you want to discuss statistics, history, the culture of the sport, rules of the game, etc., you will be hard pressed to know more than I do.  Sure, I may make occasional joking comments about how nice Nicolas Blanchard looks with or without his teeth, or how the leading actor in Score, a Hockey Musical reminds me of Jeff Skinner, but nine times out of ten, I’m joking.  And as far as I’m concerned, if male fans are given the opportunity to comment on the racks of the Checkmates, or how nice their pants accentuate the ladies camel toes, then my occasional comments about players make me no less of a fan.

So I’m sorry if you don’t approve of Jeff Skinner being called a “cute guy” who is going to look “hot” at the NHL awards, and is the Justin Bieber of hockey.  I do believe some of his teammates in Raleigh posted a picture of Justin Bieber in his dressing room stall.  He’s been compared to Justin Bieber, or referred to as “sk8erboi ” on twitter.  He’s a barely-19 year old professional athlete.  He is an adorable dimpled, smiling hockey player, who presents himself incredibly well in interviews, has a fantastic back story about his road to the NHL, was the youngest NHL All-Star, and has already reached superstar status after only one year in the league.  There is NOTHING bad about him getting more exposure for himself, for the NHL, and for the Carolina Hurricanes.  The last 18 year old superstar I can recall is a kid named Sidney Crosby…. and look what he’s done for the Penguins.  He helped save that team, and they have sold out nearly every game in Pittsburgh since he started playing.

So instead of being disgusted by a promo geared towards 14 year old girls, how about we look at it as a great way to help our sport grow!  I know we all hate bandwagon fans, but the bottom line is they are good for the sport as a whole, and those of us who have been there since day one can be proud of that fact!

The one where I extend my sympathies to Atlanta fans

The lights have gone out in Atlanta. The Thrashers are moving to Winnepeg. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

I hate this for Atlanta.  While I fully believe that Winnipeg is deserving of a franchise I do NOT think this is fair.  The NHL has bent over backwards for years to keep a franchise in Phoenix, but within a period of a few weeks, they allow an organization to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and move them 1400 or so miles away.

 

What is it about Phoenix (or a yuppie suburb of Phoenix, in the case of Glendale) that is so valuable to the NHL, that they will give millions to the franchise, and do everything it can to save the team, but they let go of Atlanta without allowing any kind of fight to occur?  I love Phoenix.  I lived there for 12 years.  It’s a great city, with so much to offer.  I have been to a Coyotes game in Glendale, and it was fun, but the fan support was pathetic.  (I think the 8-10 Hurricanes fans who were there for the game were louder than all the Coyotes fans combined!)

 

But the NHL didn’t try and stop this.  They didn’t do anything to help Atlanta, as they assisted Phoenix.  That, is my biggest problem.  One team gets years of support, assistance, financial backing, legal battle assistance, etc., and only weeks after it was determined Phoenix (Glendale) was keeping the Coyotes, Atlanta has lost their team.  Why didn’t the NHL help Atlanta?  It seems to me, from a PR standpoint, it’s a city the league would want in it’s fold.  It’s a racially diverse community, and let’s be honest, the NHL is a predominantly white sport (though it shouldn’t be!) and Atlanta had been making great strides to diversifying their fan base, and even had one of the most racially diverse squads in the NHL.

 

This is great news for Winnepeg.  The fans there are passionate, and clearly won’t need the same kind of fan-education that a non-traditional market like Atlanta required when it got the Thrashers in 1990.  I’m sure even if the new Winnepeg team sucks (hey, maybe my Oilers won’t be 30th this year!), they will still have plenty of fans in the stands, which many feel is the hallmark of a successful franchise.  I don’t believe this move has any potential to get more TV viewers in the United States.  It isn’t going to break merchandising records for tshirts sold, etc. for anyone outside of Manitoba.

 

But this is terrible news for Atlanta.  It’s terrible news for all of us who live in non-traditional hockey markets.  It’s horrible for teams in the South, because of all of them, Atlanta was the largest, with the biggest population to draw from.  Atlanta has a metro population of almost six million people, and they couldn’t get 15K of them to care enough about the team to buy season tickets.  (Raleigh, by comparison, has a metro population of 1.1 million, drastically smaller than the other teams in the Southeastern Division, but nearly double the size of Winnipeg’s 690K.)

