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
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 As I was walking through the old outdated corridors under the seating area of the arena, I thought a lot about the history of the building, and what great things had happened there.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!