The AHL and western expansion: What does the future hold?

The AHL is bound to be a very different league next season, with as many as four teams moving west to a time zone that currently doesn’t have a single AHL squad.

The chips are falling, one by one, and soon the AHL will have their coveted “Pacific Division”… teams that will mostly be based in California, and will be closer to their NHL affiliate.

Most NHL teams will state they desire to have their AHL squads closer to home. It enables them to have easier call ups (Zach Boychuk can probably drive up I-85 to Raleigh with a blindfold on) and allow them to monitor their development, but the close by model is one that doesn’t always work. Charlotte has had success as an AHL franchise since 2010. Thanks to a dedicated front office, a strong fan base and consistent ticket sales, the Checkers seem to have found a home here, and the upcoming move home to Bojangles Coliseum only solidifies that.

The Checkers move (three miles east, to BoCo) shows a long term commitment to the city of Charlotte and its hockey fans, which is comforting to see when so many AHL clubs are being ripped from their homes and moved to California. The Checkers have found success where other franchises far away from the overly saturated AHL north east, despite a tough travel schedule thanks in part to being a member of the Western Conference but also because their closest AHL team is the Eastern Conference team of Norfolk, 325 miles and over five hours away. For the past five seasons, the Checkers have played the Admirals an average of 10-12 games per season, and the same can be said for the Oklahoma Barons, who have been the Checkers most common Western Conference opponent for the past four seasons. Next year, both of these rivals will be in southern California, and become cornerstones of the new AHL Pacific division.

Oklahoma City already announced the Barons will cease operations at the end of the 2014-15 season.  The Barons have been the Checkers most frequent opponent over the past four season, and they will (likely, unconfirmed but as the old magic eight ball says, all signs point to YES) play in Bakersfield, replacing the current ECHL squad there that the Oilers own. As of right now, there are no plans for another team to replace the Barons, which is quite the blow to the loyal fans in OKC. Neal & Co. at Tend the Farm have had great coverage of the move, and it’s worth a read for more in-depth information.

The Norfolk Admirals have been trying to deny a move for weeks, with facebook posts promising that they are staying, yet nobody was buying it.  Yesterday, Ken Young, the owner of the Admirals said in an interview that he had been forced to sell his team to the Anaheim Ducks.  You can read more about it here, but it’s a pretty sad story.  In a nutshell, since the Ducks want their team close, the only way to have that happen is to buy an AHL franchise (much Michael Kahn did to bring the River Rats to Charlotte in 2010.. the difference there was that Albany was ultimately able to keep an AHL team, albeit with a different NHL affiliate, but at least they kept the high caliber of hockey the fans of Albany were used to.

The good news for Norfolk is the Admirals have a replacement ECHL team that will relocate from California to Norfolk next season.  The Oilers plan to move the Bakersfield Condors to Norfolk, who no longer need an ECHL team in SoCal since they will have their AHL squad instead. It is rumored that the Ducks AHL team will be located in San Diego, leaving a vacancy in Stockton for another potential AHL move.

Another domino that’s recently fallen in the Pacific division is the news a couple of days ago that the Worcester Sharks would be moving to San Jose, California and will share a building with their parent club.  No word on what the AHL team will be called, since having two teams named the Sharks in one city and one building would be confusing.  If it was my team, I think I’d name them the Minnows, in honor of my favorite pool game “Sharks and Minnows” from summer camp.

The third NHL team in California is, of course, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. Their AHL affiliate is the Manchester Monarchs, who the Checkers haven’t faced since their inaugural season in 2010-11.  The Monarchs are owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the same group who owns an ECHL team in California.  The Ontario Reign have had great success in the ECHL, breaking attendance records and would have no trouble continuing that should they get promoted to the AHL next season.