 

This isn’t going to be an easy year for the Southeast division.  Travel will be VERY different, and will require the new Winnepeg team to visit each of it’s five division rivals three times each, plus a trip to Charlotte on September 25 for the preseason game against Carolina.  It is only a matter of time before a new team joins the Southeast (probably Nashville or Columbus).  The NHL made strides a couple of years ago to have each Canadian team play each other twice, but with the alignment in the Southeast next year, I assume Winnepeg will only play Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver once, despite the closer proximity to them.  They will still play the Eastern Canadian teams multiple times, though (four each, if the schedule format remains the same in 2011-12 as it’s been in recent seasons).

 

I think this is a wake up call to all of us Southern hockey fans.  We MUST continue to support our teams, win or lose.  We’ve got to keep buying tickets, supporting our teams, and bringing more friends and family to games.  Hockey in the south is an amazing thing, and I know I’d be devastated if I lost my team as those in Atlanta must be today.

 

A couple of quick notes:

  • The preseason game on September 25 with the Hurricanes in Charlotte is still going to happen.  According to Chip Alexander there is a signed contract.  (Of course, I’m sure the season ticket holders in Atlanta also had signed contracts for the tickets in 2011-12 they had already bought…. so contracts only mean so much…)  Regardless, it looks like Charlotte hockey fans are going to be some of the first to get to witness the new Winnepeg team.
  • I bet Jacob Micflikier is excited beyond belief. He always told me if he wasn’t playing in Charlotte, the only other AHL team he’d want to play for would have been the Moose.  While I REALLY want to see number 18 back in a Checkers jersey next year, I’ll keep my fingers crossed he can sign a deal with the Winnepeg Thrajets.

    Why do ice girls have to dress like this? Is there anything appropriate about figure skates, short skirts and bare midriffs at a hockey rink?

  • I was confused by the comments the PR guy made about Winnepeg being a major music city, and having so many great bands from there.  Thanks to Mike Lappan, I learned that Winnepeg is home to Crash Test Dummies, The Guess Who, Propagandhi, Niel Young and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  I’m not sure those names give them the awesome music status of somewhere like Athens, GA (of the 80’s and 90’s), Nashville or Memphis, TN…
  • I wonder what this means for the Thrashers ice girls?  I HOPE it means that the NHL will have one less team with hockey cheerleaders/dancers/whatever…. the Thrashers ice girls wore less clothes than the Checkmates, but weren’t quite as skanky looking as the Panthers ice girls…
  • I’m anxious to see what this all means to the AHL.  The Manitoba Moose are now homeless (they are the Vancouver Canucks farm team, but are owned by True North, the same organization that bought the Thrashers) and the Chicago Wolves may be without a parent club, as they were affiliated with Atlanta.  So lots and lots of things are going to be happening in the coming weeks.
Lets Go Checkers! (And R.I.P. Thrash, and your beak that always used to peck at my head when I cheered for the visiting team in your arena.)

 

 

The one about Southern Hockey, and the plight of the Atlanta Thrashers

Ahh, Southern hockey. I’m quite the fan of this sport, and love the flair that Southern hockey fans have brought to it. (OK, not all of the flair, I pretty much hate the Ric Flair WOO’s at any rink…). Though some of the panic seems to have died down for the time being, there are countless reports that the Atlanta Thrashers are on their way to Winnipeg, beginning during the 2011-12 season. If this move was to happen, it would have repurcussions for Canes and Checkers fans alike, and for all fans of Southern hockey.

If the Thrashers move, it will be the second time the city of Atlanta has lost a franchise, previously losing the Atlanta Flames to Calgary. The Atlanta Flames were in Atlanta from 1972-1980, and were named after the city’s historic moment during the Civil War when the Union army burned down the city. (As an aside, how great would it be if the Atlanta Flames still existed, a team with naming history based in the Confederate army in the civil war, and they faced the Columbus Blue Jackets, named in honor of the Union army of the same war?) The Atlanta Flames had a really cool logo, and the team kept the name when it moved to Calgary. (I can’t find any reason Calgary would be known for Flames, or why they chose to keep the name, except it was more common to do that in those days of the NHL, than to change like we have in the past 20 years (Jets became Coyotes, Nordiques became Avalanche, Whalers became Hurricanes, etc.).

