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.

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!)

 

 

 

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!

The History Behind the Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Scoreboard watching around the AHL:

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