We’ve all grown during this inaugural season in Charlotte. We’ve had the pleasure of watching rookies like 21-year-old Zac Dalpe become superstars who score 57 points (23G, 34A) during the regular season, all to have it end early to an injury in Eastern Conference Finals. He came a long way this year, from his early days, fresh out of Ohio State, to the team leader we have today.
We also saw guys develop in ways other than typical, athletic ways. I watched another rookie, Mike Murphy, grow from a young goaltender, into the man who led this brand new team deep into the playoffs. Murphy has been my favorite since the day I met him, at the Season Tickets Holder party at the Xtreme Ice Center in September. When I first spoke to him, I saw a guy who was kind, charismatic, and so mature for his young age. The more I got to know him, the more impressed I became. He’s always been humble, caring and one of the most stellar character guys I have ever met. Murphy’s a young man who spent days off visiting hospitals filled with sick children, and making a huge difference in their lives, and the lives of their families. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with him over the course of the season, and to see his confidence grow on the ice, and his character multiply with each person he made a difference to. And as that confidence grew, so did his play on the ice. Seeing him develop has been a privilege.
I got to know a number of the front office staff, and even some of the interns who are all key elements to the organization. I started a blog that helped fuel my passion for the sport, the team, and the organization. I convinced some of my best friends to get season tickets, so they could share in the excitement each and every game. I’ve made friends that I know will last well beyond this 2010-11 season, and I am so lucky to have been a part of it, this inaugural Charlotte Checkers AHL season.
So losing tonight, it hurt a lot. I shed some tears, and am still struggling with how to write about the game we all witnessed. So I’m going to leave that to the media who get paid to cover the team, and instead focus on the emotions, and the passion we all have for our team.
I’ve been a sports fan my whole life, and my teams are quite diverse. I have cheered for the Phoenix Suns for as long as I can remember, but have never seen them win a Championship. I support the Carolina Hurricanes, but the farthest I’ve ever seen them make it (as a true fan of the team) was the Eastern Conference Finals when they were swept by Pittsburgh a few years ago. And I was at one time, a fan of NASCAR, but the year “my” driver won, I was employed by a rival organization/team, and could hardly voice my excitement and be a part of that championship celebration. Truth be told, I’d already turned in my “fan status” months previous, due to the daily grind of working in the sport, so my interest was minimal at best.
This playoff run, it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to a team, and the closest I’ve ever gotten to a victory. We were so close, I could feel it. I still believe we could have gone all the way and won that Calder Cup. I know in my heart we had what it takes, but cards were stacked against us. Injuries to key players, the wear and tear of the playoffs and defeating teams that on paper were much more dominant than we were. It was a tough run, but an exciting one and one I’m proud to have witnessed.
I made it to almost every game in Charlotte this year. I saw the jerseys when they were unveiled last June at an NHL draft party. I was there on Monday and Tuesday nights, chanting and cheering and supporting my team with only a couple thousand people there. I was there on the weekends, when over 14,000 people filled the stands. I was there when we were losing, when we were winning, and I’m so glad I was there from the beginning. I am so proud to have been a part of this fanbase, from day one in Charlotte.
So thank you, Charlotte Checkers. Thank you to Mr. Michael Kahn, who had such a belief in the product the AHL could bring, for buying a team and bringing them to us in Charlotte. Thank you to the office, from the top down, who got us involved. Thank you to each and every player, who’s passion on and off the ice fueled our passion in the stands. Thank you to hockey bloggers, and new media like twitter, who made following a team so much more fun and interactive. And thank you, Checkers Fans, who made me so proud to be one of you.
This team is amazing. I can’t wait to see you next year!
Lets Go Checkers