By the numbers: Charlotte Checkers 2015-16 schedule

The 2015-16 AHL schedule has finally been released, and here’s the annual Chasing Checkers analysis of it, in a “by the numbers” format.

Editor’s Note: Some of the following numbers come with a healthy dose of sarcasm, but let me assure you, the Checkers schedule is WAY better than some. One California team I analyzed is facing only eight opponents, and only two teams outside of their own division. I’d much rather see 13 opponents and no eastern conference teams than the same six squads over and over again California teams appear to be playing each other 12 times each! Be grateful, Checkers fans. I am!

For a .pdf version of the schedule, head to

0 – The number of times Charlotte will face Oklahoma City and Norfolk this year. Previously, the Checkers played nearly one-third of their games against franchises in those two cities, but both moved to California for the 2015 season. I can’t believe there’s #Norfolkingway Charlotte will ever play in Virginia this season…. But I won’t miss those clown barf uniforms!

0 – The number of games the Checkers will play against Eastern Conference Teams, despite being further east than many teams in that conference.

1 – Month in the AHL schedule without a home game for the Checkers. Charlotte will have 10 road games during that time, in a row, facing Iowa, Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Rockford and Lake Erie.

2 – The number of three-in-threes the Checkers will face. Both instances are on the road and feature Grand Rapids/Chicago and Milwaukee/Rockford. This is an all-time-low. Last season, Charlotte had three. In 2013-14, five, and way back in 2012-13, the Checkers had seven three-in-threes

3 – The number of new California teams the Checkers will face this season. Ontario, San Jose and San Diego all made the cut.

3 – Number of eastern conference teams closer to Charlotte than any team in their own Central division (Hershey, Wilkes-Barre and Allentown)

4 – The number of home and away games the Checkers will play against the San Diego Gulls, or how many wagers on who’s team will come out victorius that Chasing Checkers will make against former Checkers staffer Nate Beasley

4 – The number of times we get to hear Oh! Canada at Bojangles Coliseum, when the Manitoba Moose come to Charlotte. (November 7&8 and January 16&17 for those of you keeping track!)

4 – The number of different divisions the Checkers have played in since coming to Charlotte in 2010. Only when they played with a bunch of teams in Texas did the Checkers have largely the same division-mates for more than one season. This seasons “Central” division includes teams in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Iowa, two teams in Illinois, one in Wisconsin, one in Michigan, one in Ohio and of course North Carolina. Based on this not-so-central grouping of teams, I propose the league rename it the “midwest and leftovers” division.

6 – The number of away games Charlotte will play in their own Eastern time zone

6 – Also the number of games the Checkers will play in the Pacific time zone, AKA three hours later than Charlotte is.

6 – The Checkers longest home stand in games, or about two weeks. This will occur five times this season.

10 – The Checkers longest road trip, which will stretch out for the entire first month of the AHL season.

12– The number of different teams the Checkers will face during the 2015-16 season. This is down from 2013-14 and 2014-15 when Charlotte had 13 different opponents.

24 – The number of games the Checkers will have in the Central time zone, which fortunately, is only one hour later.

38 – The number of opportunities to see the Checkers at the amazing and newly renovated Bojangles Coliseum.

56 – The number of games Charlotte will play against Central Division Rivals (exactly eight games per team)

68 – The number of games the new California teams will play during the course of their (shortened) AHL season

76 – The number of games the Checkers (and the majority of the AHL) play during the seven-month season.

515 – The low, low number of miles to the Checkers closest division rival, the Lake Erie Monsters. (And in tanks of gas, one each way thanks to Chasing Checkers awesome new car!)

1673 – Miles to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Home of new division rivals THE Moose (and a lot of moose).

2675 – The number of miles if you wanted to drive to see the Checkers play in San Jose, California.

But the very most important number:

71 – Days until the Checkers home opener against Manitoba!!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing the 2014-15 AHL Schedule

Schedule day has arrived! A quick analysis tells me that the schedule is a bit easier than last season. The Checkers are still in the “West” division of the Western Conference, and are still the only team in the Eastern Time Zone in their division, but with the Abbotsford Heat moving to New York, there aren’t any cross-country flights in the Checkers future.


