I spent most of my college years (and beyond, thanks to my amazing job that allows me to take a summer off if I really want to) working at a camp in the mountains of North Carolina. It was an incredible place, and one that really made me the person I am today. It gave me an appreciation of the environment, the outdoors, hiking and white water kayaking, and the ability to not be too grossed out at the smells one encounters after a few days on a backpacking trip and no showers, or, what I might catch a whiff of during a post-game media scrum. But more than that, I learned about people. I learned about talking to them, and interacting with adults and children of all different walks of life, and I loved it, and I still do, which is a big part of why I write here at Chasing Checkers.
One of the exercises we used at camp to process a day, or an event like completing a high ropes course or climbing tower, was talking about our “Highs and lows.” It’s important to think of both, because even a terrible situation has to have something positive in it, and sometime it’s humbling to think about the hard things that get you to the top and that feeling of euphoria at the end of a great day.
As I tried to process the Checkers loss to OKC in the first round of the playoffs, I thought about my own Checkers highs and lows from the past season.
So, in no particular, my highs and lows for 2012-13. What are some of yours?
High – The NHL call ups. All first-time call ups for a player are fun to watch, but there were a few this year that meant more than most. Chris Terry scored a goal in his NHL debut (talk about Terryiffic!), Nicolas Blanchard finally got his shot after 403 games in the AHL and dropped the gloves in his debut, and blueline regulars from the past three seasons in Charlotte Brett Bellemore and Michal Jordan both got their first shot in Raleigh, and played well. There’s a huge sense of pride in this Checkers fan when I got to see players I’d watched grow and mature in Charlotte playing with the big team in Raleigh, and making an NHL name for themselves.
Low – Cam Ward. Okay, hear me out on this one. I love Mr. Ward. I have a great story about hanging out with him in the NASCAR garage at Martinsville a few years ago, so I know he’s a fun guy on and off the ice. But when he got hurt, so did the Checkers. As if it wasn’t bad enough Charlotte lost Dan Ellis when the NHL season started, they took our OTHER goaltender too, when Justin Peters was called up. Back in Charlote, the M&M&Ms did a great job for the remainder of the season in Charlotte, but what the Checkers really needed for a playoff run was a more veteran, experienced guy. Any of the three, Rob Madore, John Muse, or Mike Murphy could have been that guy, but time was not on their side. Murphy needed more time to get into game shape, Madore needed experience, and Muse had a broken hand. So Cam Ward, you were one of my Checkers lows of the 2012-13 season. Sorry, buddy.
High – Mike Murphy’s return to Charlotte. It’s no secret, he was and will probably always be my favorite member of the Charlotte Checkers, of all time. On and off the ice, Murphy is one of the most genuinely incredible people I’ve had the privilege to get to know, and when he was signed to a PTO this year, I think I had perma-grin for days. I never got to see him play in a game, but having him here and as a member of my team was enough.
High – Seeing Charlotte Checkers COO perform onstage with the North Carolina Dance Theater, a company that means a great deal to me, as I have worked on nearly every one of their productions for 11 of the past 13 years. It meant a great deal to me to have the Checkers support an organization that is such a vital part of the arts in Charlotte. And Tera was FIERCE onstage with Addul Manzano.
Low – The lockout. Sure, it was great to have an all-star lineup in Charlotte night after night, but it also left a bad taste in my mouth at times. Seeing NHLers throughout the American Leage play below where they should be and make some of the comments they did about the AHL just… well, it made me want to get violent, and I’m a pretty even tempered person most of the time!
High – The opportunity to interview Mike Commodore. THE Mike Commodore, for Chasing Checkers. Sure, he was playing for the enemy team at the time, but he’s a legend in the Hurricanes organization, and how could I not talk to him while he was in Charlotte?
Low – Wilson’s departure from the Checkers. Jon Wilson played a pivotal role in my love of attending Checkers games for many, many years. He is a passionate hockey fan, and his love of the team, the sport and the fans was always apparent. It’s unfortunate that he’s no longer with the organization, because there’s nobody better at what he does.
High – The Checker’s “You Can Play” pledge. Straight from their mission statement, You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. Eliminating homophobia in sport is something that should be a foundational value of every person and organization, and I’m so glad that the Checkers provided their support of a powerful movement, and were the first professional team in North Carolina to join the cause. Way to go, Checkers. You made me proud when that pledge was shown on the video board at a playoff game.