So, what other Western Conference teams might be affected by the TBA Pacific Division of the AHL? Only time will tell, but here are a few facts and figures:

  • The Utica Comets are owned by the Vancouver Canucks. It’s their second full season in New York, and they are hosting the AHL All Star Game next week. While it seems easy to consider the Comets moving west since they are owned by their NHL club, they signed a lengthy lease and spent a lot of cash on arena improvements in Utica, so only time will tell if the Canucks decide moving their prospects closer to home is worth the broken contracts and expense.
  • The Arizona Coyotes’ AHL team is the Portland Pirates. Last year, the Coyotes purchased a the Arizona Sundogs, a CHL team in Prescott, AZ, but decided to cease operations, though rumors have them joining the ECHL in 2015. They are a team that would obviously like to have their prospects closer than Maine.
  • The Colorado Avalanche also purchased a CHL team last year, and like the Coyotes, decided to cease operations in August, prior to the start of the CHL season. Rumors continue to circulate that the Denver Cutthroats could resume operations in 2015-16 as a member of the ECHL or AHL. Currently, the Avalanche’s AHL squad is the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, OH.
  • The Calgary Flames have said they want their AHL squad closer, and there may be an opening in Stockton, CA. It must be noted, however, that their attempt to have an AHL team close by in Abbotsford failed due to lack of fan support and a brutal travel schedule (remember last season, folks, when they were in the same division as Charlotte…) The Flames are playing their first season in Glen Falls, NY after moving their AHL Flames from Abbotsford following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Glen Falls has a three-year contract (they are in year one) with the Calgary Flames, but contracts are easily broken.
  • Albany, which has been the home of the New Jersey Devils AHL squad since the Hurricanes left in 2010, is in the final year of a five-year contract.
  • The Winnipeg Jets, who own the St. John’s Ice Caps, are planning to move the team to Thunder Bay, ON. Despite being in a time zone of their own and traveling more miles than any other team in the AHL, the IceCaps have had great success since they moved to St. John’s in 2011. Sell out crowds and a consistent winning record are just a couple of examples of this.  While it’s not as far west as California, Thunder Bay is about 2000 miles from St. John’s, and almost as far from every AHL team in the league as St. John’s is.

So… what does all of this mean for Charlotte? Only time will tell.

It is certain that Norfolk and Oklahoma City are gone, and in those two teams are 20-24 of the Checkers 76 games each season. Another realignment will have to happen in the AHL, since three to four eastern conference teams are leaving for California, and St. John’s is probably moving west to Thunder Bay. This makes rooms for “Eastern” Western Conference teams like Charlotte, Toronto, Hamilton and Rochester to potentially move conferences, though changing conferences won’t necessarily improve travel for the Checkers. Many I’ve spoken to with the Checkers have told me the Western conference travel is much nicer than the bus runs the Checkers used to make in the north east.

The AHL Board of Governors meet this weekend in Utica, so we will likely know something sooner than later.


Charlotte Checkers lose a close game in OT to Oklahoma City.

First, a few administrative notes:

  • Holy cow, Queen city! Could today have been a more beautiful day? Blue sky, warm weather, and I get to sit on my patio sipping a beer writing my post-game story while my 11-year old puppy Will Shakespeare rolls in the grass. Life is good.
  • Every four years, February is my favorite month. I can feel, taste and smell (in my dreams, anyway) the Olympic ice. And I’m not just talking about hockey (USA USA USA!).  Curling is possibly my favorite Olympic winter sport, and I am also a huge fan of short track speed skating. And Olympic ski jumping for women this year! It’s a first!!! I can’t wait for those events to begin.
  • Knit your own Team USA hat like the athlete's are wearing in Sochi! (Designed by me, photo credit -  E. Kinsman)
    Knit your own Team USA hat like the athlete’s are wearing in Sochi! (Designed by me, photo credit – E. Kinsman)

    And about the Olympics, do you want your very own Team USA themed hand knit hat? I designed a free pattern that replicates the hat our team wore in the opening ceremonies.  You can download it here.

  • Speaking of February, happy birthday to Chasing Checkers.  According to my hosting site, it celebrated it’s anniversary this week. I can’t believe I’m going into my fourth year here. What a fun and wild ride it’s been.

