AHL Realignment and the Charlotte Checkers, Part V.

In their fifth major realignment related move in their six seasons in Charlotte, the Checkers will be joining the brand-new Central Division of the western conference for the 2015-16 season.

The American Hockey League is changing from a six-division league to a four-division league that mimics the National Hockey League. The Checkers Central Division rivals include the Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Wolves (from their 2011-12 season in the Midwest Division), the Iowa Wild (from the past two seasons in the West Division. The Grand Rapids Griffins, who has been a part of the Midwest Division since the Checkers vacated, also join the Central Division, along with the Lake Erie Monsters. The Manitoba Moose, who return to the AHL after a four year hiatus, will be the eighth and final team in the Checkers Midwest Central Division.

So… who are the NHL squads affiliated with the Checkers new division rivals?

  • The Nashville Predators are the parent team of the Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee, like Charlotte, is a city filled with great craft beer. It’s a city passionate about their hockey team, and I’m already tentatively planning another roadtrip there to sample their hops… I mean, hockey!
  • The IceHogs of Rockford, Illinois is the birthplace of my favorite NASCAR cheater crew chief Chad Knaus, and home of the famed Rockford Peaches of A League of their Own. Their parent club is the Chicago Blackhawks, ranked number 30 on my personal list of favorite NHL teams.
  • The Manitoba Moose of Winter Winnipeg is home to both the NHL and AHL teams. The Jets and Moose will share an arena in the 2015-16 season and beyond.
  • The Chicago Wolves are currently the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. Their arena is one of the loudest in the AHL, but they have never played in Bojangles Coliseum, and I’m certain the Checkers will be taking over the “loudest” honors this year.
  • The Lake Erie Monsters have a new NHL affiliate, and that’s the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Monsters arena in Cleveland is the easiest drive for Checkers fans, a mere seven hours north on I-77. I forsee a visit by yours truly there in the near future. (Plus, Cleveland is another great beer city, and home of the incredible Great Lakes Brewing Co.).
  • The Iowa Wild of Des Moines are affiliated with the Minnesota Wild. I think it’s a travesty that they chose the name the “Wild” instead of adopting the past hockey team name of the “Chops” in honor of the hog farming industry of Iowa. Iowa is not known for it’s beer, but the corn fields likely provide many of the adjunct grains required for good farmhouse ales.
  • The Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins are located a little over two hours apart. The Griffins share their hometown with Founders Brewing, who make a number of outstanding beers. Grand Rapids is just north of one of my favorite breweries in the land, Bells.

With the departure of the Manchester Monarchs, Norfolk Admirals and Worcester Sharks to California, three teams from the Western Conference were able to move East. Though many speculated Checkers would be one of them, all three teams are (barely) further east then Charlotte. The Rochester Americans (who the Checkers have still never played, despite sharing a conference for four years), Utica Comets and Toronto Marlies all join the Eastern Conference in 2015.

What does another division realignment mean for the Checkers as far as the schedule go? Likely, not much will change due to their new division mates. The biggest difference Checkers fans will notice is the lack of Oklahoma City and Norfolk on the travel schedule. These two teams represented approximately one-third of the Checkers games over the past two seasons, and both teams were bought and subsequently moved to California. Travel to Manitoba will be the most challenging for the Checkers, but at only 1600 miles, it’s only a bit more than half as far as Abbotsford, British Columbia, who the Checkers spent a season with as division rivals.

So, Checkers fans: What do you think of the latest AHL alignment? Is there a division you would have rather seen them in? What about the AHL’s decision to go from six to four divisions? There’s lots to think and talk about!


