The Five Stages of Grief – A Charlotte Checkers Playoff Elimination Version

About twenty-four hours ago, I had just hit the road home from Milwaukee.  I had a lot of time to think as I drove home to Charlotte about the season, the weekend, and the not-so-pleasant end to the Checkers season.  I brainstormed about three different things I wanted to write about, but figured I’d start here.  While it might be cathartic to analyze last night’s game, and the last couple of months of the season and play the blame game as to who is at fault for the Checkers season ending a bit prematurely, that won’t really do me any good, so that idea has been scratched, in favor of this one.  So without further adieu, I present The Five Stages of Grief:  A study of Playoff Elimination.

If you had to take Psychology 101 in college, you probably studied  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief.”  The more I thought about them, the more I thought they can really apply to the emotions I felt after the season ended yesterday in Milwaukee.

Step One – Denial

Ahh, denial.  How can this team be just like all of the other loser sports teams in Charlotte that don’t make the playoffs.  Since the Checkers didn’t make the playoffs, are they like the Bobcats, who don’t even have wins in the double digits (They are 7-52, for those of you keeping track).  What’s the difference, a loser is a loser, right?  How can this be happening?  At the beginning of the season, I saw a Calder Cup winning team.  I saw a long playoff run, and the possibility of me getting to celebrate my June 1 birthday at a hockey game (a life-long dream of mine).  This can’t be happening, right?

Step Two – Anger

The first time on my weekend roadtrip I experienced a fan’s anger was in Peoria.  I was sitting next to the Rivermen’s GM, and a very angry fan with his wife and three children in tow walked by.  It was towards the end of the second period, and his beloved team was down 4-1 in their final home game of the season.  He shouted at the GM, “Next year, how about you get some players who give a * expletive deleted*.”   Yesterday, instead of yelling at the GM, I came pretty close to calling my ticket rep on the spot from the highway to ask if I could get a refund on my seats for next year, but I knew that would be overreacting.

As for me?  I think I experienced anger more than a few times during the game Sunday.  When the refs screwed up on a call that resulted in an extra powerplay and 5-on-3 opportunity for the Admirals.  When it seemed like the Checkers were flat and not giving it 100%.  It was a hard game to watch towards the end, seeing it spiral out of control.

After the game, I thought about the schedule makers at the AHL.  I’ve always been a huge supporter of Charlotte playing in the Midwest division, but how dare the AHL make the Checkers play teams in the Eastern Conference, when they are a western team.  And not just any teams in the East, but the Hershey Bears and Norfolk Admirals. Why couldn’t the AHL throw the Checkers a bone and give them some easy teams to play in the East?  Those games against Norfolk and Hershey were in many ways, the reason Charlotte didn’t qualify.  Did Milwaukee and Chicago and Houston and San Antonio have to play Norfolk and Hershey?  Heck no they didn’t.  But the Checkers did, in 12 brutal games.

So yes, I was angry.  Very, very angry.

Step Three – Bargaining

As the Checkers were losing (and losing badly) on Sunday, I thought to myself “I’ll do anything to let Houston lose.”  Here are just a few of the things I bargained in my inner-monologue:

  • If the Checkers make the playoffs, I’ll stop mocking the Bobcats and their losing record. Heck, I’ll even buy tickets to one of their games and cheer for them, even when they are losing by 30 points in the fourth quarter!
  • If the Checkers make the playoffs, I’ll never again gripe about bad goaltending, and who I think should have been given the start.
  • If the Checkers make the playoffs, I will stop using the mean nicknames my friends and I made up for some of the players on the home team, and the visitors as well.  I will be a better person, I promise!
  • If the Checkers make the playoffs, I will bite my tongue when I want to say something snarky about the coach, or a jersey foul, or the guy in the seat behind me who only goes to the games to see a fight, or any of a number of things I know I complain about too much.

Step Four – Depression

This is the step where you see players after the game heartbroken, with their heads down as they realize the season is over.  Players who may or may not have contracts next season.  This is the step that when you plan to interview the coach following the loss, digital recorder in hand, you turn around because the idea of asking questions regarding heartbreak and rock bottom are too much to handle.  Writing my post game Sunday night in the media room at the Bradley Center, my hands were shaking a little bit.  I couldn’t believe the journey was over, and that Charlotte had come so close, but missed it.

Step Five – Acceptance

This is a tough one.  I’m still disappointed in the Checkers.  I’m still frustrated that the schedule was what it was.  I’m hurt that the last game in Charlotte was such a blow out, an embarrassing 8-2 loss that left every fan in the arena feeling like the team had ripped their hearts out.  I’m angry.  I’m sad it’s over, and wondering what I’m going to do with my alleged free time. (And don’t say “FINISH YOUR MASTER’S THESIS” I know I need to, and I’m working on it!).  Maybe I’ll pay attention to some NHL playoff games, or take up underwater basket weaving.  If you have a suggestion, I’m open to it!

So… I’m still working on the acceptance thing.  It’s only been a day though, so I’m sure it will come.  I guess the most important thing to remember is despite the rotten past month, and the game on Sunday, Charlotte has an organization that fills me with pride.  They might not have made the playoffs, but they are still my favorite team in professional sports, and one that I will support win or lose (let’s just hope it’s more of the former, and less of the latter next year!)

Keep your eyes on Chasing Checkers this week.  I’ve got a few more things to say, and thoughts to share before the season is too far in the past.  It’s been a fun year, and I think the site has come a long way since it’s humble beginnings last season, and I’m looking forward to another season come October.

Let’s Go Checkers


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