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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Checkers finish a roller coaster weekend with a 4-3 shootout victory.There was #NorfolkingWay the Admirals could win.

A very brief recap… I deleted my post-game audio, so no quotes.  Whoops!

The best description of this weekend’s Checkers performances might be one that compares them to a roller coaster.  A 7-1 loss on Friday night was a devastating fall, then the comeback win on Saturday afternoon the high peak after the depths of the previous evening, and today was like the spiraling corkscrew at the end of the ride that ended in a 4-3 shootout victory against the Norfolk Admirals.

The Checkers outshot the Admirals 53-39, including 23 shots during the third period alone.  They faced Admirals goaltender Brad Thiessen, a familiar face for the Checkers, though not since the 2011 playoffs when Charlotte played (and beat) the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round, facing Thiessen in all six games.

Greg Nemisz scored the game-tying goal late in the third period, his first goal as a Checker, and extended his Checkers point streak to four games (1g, 4a), at least one in each of his appearances since being traded to the organization from the Florida organization.

The Checkers were strong in the shootout, which was only the second one for the team all season.  Their last try was in October at Rockford, and didn’t result in a win.  Three shootout goals from the home team by Matt Pistilli, Aaron Palushaj and Chris Terry cemented the win, with Emerson Etem the only Admiral able to get past Theissen.


Odds and Ends:

  • Admirals goaltender Brad Theissen hadn’t played since December 6.  He had been sidelined for the past six weeks with an injury. The Checkers certainly put him through the ringer tonight with 53 SOG!
  • Admirals forward (and California native, like me!) Emerson Etem was held scoreless tonight.  He was the Ads leading scorer against the Checkers with five points in three previous games (2g, 3a).
  • Tonight was the Admirals third game of the weekend that required extra time or a shootout to finish.  Friday night, they lost in a shootout, and Saturday night, won in overtime.
  • This was only the Checkers fourth overtime (or longer) game all season.  They won two of those, and lost the third in the shootout on October 26.
  • Matt Pistilli played in his 10th game with the Checkers this season since signing a PTO in late December.  He continues to make a case to stay with the team, even after injured players return to the ice.  He has seven points (4g, 3a) in his last six games, including an assist tonight.
  • If y’all aren’t following Seth Lakso on twitter and at the Charlotte Observer,  you’re missing out.  Finally, the paper has hired a top-notch beat writer to cover the Checkers, and he’s got a great eye for the team.

Checkers rally for a 5-4 win over the Admirals. There was #NorfolkingWay the away team could win.

The first period of tonight’s game was undoubtedly some of the best 20 minutes of hockey I’ve seen from this team. Coach Jeff Daniels comments about effort and playing a strong game seemed to ring true, as by the halfway point in the game, the team was up 3-0 over the Norfolk Admirals.

Matt Marquardt had a goal and an assist for the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo - J. Propst)
Matt Marquardt had a goal and an assist for the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo – J. Propst)

The second period has been a rough one for the Checkers lately, and tonight’s was no different. It seemed especially brutal as the clock wound down. The team came out strong, rallying around two goals they put up early in the period, but then things seemed to untraveled, as if the team eased off the gas in the way a 3-0 lead often does. The Admirals scored two goals 29 seconds apart, then three minutes later, netted a third, tying the game at three each by the end of the second.

A fourth unanswered goal was scored by Devante Smith-Pelly in the third period, but the Checkers rallied. A power play goal from Zach Boychuk followed by an even strength goal by Matt Marquardt less than a minute later made me #throwbackthursday to the second period, when the Admirals scored a pair of goals in less than a minute.

After the game, Coach Daniels said “Win a period, win a game. And we did that in the third.”

Momentum always plays a huge role in the success of a hockey team, and it’s a big part of the Checkers success this month. The four-game winning streak is the first home winning streak of it’s kind in a couple of years.