A giveaway by Charlotte Checkers captain Brett Sutter in front of Mike Murphy resulted in an overtime defeat by the Oklahoma City Barons. They won the game 4-3 in another heated matchup between the two Western division rivals. The one point OT loss by the Checkers ended the team’s three game regulation losing streak.

The first period looked good with a nice goal from Justin Shugg that went over the Baron’s Richard Bachman’s blocker. The steep angle made it a nearly impossible shot to stop.  Shugg, who has appeared pretty regularly on the scoresheet for Charlotte, made his first appearance in the goal column in six games.  He now has six points (3g, 3a) in eight appearances against Oklahoma City.

Brendan Woods, who had family in attendance, had a stellar game. After missing nearly two weeks to an injury in January, this was his first goal in only his fourth game back.  He nearly missed having a Gordie Howe hat trick after a fight with Baron’s tough guy Ben Eager.  Woods ended the night with one goal, one fight, four shots and nine PIMs.

AS0D3361“I guess you can look at the positive and we got one point, but we’d like to have two (points) with the standings being so close,” Woods stated, “These next few games will be crucial.”

Forward lines were moved around, with Chris Terry moving off of the top-scoring line with Zach Boychuk.

Coach Jeff Daniels acknowledged the change was meant to shake things up a bit.  “We were trying to get more balance and more scoring throughout our forward lines. I thought a couple lines were good and a couple were just okay.”

Brody Sutter scored with 37 seconds to go in the game, tying it at three a piece and leading the team to overtime.  The excitement was short lived, as halfway through overtime, a costly giveaway by Brett Sutter led to a goal by the Baron’s Roman Horak.

With a bit of a grin, Woods acknowledged that having family in attendance added to his energy. With his dad an assistant coach in Anaheim, his mom and dad were both able to make it to this afternoon’s game.  “It definitely gives you a little extra jump. I’m sure she was a little nervous with that fight against Ben Eager, but yeah, it was fun.”

The Charlotte Checkers had another sellout this afternoon. It's great to see the arena filled to capacity on a regular basis! (Photo - Jenni Propst)
The Charlotte Checkers had another sellout this afternoon. It’s great to see the arena filled to capacity on a regular basis! (Photo – Jenni Propst)

The Checkers head into the (brief) All-Star break with a few days of rest after a tough travel schedule, and return on Friday for a couple of “home” games in Raleigh. They sit a few points out of a playoff spot, and divisional games will continue to be incredibly important, especially the two against Abbotsford next weekend, who sit atop the West division.

Four-for-four – The Checkers will play in the West Division in 2013-14 following AHL realignment

I feel like I left my CD player on repeat… because I believe I’ve written about the Checkers changing divisions a few times already…

For the fourth time in the Checkers four seasons in the AHL, they will be in a new division in 2013-14, though this time, for the most part, the change is in name only.  For the AHL’s official release, you can go here.

The new division will be called the West division, which is comprised of four teams from last year’s South division, and one new addition.  The Abbotsford Heat are set to join the Checkers West  division, and nothing says West Division better than a team from North Carolina, in a city a short drive from the Atlantic ocean and about as far East as you can get! 

With the Houston Aero’s departure to become the Iowa Wild, the move of Peoria to New York to become the Utica Comets, other division moves occurred as well.

The Iowa Wild will become a part of the Midwest Division, filling in the hole that was left by the departure of the Peoria Rivermen.  The Utica Comets will join the North Division of the Western Conference, where Abbotsford was last year.

It’s interesting to note that the city of Utica is farther east than a number of New York Eastern Conference teams, including Syracuse, Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey.  They will have to ride a bus through the Eastern conference city of Syracuse to reach their Western Conference division mates in Rochester, Lake Erie, Hamilton and Toronto.

With the AHL’s realignment news comes very little information on how these divisional changes will affect game scheduling.  Unlike the National Hockey League, the American League does not have an exact formula it uses when scheduling teams as far as how many times each team faces their division, conference and opposite conference teams.  Instead, it is a mix of choosing opponents, and deciding whether or not they wish to play teams outside of their conference.