Charlotte Checkers lose 4-1 to Chicago Wolves: The good, the bad and the ugly

The Good:

  • Chad LaRose has points in seven of his last nine games. As the sole goal scorer for Charlotte tonight, he continues to lead the team with 26 points (13g, 13a).
  • The Checkers pink jerseys, socks and helmets looked amazing. They are probably my favorite of the five years of AHL Pink in the Rink uniforms
  • The Checkers sell-out was the highest attended game of the season. Way to go to the Checkers sales team for selling so many tickets to a game that benefits so many great organizations.
  • Jason Bast, who was signed by the Checkers to a PTO on Thursday, scored his first AHL point, in his fourth AHL game this season (he played two with Bridgeport earlier this season). Bast, who has taken an unconventional route to the AHL, has been tearing up the ECHL as a rookie member of the Idaho Steelheads following five seasons in the WHL with Moose Jaw and then four years as a student at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Canadian universities don’t have the same restrictions that NCAA schools do regarding Major Junior being a “professional” league. Bast is a speedy, skilled centerman who was a lot of fun to watch, and will hopefully create the offensive spark the Checkers so desperately need.
  • Tonight is (possibly) the last time Checkers fans will have to see a terrible loss to the Chicago Wolves, or at least, as regularly as they have come the past four seasons the Checkers have been in the same conference as Chicago. Rumors have Charlotte moving back to the Eastern Conference in 2015-16, where they began their tenure as an AHL franchise in 2010.

The Bad:

  • Charlotte lost 4-1, for the second night in a row, to the Chicago Wolves.
  • The Checkers allowed seven power play opportunities for the Wolves. Chicago was successful on two of these, including a 5-on-3.
  • After the game, Coach Jeff Daniels confirmed that Zach Boychuk was a healthy scratch for the Checkers tonight. He has played 13 games for the Checkers this season, having spent most of the first half with the Carolina Hurricanes. He is the Checkers franchise leading goal scorer, with 106 to his credit over the course of five seasons.

The Ugly:

  • The Checkers lost their fourth game in a row following the AHL All-Star break in late January. Following the Christmas break in December, the Checkers also lost four games in a row after a strong month leading up to the break. Coach Jeff Daniels recognized the pattern of the Checkers faltering a bit following breaks. “It’s a trend. It’s a concern. Both times we’ve come off a break we haven’t been sharp. We’ve forgotten how to work.”
  • With another loss for the Iowa Wild, the Charlotte Checkers still sit two points out of last place in the American Hockey League.

Checkers win a fight filled, goalie brawling game against the Milwaukee Admirals.

At first, the game tonight between the Charlotte Checkers and Milwaukee Admirals seemed like a typical game between former-division rivals with a long history (well, four years, but that’s the majority of the Checkers AHL existence!).

It was no surprise that the Checkers first goal of the game came from Chris Terry of the Carolina Hurricanes, who spent the past four seasons in Charlotte and is the Checkers leading scorer of all time. Terry tipped in a shot by Trevor Carrick, who finished the game with three assists.

By three minutes into the second period, the Checkers were up 3-0 over a very tough Admirals team, who’s Magnus Hellburg,  the hulking 6’5” goaltender who’s GAA leads the league (not surprisingly) at 0.96, and a save percentage 0.961, was between the pipes opposite Charlotte’s John Muse, in his second home appearance of the season.

That’s when the dreaded 3-0 hockey lead came back to bite the home team. The Checkers got into penalty trouble (Keegan Lowe, Gabriel Dejardins and Dennis Robertson, in that order). The Admirals scored three power play goals in a row, and tied the game by the midway point of the second period.

The score stayed 3-3 for the next 20 minutes, when things got a little crazy. A fight in Muse’s crease between Milwaukee’s Michael Liambas and Rasmus Rissanen. It appears that Liambas took offense to a huge hit Rissanen had dealt an Admirals player, and after Kyle Hagel joined the fight, Muse decided to add a few of his own jabs.

Moments later, Hellberg crossed the red line and swapped blows with Muse, joining a chaotic frenzy that took a while to clean up.

In the end, Muse and Hellberg were both ejected from the game with matching secondary altercation/game misconducts and fighting majors. Hellberg was given the additional two minutes for crossing the red line.

Keegan Lowe received a game misconduct for his secondary altercation, and Michael Liambas received a game misconduct for two fighting majors in one game, or rule 20.4, which was added to the AHL rulebook this season.