IMG_1241smZach Boychuk believes the momentum will continue to carry the team forward. “It’s huge for us, and we’ve got to keep going. That little streak in November where we lost seven in a row, I said then we could easily win seven in a row, and we’ve got to keep it up.”


Matt Marquardt, who had a goal and an assist in the win, had a an insightful take on the current state of the Checkers. “The harder you work, the luckier you get. We’re staying the course and believing in each other. That’s what’s been going on here lately.”




Quick hits:

  • I wish there was a way to easily calculate how many of Boychuk’s goals have come directly from Chris Terry.  I’d guess it’s about a million (but I didn’t take statistics in graduate school, so I might be off by a few).
  • Zach Boychuk is sad when he doesn’t get to talk to the media after the game. I guess I need to think of better questions for him to keep it interesting every time he scores (which is pretty much every game!)
  • It’s holiday show season for me, and tonight was my last game until the New Year.  Don’t worry though, I’ll be at the game on January 2, celebrating my recent grad school completion (needless to say, don’t expect a post game story, because I plan on partaking in the dollar drafts, even if it isn’t my preferred craft beer!
  • I don’t care how many times I’ve used it #NorfolkingWay never gets old for me.

Charlotte Checkers defeat Norfolk at home, extend winning streak to season-long three games

Zach Boychuk scored in the first period to put the Charlotte Checkers up 2-0. (Photo - J. Propst)
Zach Boychuk scored in the first period to put the Charlotte Checkers up 2-0. (Photo – J. Propst)

A win is a win, and that is what the Charlotte Checkers can take away from their game tonight. A goal by Aaron Palushaj in the final moments of overtime led his team to a 4-3 victory over the Norfolk Admirals.

Goals by Beau Schmitz and Zach Boychuk had the Checkers up by 2-0 after the first period, but the Admirals came back with a vengeance in the second, scoring two goals less than a minute a part halfway through the period.

Though the team was able to improve their number in the win column, coach and players recognized that a better effort will need to be made to continue the current streak.

Coach Jeff Daniels was pleased with the result, but knows there is still work to be done, “We’ve got to keep working and be better than we were tonight. A win is a win, and obviously we need them, but we need to play smarter.”

Charlotte’s special teams had a very good night.  The power play scored on their first opportunity, the PK had two successful penalty kills, and the four-on-four of overtime was successful.

Emerson Etem's game tying goal for the Norfolk Admiralsled to his team facing the Charlotte Checkers in overtime. (Photo - J. Propst)
Emerson Etem’s game tying goal for the Norfolk Admiralsled to his team facing the Charlotte Checkers in overtime. (Photo – J. Propst)

Aaron Palushaj, the night’s first star, spoke of the hard work needed this week to continue gaining momentum, especially when they face the same Admirals team on Thursday. “We’ve got to go out and have a hard week of practice. We have to go out with a little bit of a better effort and play for a full 60 minutes.”

Brett Sutter, who spoke to the media after the game sporting a few fresh stitches in his upper lip thanks to the butt end of an Admirals stick in the final seconds of the first, said confidence had a lot to play in the team’s recent performance. “We weren’t our best tonight, but it felt good to pull one out.”  He continued about the team’s recent winning ways helping the atmosphere on the team. “It’s night and day. Before we were trying to find reasons to have fun in the rink, and we get to have fun, work hard, and that’s the enjoyable part of hockey.”


And now, for some notes that don’t fit anywhere else, the Checkers Fun Facts edition:

