Checkers win! McGinn and Boychuk help Charlotte defeat San Jose Barracuda.

In a game where the Checkers were outshot by the visiting San Jose Barracuda 29-19, the home team was victorious. The highlights are plentiful. Zach Boychuk scored his first goal since March 22 of last season in Iowa. The 16 game drought is the longest in his career, and a true anomaly for the Checkers all-time leading goal scorer.


The last five minutes of the first period were action packed, with three goals scored by the Checkers in quick succession. Brock McGinn scored his first goal since returning to the Checkers roster from a stint in the NHL, and then a few minutes later, scored a second. Zach Boychuk scored the second goal of the game, and the eventual game-winner with 1:41 to go in the first period.


After the first period, the goal horn (which, by the way, is one of the best goal horns I’ve heard… it really is the perfect tone and timbre and is far superior to the noise we heard at TWCA!) was silent for the home team. With less than 14 seconds to go in the game, the Barracuda robbed Rasmus Tirronen of what could have been his first professional shutout. Tirronen, who the Hurricanes signed last spring to a one-year contract, has only six professional games to his credit, but continues to make great impressions with his confidence and skill. Tonight’s win was his first back-to-back start of the season, and his first (of hopefully many) back-to-back wins with the Checkers.


The game and post-game interviews left a lot of impressions on me.

First of all, Coach Morris seems to be exactly what this team needs. He’s a development coach in the truest sense of the word. He appears to be an excellent judge of skills and character, and has the ability to shape and groom good young players into excellent ones. I heard it in his analysis of the game and his athletes, and was impressed by his candid honesty about the players strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what he said about Zach Boychuk and whether the end of his scoring drought would lead to more goals:

“I sure hope so. He’s starting to throw his weight around and create space for himself. I’ve encouraged him to shoot more pucks and nobody’s going to ever condemn a guy for shooting the puck,” Coach Mark Morris continued, “He’s certainly a skilled guy but I think the more he gets involved and gets his juices flowing, the better he’s going to be and he’s going to play with more jump in his step.”

Zach Boychuk seemed (obviously) relieved to have the scoring jinx off his back, and has a realistic idea of what to expect tomorrow night when the Checkers face San Jose again:

“Staying engaged…. Sometimes it’s tough playing the same team in back-to-back nights. Sometimes you don’t come out as hard,” Boychuk continues, “[We’ve got to] come out hard. Hopefully we can keep this streak going.”


Boychuk on tonight’s game and continuing the momentum:

“We came out hard in the first period and kind of weathered the storm a little bit and put them on their heels. Once we were up three-nothing I feel like the ref was calling some penalties on us and we weren’t getting any of the breaks,” Boychuck says, “We’ve got to stay on the gas pedal a little more and we’ll try and focus on that tomorrow.”


You can stop reading now if you’re only interested in the game coverage… because from here on it’s purely editorial!



As I mentioned on Twitter before the game, tonight was the first time I got to see a game from start-to-finish at Bojangles Coliseum. A big promotion at work means I have even less evenings free, so it was a luxury to see a game on home ice. Charlotte is so lucky to have an amazing, historic rink like we do with so many great amenities. Sure, there’s no WiFi (though, it was just as bad at TWCA) and there aren’t any theatrical lighting effects (I’m a lighting designer by trade… I have to complain about the lack of special lights!) the things that actually matter are top notch. While the LED lights provide great coverage of the playing surface, and are a really nice, warm color temperature, it always seems dark right under the video board and I wish that could be fixed.



Some of my critiques are so minor I feel bad even mentioning them. Most are out of the control of the organization anyway, so there’s even less of a point talking about it…

  • The only thing I miss about TWCA is I had a place to sit, out of the way in the corner, but with enough space to set up my laptop and take notes. BoCo is a bit cramped, and that’s annoying, but I made do and got to see the game from a number of vantage points throughout the night.
  • I really hope the built-in ice system is fixed next off-season. The tank ice set up and the sub floor around the ice surface is annoying, mostly because I almost tripped walking up and down them tonight. Fingers are crossed whatever leak exists can be easily fixed.
  • I found some of the ribbon boards distracting, and lacking crucial information… like when both teams had a player in the box, there was no distinction between who was who. Such a minor, silly complaint, really!