So with only nine minutes to go in the game, the Checkers and Admirals were both forced to send a new goaltender into the game, and it quickly became a showdown of which off-the-bench goalie could make the best saves.

Marek Mazanec faced eight Checkers shots during his half-period of play, and stopped all but two of them. In the end, it was Drew MacIntyre who prevailed. He faced two shots in his 9:16 of ice time, and the one save he made was enough for him to come away with the win.


With only about 18 hours until the next matchup between the Checkers and Admirals, emotions may still  be running high tomorrow. Coach Jeff Daniels

“Well, we want to play the game on our toes and excited.  We don’t want to get into penalty trouble like we did today.”

Brock McGinn, who scored Checkers fourth goal, said the third period scrum gave the Checkers a new burst of energy.

“It definitely gets us going,” McGinn said, “You know, we wanted to go out there and keep our concentration the rest of the period, and I think we did.”

Trevor Carrick, who contributed three assists in the Checkers winning effort, expects the rematch tomorrow will be exciting.

“The emotions were running pretty high there. Tomorrow is going to be a big test for us. The game today is going to carry on tomorrow,” Carrick said, “It should be a pretty physical game. Pretty heated. So, those are the fun kind of games and I’m looking forward to it.


Random thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else:

  • In an ongoing effort to come up with new cheesy hashtags for in-game tweeting, I’m experimenting with #McGinnItToWinIt. It’s fun, but nothing will ever top #Terryiffic of #Shuggernaut
  • A special shout out to the great Nathan Beasley for coming to the rescue when I forgot a pen. This story couldn’t have been written without his hard work and hustle.
  • John Muse’s family was at the game tonight. Is he too old to get a mom lecture where his full name is used?
  • I miss Justin Pogge. It must be a goalie fight that makes me reminisce about the former Checkers netminder who “lost his mind” in Hershey, PA in 2010.
  • Every time I see the #CheckersComeHome video I get a little more excited about the move to Bojangles Coliseum next year.

Zac Dalpe, Jeremy Welsh traded to Vancouver for Kellan Tochkin & draft pick

Not long after midnight, the Hurricanes announced that they had traded Jeremy Welsh and Zac Dalpe to the Vancouver Canucks for RW Kellan Tochkin and a fourth round pick.

Bob McKenzie tweeted the following:

Dalpe’s ability at center can serve Vancouver well, and Welsh should be familiar with the area, as Utica is a mere hour away from Schenectady, New York, where he attended college at Union.

Zac Dalpe was traded by the Carolina Hurricanes along with Jeremy Welsh to the Vancouver Canucks for Kellan Tolchkin and a fourth-round draft pic. (Photo - Jenni Propst)
Zac Dalpe was traded by the Carolina Hurricanes along with Jeremy Welsh to the Vancouver Canucks for Kellan Tolchkin and a fourth-round draft pic. (Photo – Jenni Propst)

Dalpe’s younger brother Ben, a frequent Checkers fan and Charlotte visitor, is currently playing for the Pencticton Vees before starting college at Clarkson next fall.  Penticton is in the Okanagan valley, and a short drive from Vancouver, which should serve the brothers well.

Tochkin is a native of Abbotsford, British Columbia.  He played five years in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, Medicine Hat Tigers and Prince Albert Raiders. One and a half of those seasons was spent with Rasmus Rissannen in Everett, who he is expected to join in Charlotte as a member of the Charlotte Checkers.  Last year, Tochkin played for the Missouri Mavericks, and was to begin the season with the Utica Comets.

As for the departures from the Hurricanes organization… both personally and professionally, I will miss Zac Dalpe a great deal. He is a character guy on and off the ice. He gave great post-game interviews, and played at 110% each and every night.  He was a huge asset to the organization, and will be missed.

I’d anticipate a formal release from the Checkers in the morning.  Until then, Let’s Go Checkers.

Hurricanes Preseason Game 1: Blue Jackets defeat Carolina 5-4

Hear that squeaking? That’s my writing rust breaking free after a summer away from the rink. Thank goodness for preseason… maybe I’ll remember how to do this again after a game or two!