  • The Checkers have struggled more in the second period than any other this season.  After tonight’s game, they have scored only 19 goals, while allowing 26 during the middle period of play.
  • The Anaheim Ducks, who are one of the top teams in the NHL, are overrun with goaltending talent. Their newest prospect, 2011 draft pick John Gibson, is one of the most impressive.  He’s Pittsburgh born, and won the gold medal for team USA at the 2013 World Juniors, AND the Bronze medal at the 2013 IIHF World Championship last summer as a 19 year old. Gibson is on a lot of radars as the next great American goaltender, following in the footsteps of guys like Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick.
  • The Checkers current three-game winning streak is their first of the season. The last time the team won three games in a row was February of last season, when they won three between February 10-16.  Their last HOME winning streak dates back to November, 2011, when the Checkers won five in a row, including four at home.
  • Since successfully defending my Master’s thesis on December 2, the Checkers have gone 4-1, improving their current home stand record to 5-2. (Shameless self promotion!!!! But after finishing graduate school, I’ve earned the right to brag!)
  • Norfolk’s Emerson Etem, who was the third star of the game, started this season with the Ducks, and has some of the Olympics in his blood.  California native Etem’s mom competed in the 1984 Olympic games in rowing. His brother and sister also rowed in prestigious NCAA programs. Etem took the frozen road, though, and played competitive hockey in sunny SoCal and has a promising NHL career ahead of him.

Another post full of pictures about the Charlotte Checkers and their 4-2 victory over Norfolk on Friday

Hi, and welcome to another post at Chasing Checkers  where there is more photographic  content than actual writing. Maybe I’ve finally rediscovered the love I have for my camera. Maybe it’s because I realized I barely shot anything last year, and still have a number of games worth of photos that have never been edited or taken off of my flash card. Either way, it’s been fun to watch the game through a lens this week.

I only shot about half of one period of hockey yesterday. The Extreme Ice Center is a tough place to watch a game…. it doesn’t have the best sight lines, and the fluorescent lighting is always tricky for me to color balance. Oh, and then there’s the fact it’s a practice facility with scuffed glass and no photo portholes.  I got a few interesting photos though. I like that many of them tell a story. So here you go… a game story through pictures!

Zach Boychuk scored one in the Checkers 4-2 win over Norfolk on Friday in Indian Trail. (Photo - J. Propst)
Zach Boychuk scored one in the Checkers 4-2 win over Norfolk on Friday in Indian Trail. (Photo – J. Propst)

This is Zach Boychuk. I like this photo for a lot of artistic reasons, and the fact he looks grown up. Still an incredibly young man of 23 (for the next week, anyway!), he’s matured a lot over the years in Charlotte.  It took him most of the summer to negotiate his RFA contract with the Hurricanes, and he ended up with a one year, two-way deal. He has the offensive skill to be a great forward at the NHL level, but after a rough season last year that saw him play for three different NHL teams, he has a lot to prove. I know what he can do for the Checkers, and what an asset he can be, he just has to show that day in and day out to his team and organization.  It should be interesting to watch.

Zack Stortini of the Norfolk Admirals. (Photo - J. Propst)
Zack Stortini of the Norfolk Admirals. (Photo – J. Propst)

Zack Stortini is a guy who I’ve followed for a long time. I actually didn’t know he was playing in Norfolk this year, and am looking forward to seeing him more than his #Norfolking Admiral team.  The first year I really followed hockey, it was almost exclusively via the radio, the year the Hamilton Bulldogs most recently won the Calder Cup. Stortini was a part of that squad, and just like he is now, was kind of a smack talking enforcer. At the first NHL game I ever attended in Nashville, I ran into him in a bar downtown, and didn’t have a clue who he was (remember? I followed him on the radio! no pictures!).  I assumed he was a hockey player (his teeth, or lack of them, gave t away) but mostly he was just a nice guy having a beer after a game.   Stortini’s a bit of a goon and definitely caused some troubles for the Checkers, but he was fun to watch. For once, the game yesterday at the Extreme Ice Center was quiet. It was a small crowd, a tiny room compared to that of an arena, and there wasn’t annoying music blaring every time there was a stop in play. I could hear the game. I could hear the heckling of the refs from the stands, and the chirps the players said to each other, and the goalies talking to their teammates.  It was pretty great! I liked hearing Zack run his mouth, and the Checkers run theirs in return. I wish there were more music-less games!