You can download the schedule in a variety of formats from the Checkers website here.

So… the 2014-15 schedule, by the numbers:


1 – The number of eastern conference teams the Checkers will face this year. Not surprisingly, those games are against Norfolk, the only driving distance team Charlotte has in the league.

2- The number of Canadian “American” Hockey League Teams the Checkers will play this year. So if you are a fan of hearing Oh! Canada, make sure you come see the Checkers play the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Toronto Marlies.

3 – The number of three-in-three series the Checkers will have this season. This is an all-time-low. Last year, Charlotte had five three-in-threes, and in 2012-13, they had seven three-in-threes

5 – The Checkers longest home stand, which takes place from October 31 until November 10. They will face Hamilton, Texas and Norfolk during that stretch of games.

6 – The Checkers longest roadtrip in number of games, which takes place March 14-25. The team will visit exotic locations like Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Des Moines and Norfolk.

8 – Games against an Eastern conference team, all of them versus the Norfolk Admirals

12 – The number of times the Checkers will face the Oklahoma City Barons. That’s a lot

13 – The number of opponents the Checkers will face this season, the same number as last year. This year’s only new addition to the schedule is four games against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

24 – Games against the Midwest Division, who this season consists of the Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Lake Erie Monsters, Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford Ice Hogs.

36 – Games against the Checkers West division mates, which include the Iowa Wild, Oklahoma City Barons, San Antonio Rampage and the reigning Calder Cup champions, the Texas Stars.  One-third of these 36 games are against Oklahoma City.

38 – The number of home games in Charlotte. This is up from 36 last year, when the Checkers played two “home” games in Raleigh.



Insert something snarky here about a 7-1 loss by the Charlotte Checkers to Texas

The Checkers were downed by the Stars by a score of 7-1 tonight.  The Stars, who lead the Checkers own West division, outplayed, outskated, and outshot the home team.

Texas, who has the league’s best powerplay, and in six PP opportunities, scored three times against Charlotte’s 22nd worst penalty kill.

The Checkers, who had four unsuccessful opportunities on the powerplay, came away from the game with one loan goal by Checkers scoring leader Aaron Palushaj.

Travis Morin scored once for the Stars, and also had four assists.  He leads his team in scoring (24g, 31a), especially against the Checkers, where he has 10 points (4g, 6a) in three games on Checkers home ice.

Texas’ Curtis McKenzie also had four assists on the night, and in three games against the Checkers, now has six points.

The most notable Checkers on the scoresheet were the five players who had minor penalties, including Matt Corrente, who received a double minor for boarding late in the first.  If you want a complete look at the score sheet, check it out here, but as you can imagine, it’s not pretty.

Despite the game’s final score, the team appears focused and prepared for tomorrow’s rematch against the Stars.

Coach Jeff Daniels didn’t seem concerned about the short turnaround, and knows his team has what it takes to get a better result.

“You can’t dwell on it.  It’s over. Whether it was 7-1 or 2-1, we lost the game tonight, and we play again at 12:00 and have to respond better. A lot of the guys in that locker room have to be better as individuals.”  Daniels continued, “We’ve got to be better, stronger on the puck.”

Despite a brutal result, Palushaj , who scored the only goal for Charlotte, knows what it will take for a different result tomorrow.  “We’re all athletes.  We want to show that we have a lot better than that.  I wish we could play again right now.  We have to come out and play a lot stronger, and we know that.

Brett Sutter, the Checkers Captain, believes tomorrow will be a different game.

“Guys are frustrated now.  But we’ve got to put it behind us.  We know things we can do better, we know what we did wrong. We’ll make sure we come mad tomorrow. Make sure we’re ready to go.  It’s the same team right away, so we’ve got to come a little pissed off tomorrow.”

Other notes:

  • According to TSN’s, the Hurricanes have placed a number of Checkers alumni on the trading block.