In 1999, Atlanta was given a second chance in the NHL when they were awarded an expansion team. They became the Thrashers (a scary looking bird of prey, which breathes fire at Phillips Arena when the team scores). They haven’t had great success over the years, making the playoffs only once in their 11 seasons. Atlanta is a tough market for hockey. They have three other major league sports, with the MLB Braves, NFL Falcons and NBA Hawks.

As an NHL fan, I’ve been to a number of games in Atlanta, including All-Star festivities a few years ago, and always had a blast. Tickets were readily available, inexpensive, and the fans were fun to be around. The crowds may have been small, but the people there were passionate and educated when it came to their team, something I admire in a fanbase. I read a piece about how Atlanta only has six sheets of ice, and for the hockey market to develop, it needs more than that…. I’m only aware of two sheets in Raleigh outside of the RBC Center, and Charlotte has three sheets… if you count the Xtreme Ice Center as having two. So I hope how much ice your city has isn’t a measurement of the strength of the market!

Needless to say, as a fan of teams in non traditional hockey markets, I want to see hockey succeed in Atlanta. I don’t want them to move to Winnipeg, with no say in the matter. While I think a city like Winnipeg deserves a team, and has a fanbase to support it, I don’t want to see it happen like this. I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating it would be from a fan’s perspective to see one’s team ripped from them and shipped not only across the country, but to a province that for those of us in the American South, is nearly as remote as places on other continents (unless of course you are Jacob Micflikier, who’s hometown is Winnipeg… otherwise, I’ve never met a person who has been to Winnipeg, or honestly even wants to visit there… no offense, of course, to those of you who call it home!) I know Winnipeg experienced this when they left the Jets to Phoenix, but that doesn’t make this potential move fair, either.

If one was to compare Winnipeg to Atlanta, you’d see some very drastic differences…

Winnipeg has a metro population of 753,600* whereas Atlanta’s is 5,268,860.

Winnipeg would be able to sell out every single game next season in their 15,015 MTS Centre arena (Where the Manitoba Moose of the AHL currently play.) The Thrashers, on the other hand, averaged only 13,469 fans in Phillips Arena this season, which has a hockey capacity of 18,545. According to ESPN, the Thrashers finished 28th in the league in attendance in 2010 with an average of 13,469 per game.

Average temperature in Winnipeg in winter is 3-20 degrees Celcius. Atlanta, by contrast, at it’s coldest in January, has an average winter temperature of 42 degrees (and as we all know, a 70 degree day in winter isn’t out of the question in the South!)

SO…. what does all of this mean to Charlotte? Well, a lot of things. Let’s finish my thoughts off based on the idea that the Thrashers do in fact get moved to Winnipeg (Though, I personally do NOT want to see this happen). My blogger-pall Jason has the best explanation of all of the AHL dominoes that will fall as a result of this (The Moose will move somewhere new, the Chicago Wolves will be without a parent franchise, etc.). More so than the Checkers, the Hurricane’s will be drastically affected by this move. By losing an NHL team in the Southeastern division, either a team like Columbus (I’m ALL FOR THIS!) or Nashville could move to the Southeast, or the decision could be delayed for a year, and Winnipeg’s team would play in the Southeast in 2011-12, forcing a TERRIBLE road schedule for themselves, and requiring Washington, Carolina and the two Florida teams to make three trips EACH to Winterpeg. (And I can assure you, for fans wanting to go on away-game trips, there are no even remotely direct flights from North Carolina to Winnepeg, and driving would take you 27 hours behind the wheel, in good weather (which they don’t have in winter!).

Selfishly, I’d be VERY worried about the Canes game in Charlotte in September, because their opposing team is to be Atlanta. I’m told the Canes would still have this game, but the opponent could change, and the whole rationale behind the game was to give fans in Raleigh a Bobcats game, and fans in Charlotte a Canes game.

This is going to be an exciting offseason… despite the fact I no longer have an AHL team to follow in the finals (my beloved Bulldogs lost to a REALLY BAD CALL with a minute or so to go), so I’m no longer personally invested in the Calder Cup Finals, I know I’ll have more than enough to write about. I already have some fun features planned, and more serious prospect previews in the coming weeks.

I’ll keep you all posted as I hear more about the Atlanta situation, and of course anything and everything that has to do with our Checkers!

*updated to reflect 50,000 previously unaccounted for Winnepeg residents.