Last night in Raleigh, the Hurricanes participated in their first preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets had a couple of other games this week – on Sunday at home, and followed by a split squad game where half the team played at home, and the other half was in Minnesota, so the rust seemed to be a bit less apparent in the first period, though their lineup was not nearly as stacked as that of the Hurricanes, who’s lineup was nearly completely composed of Hurricanes regulars, and a few guys on the cusp of making the team this year (specifically, Brett Bellemore, Chris Terry, Nicolas Blanchard, Brett Sutter and Michal Jordan).

I could recap the game goal by goal, but really it was a preseason game, at times a bit hard to follow because of a lineup that consisted of about 50% Canes regulars, and 50% Canes hopefuls .  The bottom line is due, I’d say, to sloppy play and still developing chemistry (or a lack thereof), and the Hurricanes lost 5-4 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

A few relatively disjointed thoughts:

  • Michal Jordan netted his first and second NHL points with assists on goals by Alexander Semin and Jeremy Welsh.
  • Chris Terry, the Checkers alternate captain last season, also had an assist on the Welsh goal, and drew the Nikita Nikitin penalty which led to the Checkers first power play goal.  Terry spent time on both the power play and penalty kill.  As has been mentioned and written about by many others, including the great Paul Branecky, Terry is having an incredible camp, and his on-ice performance last night was quite notable.
  • Former Checker Drayson Bowman had five hits, which was second on the team to Tim Gleason’s seven.  Does anyone need a refresher on what Mr. Bowman looks like? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a phenomenal athlete, but he’s not exactly the type I’d expect to be on the giving end of huge hits, and with sizable men like Mike Komisarek and Kevin Westgarth on the ice for Carolina, I was a bit perplexed why they weren’t the ones dishing it out, and young Bowman was
  • Columbus’ goaltender Mike McKenna, who came into the game in the second in relief of Curtis McElhinney after he allowed three goals in five minutes, was perfect.  McKenna allowed zero goals on 12 shots.  He’s is a prolific tweeter (follow him, it’s worth it!) and is set to be the Springfield Falcons goalie this year.
  • At the end of two periods, shots on goal were in favor of the Hurricanes 26-15.  The third period had the Blue Jackets outshooting the Hurricanes 16-8. The third period was just sloppy all the way around, but again, it’s a preseason game, and the first one that, and I have confidence it will get better.  But still, yikes.
  • Six hours in the car and about 350 miles round trip makes for a long day, but it’s totally worth it! I need to get to more games in Raleigh. It’s great to see the NHL perspective i comparison with the AHL which I admittedly follow much more closely. I may have to check my calendar to see what other games I can attend this year!

Checkers training camp notes:

Earlier in the day, the Hurricanes announced that they had reduced their training camp roster to 35.  Sent back to the OHL was Brock McGinn, who spent time with the Checkers last year.  Assigned to Charlotte were Mike Murphy, Brody Sutter, Danny Biega, Victor Rask, Keegan Lowe, Austin Levi, Brendan Woods, Rasmus Rissanen, Beau Schmitz, Justin Shugg and new to the organization Mark Flood.  They will all be at Charlotte Checkers training camp which begins on Monday.

Highs & Lows – A season of ups and downs for the Charlotte Checkers

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.

The Charlotte Checkers: the real FIRST pro team in NC to support You Can Play

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on the Checkers season, and the highs and lows the team experienced over the course of eight months, and of all the wins, a game in Raleigh and the brief but awesome playoff run, the one thing that makes me most proud of the Charlotte Checkers is their allegiance with You Can Play.

On May 1, 2013, I woke up to a press release in my inbox at 6:55 a.m. that the Checkers had released an amazing video that featured fans, players and front office staff of the team supporting the movement, and encouraging Checkers fans to join You Can Play.

This morning, the News & Observer in Raleigh published a piece about the Hurricanes involvement in You Can Play, and the author claims that the Hurricanes are the first professional team in North Carolina to align themselves with the organization, and didn’t even mention the Checkers as being one of the AHL teams to produce a video (but he referred to the Rochester Americans and Toronto Marlies????)