Drayson Bowman, Riley Nash and Brett Bellemore were of course regulars on the Checkers squad for three seasons.  Tlusty played five games during the 2010-11 season.

  • The Checkers had a sell out tonight of 8,102, with more huge crowds expected all weekend and next week.
  • I don’t think I’ve expressed my disappointment here, but the AHL announced their “All Star” team for the event next month in St. John’s.  No Checkers were named to the team, but at least three teams have multiple players representing it.  I’m glad I didn’t purchase the plane ticket to Newfoundland as I had planned to earlier in the season!

And the winner of the 2014 AHL All-Star game is St. John’s, Newfoundland!

The American Hockey League announced that the 2014 All-Star Classic is going to be in St. John’s, Newfoundland February 11-12, 2014.  The official release can be found here.

The format for 2014 is going to change, with one team of AHL All-Stars facing Färjestad BK, a team in the Swedish Hockey League. There don’t appear to be any further details at this time as to how how many AHL players will participate or how they will be selected.

It will be the first All-Star game that St. John’s has hosted since 2002, which was also an Olympic year.  The last time an AHL All-Star game was held outside of the Northeastern region of the United States was 2007, when the Toronto Marlies hosted the event. Many reports say St. John’s was the only city to express interest in hosting the event, which I suppose made the choosing easy for the AHL.

Since 1995, when the league began holding an annual All-Star event for the first time since 1959, only three teams in the Western Conference have hosted the event, and as can be seen by the following list, a number of teams have repeated as hosts, it has rarely been held outside of the Northeast.  The game has been in Pennsylvania four times, Rhode Island twice, New York three times, and Maine twice.

1995 – Providence, RI

1996 – Hershey, PA

1997 – Saint John, New Brunswick

1998 – Syracuse, NY

1999 – Philadelphia, PA

2000 – Rochester, NY

2001 – Wilkes-Barre, PA

2002 – St. John’s, Newfoundland

2003 – Portland, ME

2004 – Grand Rapids, MI

2005 – Manchester, NH

2006 – Winnipeg, Manitoba

2007 – Toronto, Ontario

2008 – Binghamton, NY

2009 – Worcester, MA

2010 – Portland, ME

2011 – Hershey, PA

2012 – Atlantic City, NJ

2013 – Providence, RI


All in all, there has been very little diversity in the locations, which may be attributed to the fact that few teams and organizations are interested in hosting the event, and is one of the contributing factors to the 2012 event being held on neutral territory in Atlantic City, NJ.

From a logistical standpoint, adding a large-scale event like an All-Star event to the staff of a minor-league team is quite a hassle, with very little potential of financial return.  The Charlotte Checkers, for example, have a larger staff than many of the teams in the league, but even so, it may be unrealistic to expect them to be able to pull off an event like an All-Star event without additional support.  Generally speaking, AHL teams operate on a smaller staff and budget than those of their major league affiliates, and there aren’t staff resources to commit to executing a world class event like an AHL All Star Game in addition to a team’s day-to-day operations. It seems to me that the league needs to find a better way to share the burden of the hosting so that more cities and teams would be interested in hosting the event. I, for one, would love to see an event in Charlotte someday, and the Queen City could host a world-class event, but know based on the history of the game and the Northeastern bias, it’s probably unlikely.

All this being said, I’m seriously considering attending the event in St. John’s this February.  Visiting Newfoundland has always been on my bucket list, and seeing it under the spotlight of an American Hockey League event could be the icing on the cake. I’ve already investigated plane tickets (thank you frequent flyer miles!), and even the option of getting there early to see an IceCaps game on their home ice, and all of the amazing sights that St. John’s has to offer. (And, the traditional music, the pubs, and of course Screech, a Newfoundland rum that is quite delicious from what I understand!)


So, Checkers fans:

What do you think about the new format, and the game being held in Newfoundland?

Where would you like to see an All-Star event in the future, and what formats would be interesting to explore?


As always, Let’s Go Checkers!

