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!



Quick Hits, and Wolves at Checkers gameday preview

Quick HIts:

  • This is a great article about Charlotte Checkers goaltender Dan Ellis, and his return to the AHL this season.  Personally, I’ve been incredibly impressed with Ellis’ play, and a player like him can take this team far.
  • On the subject of goaltenders, former Checkers goalie and fan favorite Mike Murphy was released by Spartak Moscow on Thursday.  The KHL is a very different league than any of those in North America. The teams that win are the ones with an unlimited payroll, and Spartak has about the lowest in the league. Murphy would face as many as 40-50 shots in any given game, an impossible feat for nearly anyone.  I heard from him on Friday, and he told me he tried hard and learned a lot, and closed our conversation with, “It is what it is.”

Chicago Wolves (6-2-1-0) at Charlotte Checkers (6-2-0-1)

  • This afternoon marks Charlotte’s first home game after a nine-game roadtrip that left the team 6-2-0-1.  The Checkers last game was on Wednesday, a 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals.
  • The Checkers and Wolves are pretty evenly matched with nearly identical records.  Each team has 13 points and sits atop their respective divisions.
  • Chicago last played on Friday night in Rockford, a 6-3 victory.  They are currently 6-2-1-0.
  • Charlotte tops the league on the power play, while the Wolves are near the bottom.
  • On the penalty kill, the Checkers are in a very respectable sixth place.  The Wolves are at the bottom of the pack (get it? Wolves….. Pack.  I know, it wasn’t that funny.  I won’t try so hard next time!)
  • Drayson Bowman is in the midst of a seven-game goal scoring streak, a stat that leads the league. Here’s hoping that can extend to nine!
  • Former Hurricane and Checker Derek Joslin is playing for the Wolves this year.  In eight games, he has two assists.
  • The Checkers attendance has been so bad this season, they aren’t even listed on the AHL’s attendance rankings. Oh, wait… they haven’t had a home game, so being unlisted is ok.  If there are 10K fans at the game this afternoon though, they’ll be number one tomorrow!
  • Opening night (afternoon) at the Checkers is always a time for me to stroll past the merchandise stand and see if there’s anything new and awesome. Mostly though, I walk past with my fingers crossed that there aren’t pink and/or sparkly jerseys for sale.  I hate pink jerseys.  I don’t understand why they are an acceptable item to show team pride.  Stick to the team colors, please!!!!! (Edited to say: I am a HUGE fan of Pink in the Rink jerseys, but those are for charity, and therefore awesome. But pink girl jerseys are not okay EVER, and if you wear one, I will mock you!)
  • Mrs. Mike Fisher Carrie Underwood was in concert last night at TWCA. The ice was uncovered at around 2 a.m.  I would expect the concert festivities may have an effect on today’s ice.
  • Speaking of concerts, who do I need to suggest to the Checkers staff that they should make Justin Bieber a personalized Charlotte Checker’s jersey when he plays the arena on January 22? He’s Canadian, loves hockey, and his favorite number is 6.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Cause don’t tell me it wouldn’t be AWESOME to see him wearing it sometime… this of all the free media coverage!

Gametime:  3:00 p.m. EST


Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,@MikeLappan@Jason_Shaya@ChasingCheckers

Chicago Twitter: @Chicago_Wolves@TheShaves

Chasing Checkers game-day twitter list:

The one about hockey cheerleaders

Mom of Chasing Checkers was a Concord High Cheerleader in the 1960's.


In many ways, they are as American as apple pie.  They’ve been around for decades, and always been a part of sports.  CMT produced a reality show a few years ago about some of the most iconic cheerleaders in professional sports, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.  There were FIVE (mostly terrible) movies made about high school cheerleaders called Bring it On.  They even turned those movies (most of which went straight to DVD) into a Broadway musical that is coming to Charlotte this year.  You can buy tickets for it at the Blumenthal Center’s website.

But what I will never understand, is where cheerleaders with their cute pleated skirts and team colored tops and color-coordinated pom poms evolved into dance teams, who’s routines are rarely family-friendly, and include more sexualized moves than a Britney Spears concert.

It’s no secret.  I’ve said it countless times.  I’m not a fan of what the Checkmates bring to center ice between periods.  More often than not, I make a point of leaving my seats during this time so I won’t have to be subjected to the dancing.  I brought my friend Chris to a game last season, and his comment to me after the dance break during the first intermission was “Put a few poles at center ice, and those girls would look more at home as if they were at the Uptown Cabaret.”  Yikes, but true.

I appreciate many of the things the Checkmates do.  I like that they are a resource for the Checkers organization to use for outreach opportunities, hospital visits, and community events.  They also assist in cleaning the ice during TV time outs, and of course, there’s the bending and flipping of hair during the “Chuck a Puck” at the second intermission that the drunk college boys in my section enjoy.  It’s funny though…. I had a conversation with a couple of last year’s players about the Checkmates, and the consensus was their ice cleaning is actually more dangerous than helpful.  Some of the ladies, who can hardly stand up on skates, don’t have the upper body strength to lift a full shovel of snow, and instead end up leaving giant piles of it along the boards that is dangerous to the players. (In their defense, it’s probably hard to deal with a shovel and manicured fingernails, plus a perfectly styled head of hair that tends to get in you eyes when you lean down!)