Max Friberg skates for the Norfolk Admirals, with Austin Levi of the Charlotte Checkers in close pursuit. (Photo – J. Propst)

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about the Norfolk Admirals team. This is Max Friberg, who took a puck off the leg early in the game and limped off in a lot of pain, but returned to action and appeared pretty unscathed.  I know that at 5’11, Mr. Friberg is one of the bigger players on his team, save the goalie, because at 6’4 and 250 pounds, Frederik Anderson is HUGE.  According to the roster I have for the Admirals from yesterday, they had six players who were 5’9 and under. Which is kind of cool, really. My favorite Charlotte Hornet was Muggsy Bogues, and any long-time Charlottean can tell you what that guy could do with a basketball despite being 5’3.

Aaron Palushaj skates for the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo - J. Propst)
Aaron Palushaj skates for the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo – J. Propst)

From an artistic standpoint, I love this photo. I love the contrast of the skater in the foreground, and the way the depth of field blurs his teammates just a bitin the background, but how easy it is to tell they are in tune with him, watching him as he skates with the puck towards the net.  This photo makes me love my 70-200 mm/f2.8 lens even more than I already did!  I’m pretty sure this is Aaron Palushaj. If I’m wrong, well, I’ll post a retraction immediately! Lack of sleeve numbers and so many new faces decreases my confidence level! Aaron had a phenomenal debut for the Checkers yesterday. He scored two goals, was incredibly physical, and was a part of an incredible line alongside Zach Boychuk and Victor Rask. If Coach Daniels keeps these three together, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  While the lines seemed to change a bit as the game went on, this line stuck together for three periods of hockey.

Matt Marquadt is quickly becoming one of my favorite Checkers with his physical, offensive play. (Photo- J. Propst)
Matt Marquadt is quickly becoming one of my favorite Checkers with his physical, offensive play. (Photo- J. Propst)

Matt Marquadt was a mid season addition to the Checkers last year, and I’m incredibly hopeful he makes the final squad at the end of camp this fall.  He’s gritty, and has no problem using his size down in front of the crease.

Other notes and observations:

  • The two fights involved Brendan Woods and Stefan Della Rose. Both are bubble players in the sense that they are among a long list of guys not guaranteed a spot in Charlotte. They can certainly play, but so can 15 other guys! Toughness is something the Checkers have lacked at times, so seeing two so willing to stand up for their teammates was a nice change.
  • Speaking of Woods, his dad is an assistant coach of the Anaheim Ducks, the parent club of the Norfolk Admirals. I wonder how he’d feel knowing his son dropped the gloves against some of his prospects? As a Checkers fan, it made me proud!
  • If these pictures weren’t enough, here’s a link to my personal photos.
  • I think there was more heckling of the official, Jason Rollins, than there was of the entire #NorfolkingAdmirals team. Is there a more disliked guy by Charlotte Checkers fans?  He did miss some pretty blatant calls, like a high stick to Rasmus Rissanen’s mouth late in the third period.
  • Though many NHL teams have already made their AHL assignments to be compliant with the 23-man roster limit, as of the posting of this article, the Hurricanes have not assigned anyone else to the AHL (or, put them on waivers, as the case may be).  There are 16 forwards, nine forwards and 2 goaltenders in Raleigh.  They must send four players to the AHL or back to their junior team to remain compliant with NHL rules.  The only way around this would be to place players in Injured Reserved, and according to multiple sources, there are a handful of guys who may have significant injuries.
  • Currently, the Hurricanes have the following players who spent the majority of last season with the Checkers: Brett Bellemore, Zac Dalpe, Brett Sutter, Chris Terry, Riley Nash and Jeremy Welsh.  Additionally, Matt Corrente and Ryan Murphy have been rumored as potential Charlotte Checker additions.  It’s safe to say that three or four of the names mentioned will be in Charlotte in the coming days (waivers permitting, of course! All but Welsh and Murphy must clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL).

