Professional hockey in Charlotte – six decades of awesome

The first professional team in Charlotte to win a league title was the Charlotte Clippers in 1957, following their first full season in town.  The previous year, the Baltimore Clippers relocated to Charlotte mid-season after their own rink had burned down.  Charlotte was home to the brand-new, state-of-the-art Charlotte Coliseum that is now known as Bojangles Arena on Independence Blvd, and the perfect place for a homeless hockey team to move into.

In the early days of professional hockey in Charlotte, there were multiple titles and trophies won.  Charlotte won the EHL regular-season title (called the Walker Cup) in 1957, and also the playoff championship, called the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy against an IHL team, the Philadelphia Ramblers.

In 1956-57, the first season of hockey in Charlotte was one for the record books.   Six of the league’s top-10 scorers played for the Charlotte.  The team was the first professional hockey team   in the South to win a league championship.  Charlotte’s 50-13-1 record and 101 points broke Eastern Hockey League Records. (By comparison, that record came in a 64 game season.  Last season, the Checkers had 92 points in a 76 game season).

Charlotte came close to a championship repeat in 1958.  They won the Walker Cup in the regular season, and it came down to the seventh game of the finals and Charlotte lost to the Washington Presidents.

The Clippers changed their name to the Checkers in 1960, a decade that was full of ups and downs for the team, though they did reach the finals once in 1968.  Things turned around for the 1970-71 season, with the Checkers crowned Champions.  Just a few months before the Checkers defeated the New Haven Blades in the finals, the team published a photograph of the first Charlotte team to win a hockey championship, in the season’s program.  Did the photo serve as inspiration for a team that had struggled since that first championship in 1957?  Maybe so!  The Checkers repeated as EHL champions the following season as well.

 

The Charlotte Clippers won the championship in 1957.  Over a decade later, and just a month before the team's second championship, the photo was published in the team's official program. Is it time to re-print this photo in a 2013-14 program? (Photo credit - Charlotte Checkers, used with permission)

The Charlotte Clippers won the championship in 1957. Over a decade later, and just a month before the team’s second championship, the photo was published in the team’s official program. Is it time to re-print this photo in a 2013-14 program? (Photo credit – Charlotte Checkers, used with permission)

The Checkers continued their winning ways during the 1970’s.  They Changed leagues in 1973, and won the Southern Hockey League Championship in 1975 and again in 1976.  Unfortunately, the league folded midway through the following season and the Checkers weren’t able to go for a championship Crockett Cup hat trick.

From 1977 to 1993, it was a dark time in Charlotte.  For 18 years, there was not professional hockey in Charlotte, but that changed when the Checkers returned  as a team in the East Coast Hockey League.  In the Checkers third season in the ECHL, in 1997, they won the league championship, which at the time was called the Riley Cup.

It’s been 18 years since the Checkers won a league Championship of any kind, but I’d hardly say these have been dark years in Charlotte.  Checkers teams have visited the conference finals in both the ECHL and AHL.  The teams have had MVPs, league-leading scorers , and now compete in the highest level of professional hockey that Charlotte has ever had. The teams have received local and national press for the great things they do in the Charlotte community, and continue to make an impact throughout the region.

The future continues to be bright for the Checkers.  With the list of talented prospects and hockey veterans who will be a part of the 2013-14 roster, I can’t wait to see what’s in store in Charlotte.  I will say though, maybe a photo of the first Charlotte championship hockey team could make an appearance in a game program this season.  It can’t hurt, right?

 

 

So, readers, other than the obvious “Calder Cup Championship,” what would you like to see the Checkers do to continue their history of awesome?

 

 

P.S. Much of my research comes from Jim Mancuso’s Hockey in Charlotte.  It’s my go-to book for school paper writing, and Chasing Checkers research.  Pick up a copy if you haven’t read it yet!

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