Lets Go Checkers

The one about the roadtrip to Hershey

In the course of 36 hours, four of us drove to Hershey and back to cheer on our Charlotte Checkers.  While the game outcome wasn’t what I would have wanted, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

I’m writing this in the passenger seat of a car that is headed back to Charlotte, and I’ll post it when I get home and recovered.  Our adventure is over, and despite the loss it was worth it to make the trip.  The team played incredibly hard and with a lot of fire and determination, but it just wasn’t our night.  Over the course of the season, I’ve come to love the team so much that I knew I just had to support them on the road in the playoffs, and it was totally worth it.

About the game:

Most confusing non-goal ever. Puck crossed the line, but disallowed. Penalty called on Dalpe AND Souray, each for slashing (nowhere near the puck), sending two players to the box. Whistle never blew till after puck crossed goal line, no time was added to scoreboard.

Zac Dalpe had a great night, scoring both of the Checkers goals.  I was incredibly impressed by two of our defensemen, Michal Jordan and Brett Bellemore.   know the AHL doesn’t track Time On Ice as an official stat, but by my best guess, I’d say Jordan was out there for at least 26 or 27 minutes, and Bellemore played close to that many minutes.  It seemed like every other shift, I’d see Jordan hustling and doing everything in his power to keep Hershey down.  Although Jordan had a -3 for the night, it’s not a true sign of how well he played at all.  He was a beast on the ice, and I was so glad to have him out there.

Casey Borer had a very lackluster performance, and seemed lazy at times on the ice.  His ice time seemed to decrease a great deal as the game went on.  Based on his performance (or lack there of) and the fact that clearly the Checkers want to play Jordan as many minutes as they do, we have got to bench one of our six regular defensemen in favor of newly signed Justin Faulk.  Even if Faulk isn’t ready to play major minutes with his new team, we’ve got guys like Jordan and Bellemore who can cover for him, so I think it’s time to give the rookie a shot.

All in all, it was a fun game to watch.  I was going to avoid discussing the goaltending situation for once, but I can’t do that.  Justin Pogge seemed strong at first, but a couple of the goals he let in just weren’t that challenging.  He seemed very tired, which is understandable considering how many starts he’s gotten recently, but he had also had two full days off since the last game with no traveling, so he should have gotten some rest.  Braden Holtby continues to confuse me when he plays the Checkers.  In this game, he was stronger than he usually was, but he never settled down, and had an edge of uncertainty about him the entire game, despite the final score.

Thoughts about the arena and the fans:

I have a feeling I’ll come back to the idea of Hershey and their fans in a later blog, but that will have to wait.

In a nutshell, I was reminded once again how lucky we are to have such a fantastic, state-of-the-art NHL caliber arena in Charlotte.  It’s not that the Giant Center is a dump, it’s a great barn that the Bears fans fill time and time again, but between the incredibly hard plastic seats, the overly high boards and glass that was far-too-short, I missed the TWCA a lot.

I was so used to being COLD at a hockey game (and I’ve been in a lot of professional rinks, all across the US and even Canada), but I’ve never been so warm at a game.  The ice seemed to be suffering as a result of the conditions, too. Pucks were bouncing all over the place, and there were a lot of odd slips and falls by players.

I really missed the Southern hospitality of the fans in Charlotte.  I’ve greeted so many away team fans and welcomed them to our arena that it was hard to get used to the absolutely repulsive and obscene things said to us by some of the male fans.

Fitzy

So… starting with the positives.  First of all, there are NO ICE GIRLS IN HERSHEY.  This was a huge plus.  I find hockey cheerleaders generally offensive, and that they tend to take away from the experience instead of adding to it.  I’m sorry, but scantily clad women gyrating like strippers to bad dance music just does not say HOCKEY to me.  If hockey cheerleaders actually engaged the crowd instead of dancing, I might not be so bothered by them, but they don’t lead chants or cheers.  They don’t help stir up the crowd.  Hershey’s fanbase proved that you do NOT need cheerleaders/dancers/ice girls to get the crowd involved.  The entire crowd cheered in unison every time the Bears scored (which unfortunately, was four times), and they were loud.  I loved that.  I did not, however, love the glass banging.  WHY is it ok in the AHL to bang on the glass??  It makes me crazy.