The Hurricanes are the first professional team in North Carolina to support gay and lesbian inclusivity through You Can Play, a Denver-based nonprofit. The National Hockey League and NHL Players Association announced last month a joint partnership with You Can Play, with the motto “Hockey is for Everyone.”

But here’s the thing.  The Hurricanes were NOT first. The Checkers were.  The Hurricanes did release a 27 second video, but it was after the Checkers released their video before 7 a.m. on May 1, and the Hurricanes video does not come close to the quality that the Checkers staff put together.  Here’s a tweet from the Hurricanes Senior Director of Communications Mike Sundheim about the video.

So, I know it’s nitpicking, but it drives me crazy that the Hurricanes are getting positive press about being the “first” North Carolina pro team to support You Can Play, and they weren’t.  The Canes don’t even have a press release on their website, and the only mentions of the video are in twitter feeds after the Checkers sent out press releases on May 1.  The Checkers should be commended for being the first, and getting the positive press it affords, not the Hurricanes.

At the Checkers playoff game on May 3, I stood and applauded with thousands of other in the arena when the Checkers You Can Play montage was shown on the videoboard.  I didn’t care that it’s taboo to applaud in the “press box,” I felt this video deserved my support and so I cheered.  Loudly.

So to the Charlotte Checkers, I thank you.  I thank you for being the FIRST professional sports team in North Carolina to align yourselves with You Can Play.  I thank the athletes who took part in the video (Zac Dalpe, Rasmus Rissanen, Brett Sutter and Justin Krueger.)  I thank Tera Black and Michael Kahn for their support, I thank the fans (my friends!) who participated in the video, and the talented front office staff who created the video. North Carolina isn’t an easy state to live in when it comes equal rights for all people, gay, straight or otherwise, so it makes me incredibly proud that the Checkers took a step to do the right thing.

As always, Let’s Go Checkers!

It’s Staal over in Raleigh: Jared gets his first NHL recall

I was pretty excited to read the news that Riley Nash and Tim Wallace would once-again be members of the Charlotte Checkers for this weekend’s trip to Oklahoma City. (Even though Wallace’s assignment in Charlotte would last only about five hours!)

Jared Staal as a rookie in 2010 for the Charlotte Checkers.  (Photo - J. Propst)
Jared Staal as a rookie in 2010 for the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo – J. Propst)

I was also pleased that Nicolas Blanchard was getting the opportunity to stay in Raleigh.  Blanchard’s presence with the Hurricanes is a huge loss to the Checkers, but I can’t think of a player who has worked harder and given more heart, soul and grit to the team in each of the six full seasons as a part of the Hurricanes organization.

And when I heard about Wallace and Nash, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Hurricanes had enough healthy players to field a full roster for their final games, and since it’s now public knowledge that Alexander Semin has a concussion, it’s obvious the Hurricanes weren’t healthy enough for tonight’s game.

So of all of the potential players the Hurricanes could have recalled, they chose Jared, youngest son of the famed Staal clan.  And the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Jared does not have the same skill level his older brothers did at his age.  He’s had a much steeper learning curve adjusting to life in the American League during his time with the Checkers, but there has been a huge amount of improvement.  He played more games than ever this year in Charlotte, and the number of minutes played also increased.

This year, it’s almost as if Jared’s physicality has finally matured into his body.  He’s finishing checks and using his size to overtake opponents.  He’s played more minutes, and been more of a threat on the ice than in the previous two years I watched him play.  Jared might not be the offensive scoring machine his brothers are, and doesn’t have the smooth skating stride of them, but he’s come a long way.  He still looks surprised when he scores during practice, and as it was pointed out on Twitter, isn’t really an offensive force, but not every player needs that to be their role.  His seven points this year (4g, 3a) in 52 games are about average for his scoring in the AHL… last year he had eight (3g, 5a) in 44 games.  But honestly, despite what one might see on the score sheet, Jared Staal is a much improved player this year, and if he continues to get grittier, maybe the NHL could be in his future.  He’s got size, genetics, and all kinds of potential, he just needs to keep working hard to get there.