Checkers by the Numbers – even more reasons to support hockey in Charlotte

Checkers training camp begins in just a few short weeks, and while we have to wait until the middle of October to see the team play at TWCA, I’m anxious for it to begin!  Editor’s note: a number of the players mentioned here might not be Checkers this year.  Some were last year, some are potentially going to play in Charlotte, but might spend all year in Raleigh.  Either way, it’s a talent group of possible Checkers set to take the ice!


So, here’s another “Checkers by the Numbers” post.

0 – The number of times the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers have won the Calder Cup.  With a team full of talented athletes, that could change in 2013-14!

2 – The number of games the Checkers will play in Raleigh this season.

2 – The number of second generation Sutter hockey players who will compete for the Checkers.  The Sutter family is known for leadership.  Brett’s dad Darryl is an NHL coach, currently of the Los Angeles Kings, and Brett has served as Charlotte’s captain for the past two seasons. Younger cousin Brody is wearing the C at the Carolina Hurricanes development tournament in Traverse City this weekend.

3 – The number of players (Aaron Palushaj, Nathan Gerbe and Beau Schmitz) who were born in Michigan. Only one played junior in their homestate, as Palushaj and Gerbe took the NCAA hockey route (though Palushaj did play college hockey at Michigan!).

4 – The number of seasons the Checkers have been in the American League, and also the number of different divisions the team has been a part of. This season, it’s the West Division, where they join two teams from Texas, one from Oklahoma and another from Abbotsford, B.C.

4 – How many times we get to hear O’ Canada performed at Checkers games this year, a record.  Previously, Charlotte only faced Canadian teams two times each season.

6 – The number of players to spend time as a Plymouth Whaler in the Ontario Hockey League.  They include Beau Schmitz, Michal Jordan, Brett Bellemore, Austin Levi, Chris Terry and Justin Peters.

6 – Decades that Charlotte has had a professional hockey team.  The 1980’s are the only decade since the 1950’s that a professional team didn’t reside in our city.

6 – Also the number of times a professional hockey team in Charlotte has won a league Championship.  The Charlotte Clippers did it in 1957 as a part of the Eastern Hockey League.  In 1971 and 1972 the re-named Charlotte Checkers won the championship again in the EHL.  In 1975 and 1976, the Checkers won the championship as a part of the Southern Hockey League.  The league folded the next season, so the Checkers weren’t able to three-peat.  The most recent Checkers championship was in 1996, when the ECHL team won the Riley Cup.

10 – The number of Checkers who spent time in NCAA hockey programs.  Veteran Riley Nash attended Cornell University, and is a proud alumni of Big Red.  Rookie Danny Biega attended Harvard University for four years. Jeremy Welsh spent three years at Union College, which included his school’s first ever trip to the Frozen Four in 2012.  Zac Dalpe was an Ohio State Buckeye for two years.  Sean Dolan is a four-year veteran of the University of Wisconsin where he served as the Captain his senior year, and also appeared in the final game of the Frozen Four tourney in 2010, unfortunately losing to Boston College.  Brendan Woods was also a Wisconsin Bader, and completed two years there. Kyle Bonis attended Ferris State for four years, graduating in 2013 with a degree in business.  In 2012, Bonis played in the National Championship game against Boston College.  I sense a common hatred of BC among Checkers players! Speaking of the hated Boston College, Nathan Gerbe went there for three years, and made it to the National Championship game all three years, in 2006, 2007 and 2008, finally winning in ’08 against Notre Dame.  Adam Brace spent one year at Canisius and three years at Robert Morris University.  Aaron Palushaj spent two years at the University of Michigan, and made a trip to the Frozen Four.

11 – States (and one province) that a roadtrip to Abbotsford would take you though, if you actually drove instead of flying like the team does.

13 – The number of opponents the Checkers will face this year out of a league of 30 teams.

17 – The number of years since a Charlotte hockey team has won a league Championship.  Hopefully, next season this “By the numbers” post will say “3 – Months since the Charlotte Checkers won the Championship”

20 – The longest number of years, between 1976 and 1996, that Charlotte has been without a championship hockey season since the sport came to town in 1956.

