I had quite the Checkers-filled day, which for a Tuesday in May, is pretty outstanding, if you ask me, since there are now only four teams in the AHL, and five in the NHL still competing for their respective championships!
I spent my morning at the Xtreme Ice Center watching practice, and while I tried to be diligent and take notes about who skated with who, what lines practiced together, and who was missing, etc, I can sum all of my thoughts in just a few sentences. In the half a dozen or so practices I’ve taken in this season, and the equal number I’ve seen by NHL teams, I’ve never seen the kind of energy our guys put into it today. I was seriously exhausted just watching them skate, and do their drills for 45 minutes. Their energy was contagious, and I think I had a smile on my face when I left the rink that carried me on through tonight. I have so much faith in this team… in MY team… and nothing but positive thoughts are going to be sent their way for the rest of the playoff run. When I see the Charlotte Checkers, I can envision great things, and I know that all of them are possible. (And I’m talking greater things than a championship in Charlotte… that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What impresses me is this team’s ability to make a difference in OTHER ways, too!)
Tonight, I had the privilege of attending a Charlotte Checkers Playoff Rally and Viewing Party of ESPN’s new show, E:60, which had a feature on the Bennett family and their recent move to Charlotte. I was impressed with the turnout, not only by the fans, but by the team.I decided it was a good opportunity to bring some non-Checkers fans to an event and show them a good time, and I think it worked well (except when friend number two asked when the playoffs started…. I’m still working on educating her…). Guys like Mike Murphy and Chris Terry made a point of introducing themselves to my friend, which is just a small sign of the high level of character and professionalism this team has.
You see, I come from a professional sports background where obligated “appearances” by the athletes are extremely limited by their contracts. So to have an event like the Checkers did, so late in the season, where almost every player attended on a completely VOLUNTEER basis, impressed me like crazy. From my vantage point, almost every player showed up, including some of our black aces, like Mike McKenzie, and I even saw NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano hanging out! Not only were these players in attendance, they were engaged and sociable as they circulated among the crowd, spoke with media, fans and season ticket holders.
When the night began, I immediately assumed that the last three players to leave would be Zack FitzGerald, Mike Murphy and Michal Jordan, because they are the three guys I’ve noticed who are most engaged with the fans in Charlotte. While I wasn’t right on the money, I was close, because they certainly stayed for a long time until way later than most fans had left. The two players who stuck around the longest impressed me the most. Long after most families and such had left, Justin Pogge and Brad Herauf stayed, spending time with each of the Bennett children, playing ping-pong, and taking time to let each child how much they meant to their team.
It’s a night like tonight (or last night, as I watch the clock creep further into the morning) that make me so incredibly proud to be a Checkers fan. This is a team that goes out of their way to support families like the Bennet’s, and does all they do in the Charlotte community, and then plans a playoff rally/viewing party. Many organizations may do something like this just for the PR stunt and good press it might obtain, but I firmly believe that there was no ulterior motive by the team.
I started this blog because I believe in this team, and in the organization. I am so proud to be here in Charlotte, and SO PROUD of our team. If Chasing Checkers has any impact at all on our larger Checkers community, I hope that it is to convey all of the amazing thing the organization does for Charlotte, and how lucky we are to have such a top-notch team. As the season progresses (and thank goodness, continues well into the post season!) I find it harder and harder to separate myself from them. I’m no longer just a season ticket holder watching games, I really and truly feel like I’m a part of it all, as all of the fans in Charlotte are.
So as if I haven’t been sappy enough (and for that, I apologize, honestly!), I will close with this. I’m headed to Chicago on Thursday. My baby brother is graduating from Seminary so that he can become a Pastor, and I’m spending the weekend with family and my best friend who I’ve known since the eighth grade. We met in the Explorers club at the Charlotte Observer, where both of us thought we wanted to learn how to be journalists… I’d almost forgotten about that, but I desperately wanted to be a sports writer back then, and cover the NBA and the Phoenix Suns… here I am, 20 years later, and I’m a fan blogger for an AHL team. I had no idea my dreams would come full circle as they have! But anyway, my point is, I’m missing the first two games of the Eastern Finals. And it pains me, a lot, but I also know, that even 800 miles away, I’ll still be at the game in spirit, cheering the Checkers on to another victory. All of us that cheer for our team, we’re all a part of it, and I truly believe that the passion and support we have for our team will help carry them a long way.
Cheer extra loud for me this weekend, Charlotte. I want to hear you all the way in Chicago!
Lets Go Checkers