I knew there was #NorfolkingWay the Admirals could take the Checkers. Charlotte wins 3-1.

During the post-game media scrum, Zac Dalpe was looking on as a group of reporters gathered around his good friend and teammate Zach Boychuk, and you could tell Dalpe was just itching to be able to participate in some way.  I offered my iPhone (which I record the interviews with) to Zac so he could at least ask some questions since he’s still not playing, and he just grinned.

Boychuk, with a huge grin on his face in response to Dalpe’s creeping into the media scrum from the sidelines, had this to say.  “I think he wants to get in here, and get out there on the ice, and play together maybe.”

You can tell that Dalpe’s ready to be back, which is great news for the entire Hurricanes organization.

Even better news for Checkers fans is that with an incredibly shortened bench as far as the regular, more veteran Checkers, the team has found a way to win again, and are beginning to return to their successful special teams again.

Tonight saw birthday boy Beau Schmitz rack up two more points (1g, 1a), bringing his total over the past seven games of his most recall to five points (3g, 2a).

In his fifth game with Charlotte, Casey Pierro-Zabotel registered his first AHL goal.  There’s nothing quite like seeing a player who’s worked so hard to get to this level see the results of his effort in the form of a goal on the scoresheet, especially one that ended up being the game winner.

In his first game played IN Charlotte since December 21, Zach Boychuk registered a goal, a beautiful shot that went over Norfolk goaltender Frederik Andersen’s glove hand. This is Boychuk’s second goal in as many games since being returned to the Checkers after a crazy month that due to waiver claims, saw him play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, and now Charlotte again.

“It’s nice to come to a team and play lots of minutes and improve and get better,” said Boychuk, “ And those guys in the locker room there have been really good friends for a long time, and I’m really happy to be back with them.

The biggest story of the night was probably the play of goaltender Rob Madore.  In his second straight start (and third appearance) with the Checkers, he faced 38 shots, turning all but one of them away, and was named the first star of the game for his outstanding performance.  After almost a month of watching games from the bench, his play the past three games has given him and the players in front of him a great deal of confidence about his ability.

Jeff Daniels had only positive things to say about Madore’s performance.

“He competes so hard.  He doesn’t quit on any shot and gets upset when any puck gets past him. “

I believe a win like tonight’s can carry the team through the week, and to the back-to-back games against the San Antonio Rampage this weekend.  The four points on the line will be crucial as the regular season is nearly over.


Let’s Go Checkers!

Quick Hits:

  • Though the team is finally finding a way to win again after some struggles that can be credited to losing three goaltenders to Raleigh over the past two months, and an injured list that still boasts 11 skaters, though a few are close to returning. Zac Dalpe, AJ Jenks, Justin Shugg, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Jerome Samson have all been taking part in full practices, and should see a game soon.
  • The win against Norfolk moved the Checkers from fourth to second in the west, though if the playoffs started today, they’d still be a fourth seed, facing at this moment, the Houston Aeros.
  • Attending a game with family is so much fun.  Two nephews, a niece, two brothers and two sisters-in-law all joined me, and it was great fun! As the only member of my family in Charlotte, it’s a rare treat to get to share the team with them!
  • Thank goodness for spellcheck, or I would have had a sentence in this post about “Goat tending” which would bring a whole new idea to the sport of ice hockey.
  • For all of you who read my silly goaltending post yesterday and complimented me on it, whether in comments, tweets, facebook messages or in person, I thank you.  My favorite posts are the ones that make people laugh, and it means a lot when I get feedback that what I’m trying to do is working!

Checkers lose 3-2 to the #NorfolkingAdmirals

And then there were eight.

Of the 20 players that dressed tonight in Charlotte, only eight were on the opening-night roster for the Checkers in October.  The list of injured players was even longer than the healthy opening-night Checkers, and came in at nine.  (Just for a refresher, the injured players are: Zac Dalpe, Sean Dolan, Marc-Andre Gragnani, AJ Jenks, Michal Jordan, Andreas Nodl, Luke Pither, Jerome Samson &  Justin Shugg).