The great stuff, because I’d like to end on a high note:

  • There’s an organ!!!!! (more organ music and less jock jams, please!).
  • There’s a goal horn that has serenaded championships and hockey games for the past 60 years. And it sounds amazing.
  • Sightlines! Awesome! There isn’t a bad seat in the house… and there were a LOT of bad seats uptown at TWCA.
  • The rink is less than two miles from my house, and my neighborhood sports bar where I watch so many NHL games is advertised on the boards. So meet me at Steamers, y’all. Their Wednesday night drink special is one of the best in the city!
  • Most of all, what I love about the “new” arena is there’s a hockey organization at home there that has embraced the history of the sport in Charlotte and all of the Checkers different incarnations, as evidenced by the amazing intro video and love of history. Charlotte is so lucky to have this team, and this organization.

It was a great first night for me… and I can’t wait to see many, many more wins at BoCo this season and beyond!



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.

Cindy’s Hope Chest – one of the great groups that will be at the Charlotte Checker’s Pink in the Rink on 2/7

I love grass roots organizations that help people on an intimate level that a larger organization can’t.  My brother is a volunteer coordinator in Madagascar, and I’ve seen the work that organizations like Go Jen Go, Cookies for Cancer and the Charlotte Checkers Charitable Foundation do for the Charlotte Community.  Cindy’s Hope Chest is another great organization, and one Chasing Checkers friend @Laurie_AR is involved with.  Read what she has to say about this great group does, and the fundraiser they will have at this week’s Pink in the Rink!

In 2008 Cindy Summers was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  Her husband was away on active duty in the military and she was home raising her three young girls so she knows first hand how breast cancer can turn your life upside down.  Cindy remembers what the treatments make your body feel like, she knows the fears and uncertainties that you feel, and she remembers all of the support she had during her fight.   After completing chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation, Cindy knew she wanted to help others who were going through it too and Cindy’s Hope Chest was born.

Cindy’s Hope Chest is different than other organizations because it provides an intimate, more individualized service.  CHC is not funded by any major corporations and relies solely on word of mouth and events like Pink in the Rink with the Checkers  to bring in volunteers and donations.   Living in the same town that CHC is in, I was drawn in the moment I met Cindy.  Her faith, hope and goodness ooze out of her and make you want to be a part of something so special.  Luckily she recognized my love of hockey oozing out of me and gave me the blessing of working with her so closely on such an amazing event.  In spending time with Cindy, I have had the pleasure of getting to know her even better. I sit on the edge of my seat listening to her talk about “her girls” that she helps through CHC and how much she loves each and every one of them. She tells me of their success stories and about those who have passed, and how she still keeps up with all of her girls and their families.

In addition to helping one of her girls financially, Cindy offers services based on where they are in their lives.  She provides child care and rides for women going to treatment.  If they need their grass cut, she sends someone to cut their grass.  If their child needs a ride to practice afterschool, she gets them a ride.  If a woman needs some alone time with her husband, she sends them away.  She finds out what they need and gets it to them.  In addition to these services, Cindy offers counselling, emotional support and gives away wigs, bras and prosthesis free of charge to women who need them.  It’s hard to put a description on what Cindy’s Hope Chest provides because there is no limit to what she would do for one of her girls.

To find out more about Cindy’s Hope Chest for help or to see how to get involved, people can visit or call Cindy at (704) 529-2935. If you are coming to Pink in the Rink on February 7th, please be sure to stop by our table to meet Cindy and to bid on our great raffle prizes which include:
 -Signed pucks from Brody Sutter, Justin Shugg, Matt Marquardt, Mike Murphy, Nic Blanchard, Chris Terry, and John Muse/Michal Jordan.
-Signed puck from Carolina Hurricane Tuomo Ruutu
-Team signed Checkers Mini Stick
-Tickets to a Checkers Game
-Checkers uncut team cards, signed (STH exclusive)
-Signed promotional Bud Ice jersey from Bruins Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk

AND Bobby Sanguinetti’s signed stick- TICKETS ARE $5EACH/5 FOR $25
For information on buying tickets to Pink in the Rink orraffle items, you can contact @Laurie_AR

Charlotte Checkers – seven times the thanks (in honor of a 7-game losing streak)

OK, so the Checkers have lost seven games in a row. It sucks a lot. And sometimes it’s really hard to cheer for a losing team. But this team is more than a win loss percentage, and statistics on the score sheet. They are a huge part of my city, and have invested themselves in the community. For this, I’m so grateful, and proud to support this team, win or lose.