In 2012-13, the Checkers had an all-time low of only 12 opponents over the course of the season’s 76 games.  They faced only 11 Western Conference opponents, and one in the Eastern Conference.  In the Checkers three seasons in the AHL, they have never played Toronto, Hamilton, Rochester or St. John’s (or it’s previous home of Winnepeg).  All of the other teams in the Checkers division last season faced each of the teams in the Western Conference at least twice. 

Just to put into perspective how few opponents Charlotte faced, here are a few examples of what other teams schedules were like in 2012-13:

  • Abbotsford, a team like Charlotte that has no conference teams within driving distance, faced only Western Conference teams, but played all 14 of them.
  • By contrast, the Rochester Americans, also a Western Conference team, had 15 different opponents.  Six of them were Eastern Conference teams, and the remaining 11 were from the Western Conference.  They only faced one team from the Midwest (Grand Rapids), and did not play the Checkers.
  • The Syracuse Crunch, an Eastern Conference Team, had 15 different opponents, including four in the Western Conference.  They did not play two teams in their own conference though.

While I understand that travel, particularly in the West, can be more of a burden than in the East where a team such as Springfield can travel to 10 different cities without needing a hotel room, it seems unfair to the teams, the competition and the fans, that there is such a huge difference between the number of teams faced.

Many in Charlotte are already concerned about the addition of Abbotsford to their division.  Will the Checkers face them a dozen times? No, of course not, and the AHL’s Jason Chaimovitch has already addressed that via Twitter.


Will the Checkers play Abbotsford more than the four games of two and two schedule of the past two seasons? I’d have to assume so, but one more trip to beautiful British Columbia won’t be any more brutal than Charlotte’s usual travel (though the 10 p.m. starts for us on the East Coast will make for some late nights of listening to Jason Shaya!)



Do I anticipate the Checkers getting to play new teams, or having a more balanced schedule this season? Probably not. With the majority of it’s teams in north east, the AHL isn’t designed for balance, and has become even more unbalanced with one more team in New York, and one less in the west.  The biggest chance for a new city the Checkers will visit in 2013-14 will be Des Moines, home of the Iowa Wild.  I’ve heard the Checkers may return to the cities of at least one of their former Eastern conference foes, but the official word on that won’t come out until August when the schedule is released.


So, Checkers fans… what teams do you wish you could see in Charlotte? What about less of?  Who do you think I want to see in Charlotte? (Have I mentioned enough times here at Chasing Checkers and on Twitter what team(s) I want to see in Charlotte? Ha!)




Rivermen franchise sold to Canucks…. what other AHL teams might move as well?

I was hoping to have trade deadline updates, but it’s been pretty slow today.  So instead let’s see if I can get all of this franchise movement straight….

According to the knowledgeable Dave Eminian in Peoria, moves are still in the works following the April 1 (not fools) announcement that the Rivermen had been sold.

The Vancouver Canucks have purchased the Peoria Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues, but it seems that the Canucks have no interest in moving their AHL affiliation from Chicago (where it is currently, and has been for two seasons) to Peoria, a couple of hours away.  Ideally, they want to move their team to Abbotsford, where Calgary’s franchise currently plays and has a long-term lease.

Minnesota had been working on a deal that would move their AHL team (currently the Houston Aeros) closer to them in Des Moines, Iowa.  That deal is allegedly on hold (or cancelled altogether) and Peoria is being considered as an another site.

Calgary wants to move their AHL franchise to Utica, NY, but first has to find a way out of their lease and agreements with the city of Abbotsford.   The other moves make a lot of sense, but moving an AHL team for a far-west team like Calgary to the middle of upstate New York doesn’t make sense to me.  Sure, travel would be a breeze for a team in Utica (Binghamton, Albany, Glen Falls, Syracuse and Rochester are all within a couple of hours of Utica…) but easy travel is a small part of operating a successful franchise, and call-ups would be a hassle. Ticket sales and sponsorship revenue is incredibly important to running a successful sports franchise, but if Calgary thinks there is enough potential in Utica, a city of 62,000 people, then I say go for it.  Clearly, the AHL has done well in small towns in New England for a long time, and expanding to major markets outside of that small region doesn’t seem to be a focus of the league.