I did not like some of the fans near us.  While I completely understand I was in someone else’s barn, I don’t think I should have obscene things screamed at me by fans.  I was respectful, only cheering or standing when my team scored, to which I would receive “Sit down, bitch” or other colorful phrases.  During one of the intermissions, their mascot Coco skated to where we were sitting on the glass and kind of taunted us in a fun way, pointing to the polar bears on our jersey and giving us a thumbs down.  That’s totally fine, and I’m sure our own Chubby does similar things.  But then, this fan sitting two rows behind me (who I believe had previously called me “bitch”) yells “Hey Coco, teabag those Checkers fans”  because, you know, that is a REALLY family friendly thing to scream in front of your three children who all appeared to be under the age of five.

After the game, some of Fitzy’s Posse told us fans in their section held a small infant up when their team scored and would shake him like an ice girl shakes a pom-pom, which is a VERY disturbing image.  Shaking a baby at a hockey game?  Really?  I also heard stories of fans pouring beer over the VERY short glass (seriously, I could reach over it, and I’m not a tall person!)  onto the backs of the away team.  Is that really appropriate behavior?  I realize you want your home team to win (as will I this week in Charlotte), but pouring beer on a player is so juvenile and bush-league.  Do fans like that not realize that they wouldn’t have a game to be at if it wasn’t for the guys in Red, skating for the away team?  I’ve heard of entire sections of fans standing up and flipping off the away team, and somehow this is acceptable behavior in Hershey.  If a player did that, I’m sure they would face fines or even suspension, but apparently it’s ok for the Hershey fans to do… quite the double standard!

My absolute favorite argument was with a fan who thought it was really cool that they were paying one of their players $5 million dollars to play in the AHL.  I didn’t want to correct him, but actually, the Edmonton Oilers are paying Sheldon Souray $4.5 milion to play in the Eastern Conference of the AHL, for a team that has absolutely no connection to the Oil.  You see, Souray became quite a cancer in the dressing room last season, and the Oilers were unable to trade him.  They felt so strongly about how negatively he affected their club, that they didn’t want him on their own AHL team, the Oklahoma City Barons, where he might negatively influence their prospects, nor did they even want him on a western conference team, so they shipped him to Hershey in an agreement with the Washington Capitals.  So if a fan wants to think it’s COOL that the two-time, back-to-back WORST TEAM in the NHL doesn’t want a player that they shipped him for free to the Bears, then so be it.

I want to end on a positive note though… not all of the fans we encountered were bad people.  We sat with great people during warmups, and met a lot of concerned fans who asked about the tornado damage in Raleigh and all over North Carolina.  Many were impressed we made the trek to Hershey, and we invited them to come see their team play in Charlotte.

We definitely missed Chief Fan Rouser Wilson, and the way the Checkers have an in-game personality who keeps things flowing.  To be honest though, we did NOT miss all of the “commercials” we are forced to endure at Checkers games at every single TV timeout.  I don’t know how Hershey can avoid all of these promos, but it was nice to not have to see someone stuffing their face with chicken, or doing the chicken dance or the electric slide at every break in play!  And again, I LOVED that there weren’t half-naked ice girls skating around in figure skate to clear the ice, and instead their were professional looking ice-technicians in hockey skates doing it instead.

After the game, all of the Checkers fans found their way to the back of the arena where the players exited, and many of them circulated among the crowd, genuinely thanking us for making the trip.  I’m not one to really seek out the team like that, or ever ask for autographs (like some of the ebay-selling autograph hounds were doing) but it was so nice to see our team so thankful of the support the fans in Charlotte provide.  Zack Fitzgerald was of course one of the most incredible players, who sought out every fan in a Checkers, Canes or River Rats jersey to personally thank them for coming.  THAT is why we have a first-class team in the Charlotte Checkers!

Wrapping it up:

First of all, THANK YOU for reading this far.  I have a lot more to say, but I fear if I wrote anything else, nobody would want to read it.  I also have at least 50 great pictures of the game, warmups, etc., but don’t want to overload this blog with photographs!

Secondly, LET’S DO THIS CHECKERS (and fans!)!!!!!  Tomorrow night is going to be a HUGE game in Charlotte, and we need the W.  If all ends the way it should, we could wrap the series up on Friday and head to the second round.  So please come out and support OUR team.  They deserve everything we can give them.

Lets Go Checkers!

Quick Hits – Phantoms suspensions, Goalie injuries etc.

