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:
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.
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!