Tonight, three more players made their Checkers debut.  Forwards Casey Pierro-Zabotel and C.J. Severyn were signed to professional try-outs yesterday, while defenseman Danny Biega signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Hurricanes today, following the end of his Harvard season.  Biega was a third-round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2010, and just completed his fourth year of NCAA hockey.  Biega, unfortunately, left the game after only his first three shifts.  Disoriented after a hit, he left the ice with Checkers trainer Brian Maddox and did not return.

Overall, it was a great effort by the Checkers, especially with so many new players on the ice, and chemistry still being developed.

“One advantage is they’re all trying to make an impression and they all want to stay here and they are bringing some energy to the lineup,” said Coach Jeff Daniels about the new additions to the lineup. “They are playing hard, and if they keep playing like that we’ll start winning some games.”

The game was not short on physicality.  Jeremy Welsh nearly fought after the final buzzer, and Nicolas Blanchard threw some hard blows at John Kurtz during the second period. The Checkers penalty kill remained strong, killing four of five penalties, and maintaining their second-place PK in the league.

Brett Sutter’s goal in the third period seemed to inject a new level of energy into the Checkers lineup, but the team was unable to carry on the momentum to a game-tying goal.

Though the game ended as a loss on the scoresheet, a lot can be taken from the energy and level of play that the Checkers exhibited.

“I have to say the new guys have been picking up very quickly and contributing offensively and defensively, and especially working very hard,” said Checkers defenseman Justin Krueger. “Even though we had a loss there was still a lot of energy and good stuff from the new guys and I feel like we are headed in the right direction.”


Odds and ends and off-topic rambling:

  • Good news Checkers fans – Zac Dalpe took part in the morning skate today, though he was wearing a yellow no-contact jersey.  Fingers are crossed his recovery is speedy!
  • In honor of the upcoming “Old Time Hockey” weekend, I was tempted to ask the guys at the post game media scrum what advice they thought the Hanson brothers would give a team battling countless injuries, but decided to keep it professional.  I am, however, tempted to ask for a box of foil to be delivered to the locker room.  And to ask the Checkmates to incorporate a pinwheel into their routine this weekend, because that would be epic!
  • Speaking of old time hockey…. by the end of the season I’m going to have a hand-knit retro Checkers sweater, and it’s going to be amazing.
  • I miss Mike Murphy a lot.  And I even miss Justin Pogge.  There, I said it.  I wonder if we could lure either of them back to Charlotte.  Of course, if I was living in Italy like Pogge is, I’m not sure I’d want to leave!
  • I have some great marketing ideas for the Checkers and penalty box sponsorship opportunities that can help the team on and off the ice.  How does the “Brussels Sprouts and Lima Beans Penalty Box” sound for the Checkers? They wouldn’t want to visit it, right? And the “Krispy Kreme” visitors box, complete with a red neon “Hot and Now” sign above it.  Lure the visiting team in there for some glazed goodness!

Admirals Win in Raleigh? Norfolking Way

First – I must credit the anonymous sign holder in Raleigh today who came up with the title of this post.  It makes me laugh every time I say Norfolking Way.

I thought about doing a true, journalistic post about the game… you know, recap who scored the goals (#Terryiffic!), bad calls (Sutter game misconduct), and post some of the great quotes I got at the post-game media scrum, but honestly, it’s after 11 p.m. and I left my house at 8:30 this morning, so I’d rather talk about how awesome it was to be a fan of the Checkers today, and I’ll let the pro’s stories recap the on-ice action.

There were 10,256 lucky fans in Raleigh today (ok, I suppose the Norfolk Admirals booster club who roadtripped didn’t feel as lucky, but I am glad they came down for a historic event!).  Checkers and Hurricanes fans alike saw a great match-up with Charlotte’s original AHL rival, the only other AHL team in the REAL South (Sorry, Texas, you aren’t the South!).