As a fan of the sport of hockey, and a team outside of the north east, I’m disappointed that this kind of move would be approved by the league and the Board of Governors.  I don’t think that oversaturating New York and the north east with yet another team is going to help the AHL brand, or the league itself.  If the AHL brand is to grow and expand, it needs to be in recognizable markets with the potential for growth. In cities where there is real name recognition and the opportunity to reach a totally new audience.


Other odds and ends from the east (the AHL conference I admittedly don’t pay enough attention to) that also may affect franchise movement:

  • Any move of a western team (Abbotsford or Peoria) to New York means the Western Conference divisions will have to be re-worked again. Just for fun, can the Checkers move to the division with Rochester, Hamilton and Toronto? Maybe then Charlotte will actually play those teams.  Plus, four divisions and two conferences in four years would be a pretty epic stat, eh?
  • Allentown, PA will have a completed arena in 2014, and the plan is to move the Adirondak Phantoms out of Glen Falls, New York.
  • There’s plenty of chatter about the desire for the NY Rangers to move their team in Hartford to Bridgeport. I have no idea where the Sound Tigers/Islanders would go, but the rumors are out there.  There’s also the possibility of moving the Rangers team (currently the Whale) to Glen Falls.
  • I’m probably missing some of the chatter… what have you heard?

The One About the ’12-’13 Schedule.

Tess and Haley here again! First of all, our apologies for not posting our thoughts earlier, Haley and I have been pretty busy between moving, school, work, and life. Regardless, better late than never!

We’ll go ahead and start this off with the massive elephant in the room. To rip it off like a band-aid, the Checkers don’t play at home until November 4th, nearly a month after their season starts. Luckily, the nine away-game stretch that starts out the season is the longest our fellas will be away. The hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh… and thankfully they made up for that nine game stretch by giving us a 10 game stretch at home from November 24th to December 15th!

As for the competitors this season, though the Checkers have once again changed divisions, the opponents won’t be all too unfamiliar. All of Charlotte’s adversaries this season are in the Western conference, with the exception of area rival, Norfolk Admirals. The team will face each of their South Division foes (Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Texas). Since joining the Western Conference the Checkers have yet to face Hamilton, Rochester, and Toronto and will continue not oppose them during the regular season. However they will face Norfolk, Houston, OKC, Peoria, Milwaukee and Texas eight times and Abbotsford, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Lake Erie, and Rockford four times.

There are a few notable games in the schedule. The Checkers will have two doubleheaders with the Bobcats this season, December 15th and January 12th. On both dates the Checkers will play at noon and the Bobcats will follow at 7 pm. The November 24th game coincides with the team’s 5K Run & Walk, which is still open for registration and volunteer help.

The last game to keep your eye out for is on January 6th. The team will play in Raleigh against the Norfolk Admirals, the reigning Calder Cup champions. Keep in mind that the ‘Canes play the Isles the night before in Raleigh as well so make a weekend out of it! We’d also like to make note that the promotional schedule has yet to be released, so we’ll be sure to make mention of more notable games later.

Lastly, the Checkers have a huge advantage towards the end of the season. During the month of February the team only plays eight games, two of which are at home, then play 14 of their next 18 games at home, spanning from March 1st to April 12th. After the 12th, the team closes the season with four away games, ending regular season on April 20th.

To check out the Checkers schedule for yourself, go here. For the full AHL schedule, click here.
As always, we look forward to writing much more about the season to come!



Checkers lose four in a row, Abbotsford defeats Charlotte 8-2

Today’s game…. it was hard to watch.  It was a game of scrambling for the puck, and playing dump and chase hockey to kill penalties.  There were no actual plays being made.  The Checkers weren’t driving into the net and making things happen.  Instead, they were shooting from the perimeter just hoping something would find the back of the net.  Abbotsford’s goaltender Danny Taylor stopped 22 of the 24 shots the Checkers sent his way, but he was frequently fumbling the puck and seemed very shaky at times, but some kind of cloak of luck seemed to be around him that enabled him to keep the Checkers shots from passing him.