As far as Checkmate costumes, I think the 2010-11 season saw the Checkmates SLIGHTLY less trashy than in years past (who can forget the go-go boots and skimpy shorts paired with a top that barely contained their ample chests during the ECHL days, or the Christmas bows across their boobs?) but do we REALLY need to see that much bare skin on anyone at a hockey game, where in-arena temperatures are in the 60’s?  At some promotional events, they wore t shirts, and I was relieved I wasn’t forced to stare at miles of cleavage.  I just REALLY wish the Checkers would adopt the uniforms of the Storm Squad.  I’m glad that the Checkmates are supporting the local economy with their frequent tanning sessions, and visits to get their highlights done at local salons, but do I have to see that much skin?  It’s not family friendly, and it is not a positive image to show young girls.

I don’t hate all hockey cheerleaders.  There are a lot of teams that have them that don’t offend me at all.  The Hurricane’s Storm Squad is an example.  The ladies wear much more respectable costumes (no camel toes, bare midriffs or boobs practically popping out of their tops) and their purpose at Hurricanes games is to cheer for the team, and get the crowd motivated.  They assist with promotional activities, giving away prizes, working with sponsors, etc., but it’s all done very tastefully.  They never dance to club music.  They don’t do moves that would keep me from bringing my five-year old niece to a game.

On the minor league level, the Milwaukee Admirals have a great promotional team called the Skeleton Krew.  They aren’t cheerleaders and never carry pom-poms, but they do lead the crowd during games, assist in cleaning the ice during TV timeouts, and do promotional appearances around the Milwaukee area.  My favorite thing about them is they wear hockey jerseys and team colors instead of skanky costumes, and this season will even include men.  This is a group I’d be proud to call my own as a fan of the team.

It’s funny… politically, socially, theologically… I’m about as liberal as they come.  But when it comes to shoving sex and scantily clad images of women in my face, I get much more conservative, which is why I can’t stand the Checkmates dance routines at games.  Through my job, I see about 20 dance performances a year.

Mom, in the pages of her high school yearbook. She was the co-captain of the cheerleading team. Go Spiders!

While I’ve never taken a dance class, I prefer the technical beauty of ballet (contemporary, classical, modern) over any of the trashy competition-style routines some “schools” in Charlotte do.  (Special shout out to North Carolina Dance Theatre, the BEST thing in town as far as dance goes.  Talk about incredible athletes!  Come check out a show!)

A dislike of hockey cheerleaders must run in the family, because my mom loves going to Checkers games, she absolutely despised the Checkmates at her first AHL game, and I spent a great deal of time in the blog chronicling her opinions.  Many of my friends, male and female alike, young and old, feel the same way.

What happened to wholesome cheerleaders of the past, and why can’t we get them back, instead of dance moves that leave me feeling a bit nauseous.

The one about my mom

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to sports fans and the culture of sports.  I even had a concentration on that area when I was in graduate school, writing and reading papers about things like the rituals of sports, fandom and the like.  So one of my favorite things to do is observe fans and how they come to be the way they are, and respond to on and off ice/field/court actions.


Last night, I took my mom to her first AHL hockey game.  My dad was in town for business, and mom needed something to pass the time while she was in Charlotte, so I invited her to a hockey game.  Now, just a little background on my mom.  She’s a very young thinking and acting early sixty-something, and enjoys sporting events, but I’d hardly really call her a fan of any of them.  She enjoys the social element involved, and drinking wine (No beer for her!  We’ll leave that for the real hockey fans!) and noticing the bizarre things I don’t pay attention to after seeing so many events over the years.


I was anxious to see what she thought about the Checkers.   I’d taken her to a Hurricanes game a few years back which she enjoyed, but we were sitting up in the rafters of the RBC center.  By comparison, on a weeknight in Charlotte, we were only a few rows from the ice, which put us within 25 feet of the fights that broke out, and mere inches from a puck that was deflected over the glass.  She had a blast at the game, but had some interesting observations.


Mom was not a fan of the fights, but was interested to understand why they occurred, and realized pretty quickly that many fights are “staged” more to rile up the bench than anything else.


She was a bit offended by the Checkmates, and had no clue why they needed to show so much skin, or why they were so unnaturally tan.  I snickered quite a bit when she complained over and over about the cheerleaders, because hers were the same things I complain about to myself each and every game.  I come from an old school hockey opinion that cheerleaders do NOT belong at hockey games, and certainly not on the ice dancing or gyrating between periods.  But that vent is for another entry altogether!  As one of the Checkmates walked near us to pick up the chuck-a-pucks during the second intermission, Mom’s question to me was, “Oh my, those aren’t real, are they?” At first I thought she was referring to the soft rubber pucks, but no, she was referring to the boob job on the Checkmate in front of us.


My mom had a great time at the game.  Aside from the Checkmates, she loved every bit of the event.  The action on the ice, learning more about the rules, and seeing the players so up close and personal with the seats we had.  She was very interested in where the players were from, and what “Nice boys” they seemed to be.  She thought Muphy was a hulking goalie, until I explained how many pads he was wearing, and said really he has the same height and build of my dad, and she was glad he had so much protective equipment when pucks started flying, and especially when his mask was damaged during the third period.


Mom was also curious where the guys were from, and when I told her Canada and in general much colder places than Charlotte, that led her to decide that the Charlotte Checkers players would love the beach, and she wanted to invite the team to our beach house that has been in the family for over 60 years.  I told her they would probably make a REALLY big mess, but she even volunteered to clean up after them if they tipped her well.


I’m not so sure we should give the guys an invitation anytime soon though, even if I agree that they would certainly love the warm weather of North Myrtle Beach.  We’ll see though… maybe if they need a venue for a Calder Cup celebration this summer.