Today’s game made me incredibly proud of the Checkers organization, the fans, and the people of both North Carolina hockey communities who came together for a great event.  As someone who takes traveling shows from venue to venue for a living, I know how tough it is to move a big production to a new place, and the Checkers staff did this so well, and merged the two environments seamlessly.  From the way Ron the Ref and Wilson co-hosted the in-game activities, the use of both mascots, and the blending of Hurricanes organ music (I WANT MORE ORGAN!) and the Checkers videos, both the Hurricanes and Checkers should be commended for a job well done.

I had a lot of favorite moments today, so here’s a recap of a few of them:

  • Whenever the pool of Admirals fans from their booster club would try to start a “Let’s Go Admirals” chant, Carolina hockey fans promptly responded with the roar of “LET’S GO CHECKERS!”  It was great to see that just happen naturally.
  • Holy cow, y’all.  The lockout is over!  I mean, tentatively…. it was exciting to know that today’s game was the FIRST of the 2012-13 season in Raleigh, but it’s not going to be the last.  I’m first and foremost a fan of the AHL, but I’m glad the fans of the NHL will no longer have to suffer, because I truly believe they were the biggest losers in the lockout.
  • I loved how electric the atmosphere was from the second I walked into PNC Arena.  How responsive a full house of hockey fans can be.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the 10K fan nights in Charlotte, but there’s a very different vibe between the Boy Scout nights and NASCAR night fans and the ones who were at the game today that are true, passionate hockey fans of both the Checkers and the game in general.
  • The fantastic twitter conversations I had on the way home from Raleigh. Thanks to the nimble fingers of my car pooling friends, we kept the conversations going for most of the three hour drive home to Charlotte.  Considering I’m kind of a social media scholar, I know I don’t use the medium as well as I should, and it was fun to converse with you all tonight!
  • Not at all Hockey related, but a trip to Raleigh means a trip to LUSH.  Hands down, they have the best beauty products in the world, and a visit to the only store in North Carolina makes my wallet a little more empty, but my skin and hair thank me for it.

So… the obligatory question about the end of the lockout:

  1. Who gets invited to Hurricanes camp?
  2. From that invite list, who actually makes the final Canes roster? By my estimation, there is room for one goalie (assuming Boucher is still out, and maybe even if he IS healthy again), two defensemen (including Justin Faulk), and three forwards (including Drayson Bowman, who is only with the Checkers right now on an AHL contract, but is obligated to the Hurricanes when their season starts, unless they choose to subject him to waivers and return him to Charlotte.)
  3. How is the departure of some of the young talent in Charlotte going to affect the team? Will the team take a dive in the standings, or do you think with other teams losing guys as well, it’ll all balance out?

So… thanks for staying up so late and reading my disjointed thoughts.  It’s been a long, and exciting day!  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Additionally, for my Canes fans reading, I’m looking for a Hurricanes corespondent.  Is anyone anxious to contribute to Chasing Checkers from time to time? Drop me a line if you are!


As always, Let’s Go Checkers!

Roadtripping to Raleigh – Norfolk Admirals visit the Charlotte Checkers

It’s been a long nine months since the last professional hockey was played at PNC Arena in Raleigh on April 5, 2011.  Fortunately, those 276 days are over as the Charlotte Checkers take the ice for the first time in their history tomorrow, a game fans from across North Carolina have been looking forward to all season.  I’ve got a carload of Checkers fans ready to head to Raleigh first thing in the morning, and I can’t wait!

For a couple of great previews of the game tomorrow, be sure to read Michael Smith’s story on the Hurricanes website, and Paul Branecky’s piece on the Checkers website.

Despite a rough patch at home, the Checkers have gotten at least a point in six of the last seven home games.  Their last five games were on the road, and they had a record of 1-3-1 over that stretch, including a win in their most recent game in Cleveland on Friday night.