The team threw Justin Peters under the bus when he was put in during the second period following the fifth goal Mike Murphy allowed. Peters was forced to skate onto the ice in front of a team that had quit playing in the first period.  Murphy and Peters were far from perfect tonight, but had they been more supported by their teammates, they may have had a better shot during the game.  Do I think we had problems with goaltending this week?  Sure.  The statistics prove that.  But I think the bigger problem is the absolute lack of offense.  Five goals in four games is an abysmal statistic.

At times this afternoon, I saw flashes of impressive plays.  A near miss goal that involved fast skating and fancy stickhandling by Drayson Bowman and Zac Dalpe.  Guys like Chris Terry forcing themselves in front of the crease attempting to get rebounds.  But then there were the bad passes, the turnovers in the neutral zone, and overall lack of cohesion between teammates.  The defenseman have been trying to be more offensive this week with driving into the zone and shooting the puck from the blue line, but none of that seems to be working.  It’s like the Checkers need to take a few steps back, and go back to the basic fundamentals where forwards create plays, and defenseman defend.

There didn’t seem to be any effort on the ice, a problem that has been reoccurring for the past month.  For the first time I remember seeing, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels is taking some of the responsibility.

If things don’t turn around this week for the Checkers, it’s going to be a long and change-filled off season for the organization.  To not make the playoffs after a season that had many more ups than downs would be a truly devastating fact I’m not yet ready to face.


Half full, or Half empty?

There are two ways to look at it right now.  The optomists will say the glass is half full… the Checkers have four games left, and have been stronger on the road than at home as of late.  The pessimists, well, they probably hear the fat lady singing.  (I think she’s definitely doing her vocal warm-ups, but it’s not over till it’s over.)

Half Full:

  • Despite a rough last month or two of the season, the Checkers are still only two points out of a playoff position, with four games remaining.
  • The Checkers play four games in six days this week.  Their record against Rockford, Peoria and Milwaukee is 13-6-0-1, so there is no reason to believe that they can’t get the majority of the points from these crucial contests.
  • The Checkers have picked up points in three of the last four road games.  Hopefully this streak can continue on Tuesday in Rockford.

Half Empty:

  • This week alone, the Checkers only scored five goals in four games at home.  They allowed 18 goals during those four games.
  • The Checkers are two for six in their last eight games, and four for eight in the last 12.  Yikes.
  • Hands down, that was the most depressing season finale I’ve ever been to.  The fans who stuck through it until the end, I salute you.  It was a horribly painful game to watch, and shows true character to support the team through it all.

General notes:

  • Thanks to a wonderful photographer friend, I have hundreds of pictures to dig through for the site, but alas, it might be a couple of days before I can post the highlights.
  • I’m heading to the great states of Illinois and Wisconsin on Thursday for the final three games of the Checkers regular season.  Any thoughts from the readers about what you hope to see from the team as the 2011/12 season winds down?
  • Chasing Checkers regular contributor Allan has promised an end-of-season scorecard of sorts.  Look for it later in the week!

Charlotte Checkers – Playoff Outlook and regular season wind-down

Eight games, and a maximum of 16 points are on the line in the next two weeks.

The Checkers play the next four games at home, then play four more during the final week of the regular season (three of which I will be at, live and in person!).

The race to the post season in the west is a tight one.  Only three points separate positions four through nine in the conference.

Here’s a brief look at Charlotte’s remaining opponents:

Milwaukee Admirals – The Checkers face them three times in the next two weeks.  Twice at home, and once on April 15, the final game of the regular season for both teams.  While Milwaukee isn’t currently in the playoffs, if they were to take all six points from Charlotte, the post season wouldn’t be out of the picture.  The Admirals have a record of 34-28-2-4 on the season, and have 74 points in 68 games played.  They are 1-3-1 against Charlotte, the only victory coming last November in Milwaukee.