Today the AHL announced that two Adirondak Phantoms players received suspensions following the game in Charlotte on Tuesday. Zac Rinaldo received three games for the “intent to injure” call he received in the third period.  Oliver Lauridsen was suspended for two games for the elbow to Mike McKenzie.  Both of these fall under rule 28.1, supplementary discipline.  For the rule geeks out there, this rule reads:

Supplementary Discipline. In addition to the automatic fines and suspensions imposed under these rules, the President may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, goalkeeper, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing Club personnel or Club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.

I don’t know that the Checkers requested further investigation (as they can do, for a mere $250 which is refundable if the league finds someone’s actions GUILTY as charged), but regardless I’m happy to see these careless actions penalized as they were.  Lauridsen was a first time offender, so any suspension is a big deal.  Rinaldo has had more of his share of penalties (287 PIMs this year already… yikes!), but I guess since he didn’t actually injure, and just intended to, the league only gave him three games.

 

 

Yesterday, the team left for their two-game roadtrip. In Charlotte, the weather was close to 80 degrees, and in Hartford today, it’s hovering just above freezing at about 40 degrees.  And people why I love hockey in the south!  Saturday, the team plays in Portland before returning to Charlotte on Sunday for a 5 p.m. game against the Norfolk Admirals.  Goaltender Mike Murphy did practice or travel with the team, despite earlier reports they hoped he could play on Friday. Bobby Goepfert was recalled from Florida again, and after a game in Fort Meyers on Wednesday he flew to Hartford to meet the Checkers for the weekend of games.

Justin Pogge has not played against the Whale in the Checkers previous three meetings (Murphy has a record of 2-1 against them).   The Whale are third in their division and seventh in the Eastern conference.  It should be a spirited matchup, with a number of former ECHL Checkers now playing for the Whale.

 

 

 

 

 

The one about the old Charlotte Coliseum

I still remember my first Charlotte Checkers game.  It was one of our first seasons in the ECHL, and some of my figure skater friends were the “halftime entertainment” at the game, so a big group of us from work went to watch them skate, and were treated to a hockey game as well.  Back then, as far as pro sports went, I only understood the NBA (I was, and still am, quite the Phoenix Suns fan.  Go Steve Nash!) so Hockey was pretty foreign to me, but I loved it.  I was amused by the fact the Zamboni was painted to look like Richard Petty’s No. 43 STP race car, a fitting image for a team named the “Checkers.”  I even think that the mascot (I assume even back then, it was still Chubby?) had a checkered flag he waved.  I must admit, my mind is a bit fuzzy about the specifics, but this game was at least 15 years ago!

A couple of weeks ago, I was working an event at what is now known as the Bojangles Coliseum, and I got to think

A dressing room at the old Charlotte Coliseum

about it’s historical significance.  It was the home of many Charlotte Checkers squads over the years (and before that, the Baltimore-turned-Charlotte Clippers).  The venue is the actual birthplace of professional hockey in the South.  As I was walking through the old outdated corridors under the seating area of the arena, I thought a lot about the history of the building, and what great things had happened there.  My work area was one of the old hockey dressing rooms.  I counted the stalls (I almost typed Staal… can you tell I’m a Hurricane’s fan?), and there were only 19, with a goalie stall set off on it’s own wall away from the other players.  The ceilings were low, and I would have been happy to be wearing a helmet with the number of times I almost ran my head into one of the overhangs!

That old coliseum is home to a lot of firsts in Charlotte.  When it was less than a year old (it opened in 1955), the first professional hockey game was held in January, 1956, where over 10,000 people were in attendance, and over 3,000 were turned away at the doors.  I can’t imagine the energy in the building that night… a sport practically unknown in the South, in a brand new “state of the art” facility which at the time, was the largest free-standing dome in existence.  The first pro sports Championship Charlotte would ever have (The Riley Cup) was won by the Checkers in 1996 under that dome.

We’re all so lucky in Charlotte to have a team that has spanned so many eras, and to be a part of the birthplace of hockey in the South.  I think it’s safe to say things just keep getting better for the hockey fans in Charlotte!

I’m looking forward to the game tonight!  My mom is visiting just so she can attend another game with me (I had no idea I could turn her into a hockey fan after just one game!).  The Checkers are 0-1 against the Connecticut Whale, and haven’t faced them since our first game of the season.  It should be a fun matchup though!  Go Checkers!