Jared Staal plays the puck against the Milwaukee Admirals in Charlotte in December, 2012. (Photo - J. Propst)
Jared Staal plays the puck against the Milwaukee Admirals in Charlotte in December, 2012. (Photo – J. Propst)

Jared might not ever win a Stanley Cup like Eric and Jordan, or wear a letter on his sweater in the NHL like his three elder siblings, but he has a potentially bright future if he can focus and continue to improve as he did this year.  I’m pretty confident Eric, Marc and Jordan will never win a Kelly Cup, but Jared has one with the Florida Everblades, and that is something to be proud of.

Did Jared Staal deserve an NHL recall over guys like Zac Dalpe, Zach Boyhuk, Chris Terry or a handful of others in Charlotte? Probably not.  But let’s be honest, the Hurricanes season is done, and as a fan of the Charlotte Checkers, I applaud the Hurricanes for doing what they can to make it fun for the fans in Raleigh and booster the lineup in Charlotte, a team with real playoff potential this off-season. And a third Staal in the lineup in Raleigh is certainly newsworthy.  Having one of the superstars and NHL caliber guys from the Checkers won’t change the fate of the Hurricanes, so why not build on the FUTURE of the Canes, and support the AHL squad for what seems like the first time all season.

Also? With the lineup in Charlotte these days, there’s nothing even close to a guarantee that Jared would have been one of the lucky 18 skaters to play against the Barons on tomorrow.  There was a time that a dozen guys were injured in Charlotte, but that number is dwindling, and there are more healthy scratches available each night, and Jared would have been one of five or six skaters fighting for a spot on the fourth line.  So the entire Hurricanes organization is better off with him in Raleigh, exciting the national media, and letting the Checkers excel as they have the potential to in Oklahoma City this weekend.

Good luck tonight in Raleigh, Jared.  I’m sure many of us will be cheering you on in your NHL debut!


P.S.  I will definitely e wearing my “Party like a Staal brother” t-shirt today in honor of the game!  #LetsGoStaals

Fighting Fires with Mike Commodore – where he’s been, and where he’s going

I spent some time on Thursday with Mike Commodore after his morning skate before the Charlotte Checkers game.  He talked about the AHL, what’s on his bucket list, where his career has been, and where it’s headed.  If you read this site regularly, you know that me interviewing this veteran, Stanley Cup winning defenseman was something on my own bucket list.

Mike Commodore, a defenseman for the Texas Stars, played his first-ever game in Charlotte against the Checkers on Thursday. (Photo - J. Propst)
Mike Commodore, a defenseman for the Texas Stars, played his first-ever game in Charlotte against the Checkers on Thursday. (Photo – J. Propst)

After leaving the Hamilton Bulldogs in January, Mike Commodore spent a month at home near Edmonton, skating with the University of Alberta’s hockey team.  But when the Golden Bears went off to the National Championship, he lost his opportunity to use their ice, and had decided he was going to pack up the hockey for the season.   It was Commodore’s first time at home in almost 16 years, but when the ice left, he too, decided to hit the road.

He flew to Tampa, where he’d ended last year’s NHL season, and a number of his belongings still were.  And Commodore started golfing, making his way across the gulf coast towards Texas when he was offered another PTO for another western conference AHL team.

Commodore is now playing for the Texas Stars, a team who leads the Western Conference and the South Division.  With the playoffs right around the corner, he knew he was signing with a good team that had a lot of post-season potential.

Commodore has played for 14 teams in his 13-year career.  The three seasons he spent in Raleigh with the Hurricanes was the longest he ever spent with an NHL club.  He enjoyed his time in Raleigh, at least after getting past the initial culture shock and learning his way around a new city filled with tall trees, and curvy roads that seem to lead to nowhere, which is quite different from the flat prairies of Alberta where he’d grown up and played professionally in Calgary.