So to counter the on-ice ick (that’s a technical term) I’m going to list seven things to be thankful about regarding the Charlotte Checkers.

In no particular order:
1.  The amazing Charlotte Checkers Charitable Foundation, and the community outreach that the team engages in.  The Checkers gave nearly half a MILLION dollars last year in money and in-kind donations to local Charlotte charities and individuals.  According to this press release, the team has given over $2.7 MILLION dollars to the Charlotte Community since Michael Kahn purchased the team in 2006.  If that’s not something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is!

2.  Charlotte has become a site for veteran players to get a second chance, and that’s incredible. Not only is it great for the players, but we get to see NHL superstars on the ice. It’s pretty fantastic. We are privileged to have had the names of Dan Ellis, Manny Malhotra and Rick DiPietro grace the Checkers rosters over the past two seasons.


3.  Not only do the Checkers give money to the community, they give themselves.  This summer, the front office staff volunteered over 1000 hours to LOCAL Charlotte organizations. That’s pretty great. I appreciate that the Checkers focus their charitable impact on the local community.


4.  The Checkers were the first professional team in North Carolina to take the “You Can Play” pledge. And I am SO PROUD of them for that. Way to go Checkers for standing up for what is right! (I wish the team would do an updated video for this season! We saw it only once or twice during the playoffs last season. Heck, show the old video. Just because guys like Justin Krueger are no longer on the team doesn’t mean it isn’t still relevant!)


5.  While the current team is struggling a bit in the win column, so many fantastic players have been developed through the Checkers and Hurricanes AHL organization.  Drayson Bowman, Justin Peters, Riley Nash, Chris Terry, Brett Bellemore all spent their AHL years developing in Charlotte (and Albany, before), and are now integral players on the Carolina Hurricanes roster.  Others have gone on to the KHL and other elite European leagues. Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh are both playing for the Vancouver Canucks, and former Checker Mike McKenzie is an assistant coach for the Kitchener Rangers, one of the most successful teams in the OHL.  I’d say we have a pretty great thing going in Charlotte!


6.  How fan-first the entire organization is. Do you need some examples of that?  How about the following (OK, so I had more than seven thankful things, so I’m going to combine a few so I can stick to 7!):

  • Seamless glass.  I bet we can count on one hand how many AHL teams have invested in NHL caliber seamless glass. And it is AMAZING. Every time I’m in the arena I grin just looking at it. It really is that incredible.
  • I know how much mascots mean to families and kids, so I think it’s pretty cool that Chubby has a nephew now. Two mascots equals twice the fun for the kids in the stands!
  • How approachable and awesome the front office staff is! The team has an amazing ticket sales staff, public relations and a fun, approachable COO are all signs of a fan-first, top notch organization. The team is full of people I consider my friends, and can’t think of another organization I feel this way about.

7.  The team’s commitment to Charlotte hockey history. Sure, the team colors and logos have changed and evolved over the years, but they are still the Checkers, a team that has been in our city since 1960 (though, I’d consider the Clippers teams from 1956-1960 to be part of the Checkers history, too!).   Over the summer, when the team adopted new, updated jerseys to reflect that of the new Hurricanes sweaters, the Checkers kept important elements of their own identity. They kept design elements that were important to the Checkers, like the black stripe and silver accents in the logo. I appreciate this. I also love the twitter and facebook posts with photos from the rich history of hockey in Charlotte.

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!

The Charlotte Hornets and the Charlotte Checkers – a jersey design proposal

Though my love of professional sports began with the NBA in the late 1990’s, I would not consider myself a basketball fan anymore.  However, that may change if and when there’s a return of the Charlotte Hornets. I’ve definitely caught a bit of the Hornets fever, an it’s spilling over into my affection for the Charlotte Checkers.