Abbotsford Heat – The Checkers have back-to-back matinee games against the Heat next weekend at home.  Abbotsford is fourth in the conference with 80 points.  They are in what is probably the toughest division in the entire league, and are one of four teams from the West currently sitting in a playoff position.  The Checkers are 1-1 against the Heat after they split a pair of games in January in Abbotsford.

Rockford IceHogs – Currently in 11th, the IceHogs are just on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but if they took four points from Charlotte, that could potentially be enough to get them into the post season.  The Checkers are 4-1-0-1 against the IceHogs, and both games in Rockford resulted in wins for Charlotte.  With two more games there in a five-day stretch, those two games will be crucial to the Checkers playoff hopes, and quest for not only a spot in the post season, but home ice advantage that will probably require them to sit atop the Midwest division.

Peoria Rivermen – The Checkers have a record of 5-2 against Peoria this season, and face them one more time during the final weekend of the season.  The Rivermen are currently in eighth place in the west with 78 points in 71 games played.  Mike Murphy is 3-0 against the Rivs this season, so I for one hope he gets the start in two weeks against them in Peoria.

Other teams to watch out for:

Chicago Wolves – I’ll be doing a lot of scoreboard watching regarding the Wolves.  They currently sit atop the Midwest division, and are three points ahead of Charlotte with 82.  The scheduling gods were smiling on Charlotte when they made up the Wolves final weeks of the season.  From April 4-13, Chicago has a five-game roadtrip that has them play Oklahoma City, all three Texas teams, and finally a game in Grand Rapids, Michigan before returning home for their last two games of the season.  Needless to say, I’ll be cheering for their opponents over the roadtrip stretch.  With the Vancouver Canucks playoff future bright, there’s also the chance of losing valuable prospects to the NHL club, something the Wolves never had to worry about during their tenure with the Atlanta Thrashers.

San Antonio Rampage – Currently in a three-way tie with Charlotte for fourth place, the Rampage have 79 points in 70 games played.  Five of their final six games are at home, a factor that may prove to be incredibly beneficial.

Houston Aeros – The other third of the Checkers three-way tie, the Aeros have 79 points in 70 games played.  They are 32-23-5-10.  Yes.  They have lost 15 games after 60 minutes of play, including 10 lost shootouts.  That’s an incredibly crazy stat if you ask me, and is the highest number of loser-points given to a team in the entire league.

Gameday – Charlotte at Abbotsford, part two

About last night in Abbotsford:

  • The Checkers defeated the Abbotsfort Heat 5-0, who were previously leading the Western Conference and West Division.  They have since fallen to fourth in the Conference, and second in their division.
  • TSN has a great post-game article about the matchup.
  • Chris Terry lead the team in points with four.  He notched four assists on the night.  And that’s what I call Terryiffic.
  • John Muse, in only his second start for Charlotte, had the first shut out of his AHL career.  His numbers are outstanding, and has deserved each of his three wins this year.  I just wish his teammates played with the same energy in front of Mike Murphy.
  • Before the game last night, Abbotsford had the best Penalty Kill in the league.  After the Charlotte went three-for-six on the Power Play, the Heat fell in the standings.
  • Charlotte’s penalty kill was perfect, preventing all three of Abbotsford’s power play opportunities.  Considering only a month ago I was constantly begrudging the Checkers special teams, it’s nice to see a significant turn around.
  • Justin Krueger took three minor penalties in the first period alone, but then came back to score his first professional goal in the second period.
  • Last night’s loss by Heat goaltender Danny Taylor was his 17th consecutive start since signing with the Heat in early December.

Thoughts, facts and figures about tonight:

  • Brett Carson is set to face his former team tonight.  He cleared waivers yesterday, and was assigned to the Heat by Calgary.
  • Center Krys Kolanos still leads the Heat in goals with 18, and points with 39.
  • Leading Abbotsford in names is Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, with four, and hyphens with two.  He’s a left wing and has two assists in 18 games played. (Yes, I copied this from yesterday, but it’s funny, and nobody commented on it to say they picked up on my bad joke).