“It’s unfortunate I got traded out of there. Obviously it was a business decision for the Hurricanes,” shared Commodore, of the time he spent in North Carolina, “Other than to play a couple of games and to run in Pete Friesen’s charity run there, I haven’t been back for any kind of period of time, which is too bad.  I should try and change that.”

When you’ve played for as many teams as Commodore has, you can understand how he would become a self-proclaimed gypsy.

“I never travel anywhere without a computer. And I always have my passport because I’m never sure what country I’m going to be going to,” Commodore recounted, “Clothes and stuff, I learned a long time ago with all the trades and stuff that I went through that all that extra stuff is just a pain in the ass.  Furniture and all that, get rid of it.  So I travel pretty light.”

During Commodore’s hockey career, he’s competed in two Stanley Cup finals, won one of them, and was a black ace in a third.  In college, he won the NCAA Frozen Four with the University of North Dakota.

Other than the obvious dream come true of winning the Stanley Cup, one of the things he is most proud of is winning a World Championship with Team Canada in 2007.

“You know, that was my only time that I’ve had a chance to play for Team Canada, and I think I played really well.  We had a good team that went 9-0.  We had a team where the people at home were all ‘This team is brutal, where’s Sidney Crosby, the D-corps are brutal’, and we went there [to Moscow] and dominated teams.,” shared Commodore, of his experience on the Gold Medal winning Canada team, “The toughest games were at the beginning of the tournament where we were getting used to each other, and then that was it.  I’m really proud of that.”

Commodore also spoke of his time in Columbus, and the positive experience it was, despite the turmoil in his last season there.

“I’m proud of the team that made the playoffs in Columbus. We didn’t win a playoff game, which was unfortunate, but that was probably individually, my best year as a pro,” Commodore continued,  “ It gets overlooked now, because whenever me and Columbus come up it’s always assumed it was a complete disaster, but that was one of my best years as a pro.  It would have been nice to win a game or two, and I thought I played very well.”

On and off the ice, he’s played in a number of NHL and AHL cites. As far as the AHL goes, he said the warm cities of Texas, Quebec City, Wilkes-Barre and Manchester were some of his favorite to play in. Cleveland is the city he says he saw the biggest turn around, from an awful place to play when he was with the Cincinnati Ducks, to an arena filled with passionate fans.

As for AHL cities he’d rather not play in again, Commodore was quite animated. “Springfield is awful, terrible, the rink sucks.  Worcester is terrible.  Portland, I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t have to go back there,” With a smile, Commodore went on, “God, there’s a few… that’s probably enough. I don’t want to badmouth the whole league.”

Off the ice, Commodore seems to be a fun, passionate individual.  He wants to travel and see other countries.

“I’ve been to Scotland, and I’d like to go overseas maybe to Ireland for golfing.  Scotland was great, and I’ve heard Ireland is like Scotland, but there’s more to do off the golf course,” he spoke of what his post-hockey life may include, “I enjoy traveling when it’s not for work and I’m not hauling around hockey gear.”

He’s also thought about post-hockey careers.  After spending a month in his mom’s basement, he knows it’s not how he wants to spend the rest of his life.

“Yeah, I had a really good time being Chazz Reinhold there,” recounted Commodore of the Wedding Crashers robe-wearing character played by Will Ferrell,  “That was enough. I’d like to keep those trips a lot shorter.  I’ve got to do something.  I’ve been fortunate that I’ve done well enough off the ice with hockey where I don’t think I need to, but what else am I going to do? I can’t just sit around.”

Become a fireman? Well, that’s one of the things Commodore is considering for years down the road when he’s done playing.

“I’m pretty good with numbers, so I was thinking something business wise, or I think something I’d be fairly decent at, would be a fireman.” Commodore continued, “You know, it’s a lot of teamwork and I’ve had a couple of offers to come join firemen.  It’s a team atmosphere, locker room atmosphere.”

He also thinks about having a place of his own that isn’t a basement in an Edmonton suburb.

“I’d like to get a place in Scottsdale, I think.  Scottsdale’s nice. You know, with me moving around a lot, I haven’t seen much of my parents since I was in high school, and they aren’t young anymore, so as the years go by I’d like to spend more time with them there, but I don’t want to go up to Edmonton to do it.  They put their time in up there in the cold, and they like the Phoenix area in the winter.”