36 – Opportunities to see the Checkers play on home ice in Charlotte this season.

40 – 2013-14 marks the 40th year that professional hockey has been in Charlotte.

43 – The number of hours it would take to drive 2908 one-way miles to Abbotsford, BC to see the Checkers play their division mates, the Abbotsford Heat.

380 – the low cost for a season ticket that will let you take in every single home Checkers game this season. It’s got to be the best deal in all of Charlotte sports!

6781 – The average number of fans the Checkers had at every home game this season. Bring some friends this year, and let’s see how much higher we can get that number to be!

32,478 – The number of miles the Checkers will travel this season on roadtrips.  This is the lowest number since 2010-11, when the team played in the Eastern conference.

2012-13 Charlotte Checkers schedule – by the numbers

Schedule day!  It’s one of the happiest days of the year for any hockey fan.

I’ve done a pretty quick analysis of it, and a few things jump out at me as exciting.

First of all, compared to last season, the Checkers only have five three-in-threes, two of which are at home.  And the other three aren’t as terrible as last year!  The Checkers face Grand Rapids, Rockford and Chicago in October, then San Antonio, Texas and San Antonio again in March, and in April, San Antonio followed by two games in Oklahoma City.  Last year, the Checkers had seven three-in-threes and they were not easy travel!


Though the Checkers are now division mates of the Abbotsford Heat, they only play them four times, just as they have the past two seasons.  The two “home” games against the Heats will be in Raleigh during the Olympic Break.

The Checkers will face 13 opponents this year, again, that’s up from 12 last year.

The Checkers face two new teams this year.  The Toronto Marlies will make their first trip to the Queen City for a pair of games December 20-21.  Note to fans of Oh! Canada, this will be your only chance to hear the true North strong and free’s anthem in Charlotte, since the only other Canadian team the Checkers face will have their games played in Raleigh.

The Iowa Wild will play one weekend of games in Charlotte, opening the season on October 19.  The Wild is the team formerly known as the Houston Aeros.

In their fourth AHL season, the Checkers have still never faced the Hamilton Bulldogs, Rochester Americans or the St. John’s IceCaps.  They haven’t played the Utica Comets, either, but did in their former existence as the Peoria Rivermen.

The Hershey Bears will return to Charlotte this year for a pair of games against the Checkers.

So… the last few thoughts by the numbers:

2 – The number of Canadian teams the Checkers play, Abbotsford and Toronto.

4 – The minimum number of times the Checkers face any team.  This year, those teams include Iowa, Grand Rapids, Chicago, Hershey, Toronto, Milwaukee, Lake Erie and Abbotsford.

8 – The number of games against North Division teams.  Though they are a part of the Western Conference, Charlotte only plays two of the five teams in this division.

12 – The most number of times the Checkers face another team, in this case, Oklahoma City.  I’m glad I’m an Oilers fan, because I’m going to see their prospects a LOT.

12 – The number of games the Checkers play against Eastern conference teams.  These games are often make or break games when the final playoff points are calculated.

20 – The number of games against Midwest division teams.  Four each from all five of the teams!

32 – The number of games against West division opponents.  I still snicker when I think of the Charlotte Checkers playing in the “West” division

36 – The number of actual home games in Charlotte .  Two home games will be played in Raleigh during the Olympic break.

32,478 – The number of miles the Checkers will travel on road trips this year. That’s about 2000 miles less than last year, and overall, the team appears to have a much easier road schedule despite facing Oklahoma City 12 times (and in case you were wondering, it’s over 2K miles roundtrip!)


And now I’m off to analyze the WBS Penguins schedule for my buddy Jason over at Chirps from Center Ice.  Go check it out later if you want to see a real pro’s format!

So, Checkers fans…. what teams and games are you most looking forward to seeing this year?