Charlotte Transactions:

  • The Checkers assigned Cedric McNicoll to the Florida Everblades
  • Ryan Donald made his Checkers debut last night against the Heat.
  • Newly aquired in a trade with Florida, AJ Jenks and Evgenii Dadonov made their Checkers debuts on Friday night.
  • Charlotte was the beneficiary of another trade yesterday.  American defenseman Joe Sova comes to the Hurricanes Organization from Albany in exchange for Alexei Ponikarovsky and a 2012 fourth-round pick.  With the recent thinning of Charlotte’s blue line due to injuries, Savo’s addition will be a welcome one.  (Also?  If you haven’t read the awesome introductory rap, go back to this post, and prepare to be impressed.)

Gametime:  10:00 p.m. EST

Charlotte Radio: WBCN 1660 AM
Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
Abbotsford Twitter: @AbbotsfordHeat

Referee:  Andy Thiessen (#11)
Linesmen:  Bevan Mills (#5), Justin Hull (#68)

Gameday: Checkers go Canadian – Charlotte at Abbotsford

Charlotte Checkers (23-14-2-2) at Abbotsford Heat (24-13-3-0)

    • With 51 points, the Heat lead the Checkers by one point in the Western Conference, and are one game back.
    • The Heat are members of the toughest division in the AHL, with the likes of Oklahoma City and Houston, all three of whom have broken the 50-point mark.
    • Abbotsford is the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, and former team of Brett Sutter.  Many say that Abbotsford is a suburb of Vancouver.  While Vancouver is definitely the closest big city in British Columbia, Abbotsford is about as much of a suburb of Van as Hickory is to Charlotte.
    • To get to Abbotsford, the team flew to Seattle (through Dallas, of course!), then
      To get to Abbotsford from Seattle, I think the team drove through Nooksack, Washington. Probably one of my favorite small town names ever. Say it out loud. You smile, right?

      bused to Abbotsford, where there is a major border-crossing (I’ve been there!).  From what I read on Twitter, the team arrived to no power in the hotel.  Needless to say, the team gets to do all of this in reverse on Sunday (that’s 16 hours worth of travel) so they can drive six hours to Norfolk on Monday.  This is a crappy weekend of travel!

    • The only Western Conference team that has to travel more than the Checkers is the Abbotsford Heat.  They are the only AHL team in Western Canada, and are a member of the West division, which includes the three Texas teams and Oklahoma City.
    • Checkers goalie John Muse gets the award for the funniest tweet of the trip, though for what it’s worth I think Timmy’s Maple Glazed > Boston Creams:

About the Heat:

  • Center Krys Kolanos leads the Heat in goals with 18, and points with 39.
  • Guillaume Desbiens leads the team in PIMs with 71, and also has the worst +/- rating with a -11.  That’s like the total opposite of Spinal Tap’s favorite amp.
  • Leading Abbotsford in names is Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, with four, and hyphens with two.  He’s a left wing and has two assists in 18 games played.
  • Former Checker Brett Carson was put on waivers to send him back to the AHL by the Calgary Flames yesterday.  If he clears, he could face his former team tonight in Abbotsford.
  • Since being traded to Abbotsford, Goaltender Danny Taylor has started 16-straight games.  He started the season in Springfield.  In his time with the Heat, he’s 9-5-0-2.  (2.21 GAA, 0.932 SV%)
  • Abbotsford has the best penalty kill in the league.  The Checkers special teams have definitely been improving, and currently sit in 11th in that category.
  • The Heat’s power play is slightly less effective than Charlotte’s, statistically speaking, but it’s really too close to compare.

Gametime:  10:00 p.m. EST

Charlotte Radio: WFNZ 610
Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
Abbotsford Twitter: @AbbotsfordHeat

Referee:  Andy Thiessen (#11)
Linesmen: Nathan Vanoosten (#96), Chris Carlson (#52)