I remember many, many visits to “The Hive” throughout middle and high school, and attended an NBA all star game at the Coliseum on Tyvola.  Though oftentimes I was cheering for the away team (Go Suns!) the memories I have of the Hornets are fond ones, and I can’t wait to have that team back in my city.

Sure, it’s just a PR and rebranding move, but the early days of the Hornets were amazing. Muggsy Bogues and Kurt Rambis (and his disgustingly hairy chest and mullet!) were central figures in my childhood love of sports.  I really believe that bringing the Hornets back will revitalize the Charlotte basketball fanbase, and hopefully erase the bad feelings that Bob Johnson created when he named a team after himself.

One of the most distinctive elements of the Hornets brand was their uniforms.  North Carolina born fashion designer Alexander Julian is responsible for designing the iconic teal and white jerseys that featured classic pinstripes, and complicated patterning that other jerseys of the 1980’s didn’t have.  To this day, I think the teal jerseys with green, blue, purple and white pinstripes are one of the classiest looks of all time.

Initially, the jerseys had single pinstripes, but 10 years after the Hornets came to town, a second series of pinstripes was added to recognize the team’s second decade in Charlotte.  There weren’t here long enough (the first time) to enter a third decade.

I’m not really a photoshop pro, and have never been one to design “fantasy” jerseys, but with the news of the Hornets, I decided I had to throw together my own version of what I think would be an AWESOME third jersey.  This past season’s “Old Time Hockey” jerseys were my favorite the Checkers have ever done.  Sure, the Pink in the Rink and NASCAR jerseys are always fun, but those Old Time Hockey sweaters were AMAZING, and the only thing that could equal (or top!) them would be a saute to one of the most beloved pro teams in Charlotte history, the Hornets.

Fantasy jersey proposal for a Charlotte Hornets themed Charlotte Checkers jersey. Credit to
What would you rather see? The home white, or the iconic teal and purple pinstripe road uniform? (“Design” credit – J. Propst)

So, Checkers fans, what do you think? Am I onto something?  Who would love to see the Checkers skate out in sweaters that resemble the 1990 Charlotte Hornets?  I know I would!

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!

The Checkers star in Charlotte, defeat Texas 4-3

Tonight’s game saw two Checkers take the ice with Charlotte for the first time.  Brendon Nash, older brother of Riley, was paired for most of the game with fellow defenseman Justin Krueger. He’s on loan from San Antonio for the remainder of the season.

Brock McGinn also played his first game as a Checker after practicing with the team for the past week following the conclusion of his OHL season with the Guelph Storm.  McGinn is a speedy forward who isn’t afraid to use his body and had no trouble finding himself down in front of the net a number of times.

“I thought he was great.  He didn’t play scared and he was out there. He can skate well and was out there on the forecheck and he likes to bang bodies,” commented Coach Jeff Daniels, “He was tenacious and I think he’s only 19 years old, and that’s a very big and very good team to jump in on his first game and he played very well.”

In recent weeks, the first period of play has been slow to get started, with very little offensive effort, but tonight  the first period proved to be a big one.  A big check by Captain Brett Sutter led to a turnover by Mike Commodore.  Matt Beca capitalized on it, and made the score 1-0.

Despite being outshot 20-7 in the second period, and two goals within the first two minutes, the Checkers were able to keep it together.  Stellar play by goaltender Rob Madore played a huge part in this. He made countless saves during a Stars play and kept the Checkers in the game through a period that was quite sluggish at times, and had a slightly offensive Checkers offense.

“To his credit, I thought he really bounced back,” said Daniels on the play of Rob Madore who faced 47 shots, “I mean,  we’re up 1-0, then down 2-1, and it could have been 3-1 or 4-1 without Rob making some big saves in the second period.”

A big third period saw Jeremy Welsh score to make the score 3-2, only to have Texas immediately tie it up.  With less than two minutes left in the game, Zach Boychuk, with a feed from Chris Terry and Bobby Raymond, ended up scoring the game winner on the power play.