The plight of realignment for the Charlotte Checkers – an editorial by @RedDogHockey

Yesterday’s article about AHL realignment created a lot of great dialogue with a number of readers, and this came from one of those conversations.  In his first post for Chasing Checkers, Tony shares some of his opinions about recent realignment.  You can follow Tony on Twitter at @RedDogHockey
The new AHL realignment structure came out yesterdayday, and it looks like more of the same for the Checkers schedule-wise for 2013-14.  That means another season out of place geographically in their division, too many games against their closest competitor, Norfolk, and the likelihood that they will not face a handful of teams in their own Conference.  
I think it is remiss that the Checkers and many other teams in the AHL do not play all of the teams in their own conference in the regular season.  It makes the conferences and divisions almost insignificant.  For example, if either of Norfolk or Charlotte are exceptionally weak teams this season and therefore one of them gets an advantage by playing more games against the other than the rest of their respective Conference foes do, how does that skew the standings and playoff possibilities?  The same goes for other teams that might play a team from another Conference more than their other Conference foes currently do for the sake of “geographical convenience”.
Talk about travel inconveniences for teams from smaller markets all you want, but how is it convenient for Charlotte to have division rivals as far as 3,000 miles away and no closer than 1,000 miles away and yet not play other teams in their Conference that are less than 1,000 miles away?  It sounds to me like the Checkers are taking one for the league because they have a major airline hub in town, and travel is seen as “easier” for them as it might be for other teams in smaller markets.
My solution?  Move Iowa to the West Division from the Midwest, put Lake Erie in the Midwest Division from the North, have Utica move from the North to the East Division, and place Charlotte and Norfolk in the North Division. Charlotte in a division named North is far less non-sensical than having them in a division named West.  Charlotte and Norfolk would get to continue their geographic rivalry (and, oddly, maybe play each other less than they do now?) while still fulfilling their travel obligations as a Western Conference team.  Norfolk’s travel dilemma is easily rectified.  Schedule Norfolk for games out West right after they play here and then they can use Charlotte’s airport as a gateway out West the next day to fulfill their away Western Conference schedule.  Do the same for Iowa.  Have them play in Chicago, then use O’Hare to head West to play their division foes.  The Midwest Division teams can use Chicago in this same way as well.  And Austin and Oklahoma City are close enough to Dallas/Fort Worth that this same scenario can be used by playing in Austin or OKC and then heading out from DFW to Vancouver (Abbotsford), Des Moines, Charlotte or Toronto. 
I am one of many relocated Western New Yorkers that has planted roots in Charlotte over the past 20 years, and I would love to see the Amerks come to town.  They, along w/Toronto and Hamilton (all three fellow Western Conference teams like Charlotte is) should be here at least once per season, and vice versa w/Charlotte visiting those three cities.  I imagine there are many other Charlotte residents that have come here to live from Western New York and the Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario that would love to see their local teams play in Charlotte.  Attendance for those games couldn’t be worse than they are for the 6th home date against Norfolk.  
If increased attendance is a primary objective of the league, then it just makes sense to give fans as much variety as possible.  The NHL tried a decreased travel schedule a few years ago, and the result was that the same teams played each other too often.  Some NHL teams did not visit other NHL teams every year, and in some instances the duration between visits by some teams in some NHL cities was longer than that.  The NHL ended up scrapping this schedule format and one of the reasons it did was that fans wanted to see all of the teams visit every other NHL city at last once per season as it had been previously, and which now happens again.  I know the AHL does not have the star power that the NHL does, but to not have all teams grouped efficiently geographically, and even worse, to not have Conference foes play each other at all in the regular season (yet still have the opportunity to meet in the first, second, or third round of the playoffs) or maximize the number of teams faced seems like a watered down product to me.  Let’s hope that changes soon.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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




Utica Comets to join the AHL in 2013

On Friday, the American Hockey League announced that the Board of Governors had unanimously approved the addition of Utica, NY as an AHL city with a new team joining the league, the Utica Comets, who will be the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

Like the Charlotte Checkers, there have been Comets sports teams in and around Utica for a long time, so it was only fitting that the new professional team in town would adopt that name as well.  The Clinton Comets first came into existence in 1927, though they didn’t officially adopt the “Comets” name until 1949.  Over the years, they played in a number of leagues, including the Eastern Hockey League and ECHL that brought the Checkers great success.