For now, Commodore seems content playing on one of the top teams in the American League.

“It’s been a different year.  The last couple years have been tough. They’ve been tough for me.  To be honest I’m the exact same player I was five years ago, it’s just situations have changed. I’ve had back-to-back coaches that have basically done their best to punt me out of the league.”

So far, Texas seems to be a good fit, and with the playoffs right around the corner, the future is bright.  Playing for the Stars could lead to one more championship on his already loaded resume.

“If we can pull out a Calder Cup I will have won every trophy I ever played for.”

With aspirations of playing golf on the Emerald greens of Ireland to possibly fighting fires, whatever comes next for Mike Commodore is sure to be an adventure.

Checkers goaltending, more Canes call ups, and random thoughts

Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo - J. Propst)
Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo – J. Propst)

I spent the morning at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail watching the Checkers morning practice.  For the second day in a row, Mike Murphy skated with the team as a third goalie, and spent a great deal of time working with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso.  For a guy who hasn’t played a pro game in over four months, I was impressed with Murphy’s on-ice work.  I think he’d be a huge asset to the Checkers, especially during this playoff push, but at the same time, I hope he isn’t rushed before he is ready.  He still needs time, but as all Checkers fans who are familiar with Murphy’s experience and work ethic, I know he can do it.


Yesterday, in his Ten Thoughts, Jason Shaya mentioned that the Hurricanes are

Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse  both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo - J. Propst)
Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo – J. Propst)

reportedly looking for reinforcements for the Checkers, which is reassuring considering until this point, it seems they have left Derek Wilkinson and the Checkers to find their own reinforcements, most of whom are ECHLers with little or no AHL or NHL experience.  While many have already contributed in great ways (Matt Marquadt comes to mind, in particular) what Charlotte really needs is some NHL caliber talent, either in the form of an up-and-coming prospect, or an NHL veteran trying to get back into the majors.  The Checkers currently have 11 injuries, if you include Zac Dalpe and Justin Soryal, though the former is on the verge of returning.   They have 5 healthy defensemen, and 11-12 healthy forwards, depending on how you count them.

As I was watching the Checkers skate this morning, I got the official word that the Texas Stars had signed an NHL veteran to a PTO by the name of Mike Commodore.  With a Stanley Cup ring, NCAA Championship, and IIHF Gold Medal, he brings a lot of experience to an already brutal Stars team.  I’d be kidding if I said I didn’t wish the Hurricanes organization hadn’t jumped on that veteran first, but kudos for the Stars for getting a great veteran blueliner.  This is the kind of player I hope the Checkers can get, and I firmly believe it’s what they need right now.  They need grit and experience to fill out their roster.


Odds and ends:

  • Former Checkers goaltenders continue to shine in Raleigh.  Justin Peters recently had a shutout, and Dan Ellis made 40 saves in a loss last night against Florida, with a shortened Canes bench in front of him.  Justin Faulk left the game in the second period and didn’t return, Bobby Sanguinetti took a skate to the face and received 13 stitches, and Tim Gleason missed a portion of the game as well to receive 16 stitches after a high stick to the face by Panther Scottie Upshall.
  • This morning, the Hurricanes announced that Justin Faulk will be out for 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain.  Brett Bellemore was recalled from the Checkers, which will require recall TO the Checkers as well.  Currently, from what I can tell, the only defenseman under contract with the Hurricanes and not currently with the Canes or Checkers is Joe Sova, who played with the Reading Royals and San Francisco Bulls this season.  Keegan Lowe, Ryan Murphy and Austin Levi are all Canes prospects under contract, but are all but still playing in Major Junior.
  • Zac Dalpe took part in a full practice this morning with the Checkers.  They leave later today for a short road trip to Texas.
  • AJ Jenks, who suffered a wrist fracture in January, was still wearing a yellow no-contact jersey, but looks extremely close to returning, and was skating at full speed throughout the practice.