Bobby Raymond had two points on the night (1g,1a) and also a number of key defensive plays that kept the Checkers in the game.

Tomorrow’s rematch against the Texas Stars is the final home game for the Checkers this season before the team takes the road for their final four games in Chicago, Peoria and Milwaukee.


Odds & Ends

  • If the playoffs started today, Charlotte would face the Houston Aeros.  Following the news that the Aeros are relocating to Iowa next season, it may be the last time Charlotte faces a team from Houston for awhile.
  • In Nicolas Blanchard’s first game with the Carolina Hurricanes, he had four hits and his first fighting major at the NHL level.
  • Be watching the Chasing Checkers Twitter feed and website tomorrow for a pretty special Q&A with a former Stanley Cup winner with the Carolina Hurricanes.

NCDT’s Nutcracker – The Bad Boy of Ballet Talks Checkers Hockey

Chasing Checkers – So Mr. Nutcrakcer.  You mind if I call you that? You’re kind of a celebrity in Charlotte.  You’re one of the many stars of North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Holiday production, right?

The Nutcracker – Actually, my friends call me Chuck.  And the ballet is named after me, so I’d say I’m one of the stars!

NCDT’s Nutcracker enjoys an awesome Charlotte Checkers game (Photo – J.Propst)

CC – Hmm… I think I’ll stick with Nutcracker.  I hear you are a hockey fan.  Any team in particular?

The NC – Well, obviously as a Charlottean, I love the Checkers.  They are fierce! They skate fast, and occasionally do spinoramas much like the dancers in my show who can do pirouettes. 

CC – So do you have a favorite player on the team?

The NC – Nicolas Blanchard, obviously.  First of all, he speaks French, which is the language of ballet.  But mostly, I love that he drops the gloves and fights.  I love a good fight!

Go Checkers!
NCDT’s Nutcracker battles the Rat King (Photo – Peter Zay)

CC – You know, I’m a bit surprised with one so ingrained in the world of ballet condones violence and fighting…

The NC – OH, my shining moment in the ballet named after me is a fierce battle between myself and the Rat King.  I hate that stinking rat king and his minions of mice.  My toy soldiers overcome though.  I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but I win the battle.  Every night!

CC – So, let me guess, when you come to a Checkers game, your favorite snack from the food stand is a bag of peanuts?

The NC – Actually, no.  I’m allergic.  But don’t let that get out… its hard to be a Nutcracker allergic to nuts! I carry an epi pen and try not to ingest them, and do alright.

CC – Wow.  I learned something new.  So, if you don’t eat peanuts at the game, what is your favorite snack?

The NC – Cotton Candy, obviously.  My homeland, you know, is the Land of Sweets.  It’s a lot like Canada, cold and snowy with delicious candy and ballet segments named after some of my favorites… Candy Canes, Marzipan, Tiramisu (which is not a flavor of soup, I get asked that a lot), and of course those tasty little Ginger candies.  I have been trying to get a ballet choreographed after my favorite Canadian candy, Coffee Crisp, but so far my request hasn’t been honored.

CC – So what element of a Checkers game would improve North Carolina Dance Theater’s production of the Nutcracker?

The NC – I really think a cameo by some of the Checkers during my battle with the Rat King would be outstanding.  Maybe some cross checking, a bit of fancy stickhandling.  It would be exciting!

CC – You work with professional dancers? What do you think of the Charlotte Checkmates?

The NC – I love them! They are nice, sparkly and enthusiastic.  I wish there were more pom poms in ballet.  The only thing I wish was that they’d wear tutus when they dance at the games.  It would be awesome!

CC – So, are there Zambonis in ballet?

The NC – Unfortunately, no.  There are however a talented crew of IATSE Stagehands who mop the stage and clean up all of the snow that falls from the magical fly loft during the first act. 

CC – It sounds like I should come and see your show though.  With Rat King battles, falling snow and girls in tutus.

The NC – I think it’s a pretty great event.  It’s not hockey, and you probably won’t see anyone get punched in the face and blood doesn’t bounce off the dance floor like it does ice, but it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours.  Check out the NCDT website for performance dates and tickets!