The Checkers have always been dominant over the Admirals, and have a lifetime record of 11-7-1-2 against Norfolk, though as with everything this season, the Checkers fare better on the road, and their home record vs. Norfolk is 3-6-0-1

The Charlotte Checkers currently sit atop the South division with a 19-11-2-3 record, and are in second in the Western Conference with 43 points.  At home, they aren’t quite as dominant with a record of 8-7-0-1

The Norfolk Admirals have 29 points (14-16-1-0, and are 6-9 on the road), and are last in the East Division, and 14th in the Eastern Conference.  The Admirals the Checkers will face tomorrow in Raleigh are a very different squad than the one that won the Calder Cup last season, as the their NHL affiliation changed, and the Admirals are now the AHL team of the Anaheim Ducks.

The Admirals are an incredibly young team, with six rookies. (The Checkers, on the other hand, have two rookies, Tommi Kivisto and Jeremy Welsh. With four years of NCAA hockey under his belt, Welsh has a lot more experience then the young 20 year olds in Norfolk!)

I figured I’d highlight a handful of the Admirals players, who Checkers and Hurricanes fans may be less familiar with as compared with the outstanding team of prospects and NHL hopefuls in Charlotte.

  • Goaltender Jeff Delauriers who was recently signed to a PTO by the organization, but has not played a game yet for Norfolk.  Delauriers has split time during the past three seasons between the NHL and AHL teams of Edmonton and Anaheim, and is in his eight season in the AHL.  The Admirals had a pair of rookie goaltenders the first half of the season (including former Hurricanes prospect Frederik Andersen who refused to sign with Carolina and re-entered the NHL draft last summer and was chosen by Anaheim) and both have struggled, so a veteran presence should make a big impact.
  • Carolina fans will recognize Troy Bodie, who spent 2010-11 with the Hurricanes, and has a number of NHL seasons under his belt.
  • Ryan Parent, who was originally signed to the team under a PTO, is a former first-round pick, and has played for Philadelphia and Vancouver at the NHL level.
  • Peter Holland is the offensive leader on the Admirals with 29 points (12g, 17a).  He’s a 2009 first round pick of the Ducks, and is in his second full professional season.
  • Also in the 2009 first round, the Ducks drafted Kyle Palmieri.  He’s having a great season in Norfolk with 21 points (10g, 11a) and has split the past two full seasons between the NHL and AHL.
  • Sami Vatanen is a first year pro in their organization, and as a defenseman, is fourth in points on the team.  He’s got 4g and 14 assists.
  • Long Beach, California born (woo! SoCal natives represent!) Emersen Etem is a first year pro on the Admirals, and another former first-round pick by the Ducks.  I can’t wait to see him make his NHL debut in his home town!

And for some brief Checkers notes:

  • Dan Ellis is expected to get the start in goal, and will hopefully debut his new red and black mask (I, for one, will not miss the Ducks one he wore during the first half of the season!)  Should the lockout end, Ellis is the most likely candidate to become Cam Ward’s backup, so this could be the first of many starts for him at PNC Arena.
  • Defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani and Rasmus Rissanen remain out of the lineup.  Gragnani has missed the past seven games, and Rissanen has missed four.
  • Bobby Raymond, who was signed to a PTO by the Checkers, is expected to play his fourth game for Charlotte tomorrow.
  • Nicolas Blanchard was injured in a fight in Cleveland this week, and will not play.  If Justin Soryal is also unable to play (due to a fighting injury on Friday in Cleveland), Jared Staal will play in only his second game since December 11.
  • Since the NHL has been locked out since the Hurricanes acquired Jordan Staal over the summer, Jared will become the second Staal brother to play for the home team at PNC Arena. 

I hope to see lots of you in Raleigh tomorrow!  Puck drop is at 1:30 p.m.

Let’s Go Checkers!

The One About the ’12-’13 Schedule.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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