The EHL Comets have another close tie to the Checkers, and that’s Pat Kelly, who after his time with the Comets, coached the Checkers during the 1970’s, and went on to help establish the ECHL and have its championship trophy named after him.

But back to the Utica Comets, and how they came to be the latest addition to the American Hockey League.  Here’s how all of this went down… and it didn’t happen exactly how many had speculated early on.

A while ago, the Canucks, who had an affiliation with the Chicago Wolves for the past two seasons, purchased the Peoria Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues.  But they never planned to keep the franchise there.  The rumors were that the Calgary Flames were interested in moving their AHL team from Abbotsford, British Columbia to Utica New York, and that the Canucks would in turn move their AHL team to Abbotsford.  But it didn’t shake out like that.  There’s even a Facebook fan page for the “Utica Flames” that has almost 2000 “likes.”  Regardless, the small city of Utica has a professional hockey team again, and for that they should be grateful.

The AHL isn’t new to Utica.  The Utica Devils found their home there for five years between 1987-1993, and had a few United Hockey League teams since then, but no professional team since 2002.  The UHL was a low-level professional league that folded in 2010.

The Comets become the sixth American League team in the state of New York.  There are eight teams that are three hours or less by car (or bus) from them (Albany, Binghamton, Glens Falls, Hartford, Rochester, Springfield, Syracuse, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and at least a half dozen more that are closer to them than the Norfolk Admirals are to the Checkers (Bridgeport, Hamilton, Manchester, Providence, Toronto, Worcester).  Needless to say, travel wise, it’s a great place to be in the American League.  But is it good for the rest of the league, a league named after this great country, and not just the state of New York?  I’m not so sure.

How does this new team affect the Checkers?  In the immediate future, it’s hard to tell.  It means that with the departure of Peoria as a true-Western city, there’s one less team in the Checkers conference, though since Utica isn’t far from Rochester (a mere 2.5 hours), there’s a good chance they have to remain in the Western conference, though would possibly change divisions.

How will conferences and divisions be broken down?  For the most part, the Midwest was largely unaffected  even after losing Peoria because Des Moines, IA isn’t that far from most of the other Midwestern teams.  But the South Division lost the Houston Aeros, and a potential (heavily rumored) replacement is Norfolk, which would have a harder transition to the travel than the Checkers did simply because they are not in a city with a major airport hub like Charlotte.  And a move by Norfolk shuffles the rest of the Eastern Conference until all of the dominos fall into place.

Regardless, with one less team in Texas, no more Peoria, a new team in Iowa and now another team in New York, it’s fairly certain that divisions will be significantly shuffled, and the Checkers could very well find themselves in their fourth division in as many seasons, and at the very least, a new division mate to round out the numbers in the South.

Be prepared… the rest of this might get a little ranty, but the beauty of writing a blog is that it’s ok for my to express my opinions, and I have quite a few on this topic.

Utica is a city of 62,000 people.  They have a rink that seats 3,500 people (a little over half the average attendance of the Charlotte Checkers, and a bit over 1/4 of the number the Checkers had this year at some of the big events like Pink in the Rink).  Whereas Charlotte has dozens of large corporate headquarters which can turn into significant sponsorship revenue, and a population in the uptown area of as much as all of Utica, which of course can turn into ticket sales, Utica doesn’t have a lot in the way of major corporations that could generate significant revenue.

I think it’s great for the city of Utica for landing a professional hockey team.  I’m happy fans there will have their own team, but it seems like a pretty over-saturated market with so many other American League teams in the vicinity.  And by allowing one more team into an over-saturated area of the country, the league has further hurt the likes of teams in cities like Charlotte, Abbotsford, St. John’s and Oklahoma City who become even more isolated, and instead of expanding to new markets, have shrunk even more.

I guess only time will tell what is to come of the AHL divisions, and how the Checkers are affected.  Until then, there’s still AHL hockey going on! Tomorrow at seven is game six of the Calder Cup finals between Grand Rapids and Syracuse, and it should be a good one!