AHL Realignment and the Charlotte Checkers, Part V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rockford Hogs the Ice in Charlotte, defeats the Checkers 4-1.

Jeremy Welsh and the Charlotte Checkers were unable to stop the Rockford IceHogs, losing both games at home this weekend. (Photo - J. Propst)
Jeremy Welsh and the Charlotte Checkers were unable to stop the Rockford IceHogs, losing both games at home this weekend. (Photo – J. Propst)

If I was to make a list of “bad stats,” I’d probably run out of room to list them all.  The Checkers currently are in the midst of their longest winning of the season (four games).  After another weekend in the loss column, the team now has a losing record when playing at home (3-5), yet continues to have a stellar record on the road (9-2-0-2). Until Brett Sutter scored midway through the third period today, the Checkers had gone nearly five periods between yesterday and today without scoring a goal.

I’ve love to get to the bottom of WHY the Checkers are not performing well at home, but I’m pretty sure players and coaches alike are even more anxious to figure that out.

So instead of rehashing all of the bad stuff (oh wait, I just did…) let’s focus on the good.

The team seemed sharp during the first period.  They were aggressive, strong on the forecheck and were getting a lot of pucks towards the net, despite not getting any past IceHogs netminder Carter Hutton.  The second period had bursts of energy, and a fight by Justin Soryal, but overall, the spark wasn’t there, and they didn’t have nearly as many shots on goal.

The third period seemed promising, with a renewed energy level, and a goal by Checkers captain Bret Sutter, the only one for the night by the home team.

All in all, the effort from the home team was there, something both Zac Dalpe and Bobby Sanguinetti elaborated about after the game.  The team has the drive and determination to get better, they just have to make that uphill climb back to the top.  Tonight marked the Checkers 21 game, just a few past the official one-quarter mark of the season.  The AHL season is a long one, and I for one would rather see a slump like this early on than the one that plagued the Checkers late in the 2011-12 season.

Zac Dalpe, who is one of the top forwards on the Checkers with 15 points in 20 games (6g, 9a) said, “I was happy with our effort tonight.  Sometimes they just don’t go in, I guess.”

Dalpe further elaborated about the state of the Checkers at this quarter-point of the AHL season.  “There’s obviously a lot of areas we can improve on.  Special teams, our power play, we need to get better especially when we get given a 5-on-3 like that.  It’s kind of hard to pinpoint just one thing.”

Bobby Sanguinetti, and the rest of the team, seem very enthusiastic about moving forward and past the abysmal 0-4 record of the past two weekends at home.  “It’s tough.  Guys are working.  I thought today we had our legs and were skating, and guys were getting in on the forecheck. I don’t know if you can say bad bounces, bad break, but we’ve just got to get back at it and forget about these games.”

A few more photos from tonight’s loss can be found here.

Thursday and Friday night, the Checkers face the Lake Erie Monsters.  Let’s all hope for a better result!

P.S. My current goal is to have the cheesiest possible headlines.  How am I doing? Suggestions and ideas are ALWAYS welcome.

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!



Rockford in pictures – a few preview shots

Just a few pictures I wanted to share before I hit the road for Milwaukee in a few minutes…


Brand-new Charlotte Checker Brian Dumoulin during warmups in Rockford. (Photo - J. Propst)
Brand-new Charlotte Checker Brian Dumoulin during warmups in Rockford. (Photo - J. Propst)
Justin Peters makes a save during the game against Rockford. (Photo - Dannielle Browne)


Photo - D. Browne


Chris Terry scores during the shootout against Kent Simpson. (Photo - D. Browne)


Charlotte Checkers celebrate following a shootout win in Rockford. (Photo - D. Browne)


Charlotte Checkers celebrate following a shootout win in Rockford. (Photo - D. Browne)

Pulled Pork – Checkers defeat IceHogs 4-3 in the shootout

Wow.  What a game.  Last time I was in Rockford (December 30, 2011), the Checkers also needed extra time to determine a winner.  But in December, those two points didn’t seem nearly as crucial.  Tonight, the Checkers needed these two so they could have a chance at qualifying for the post season.  Tomorrow, if they can get a single point in Milwaukee, they will make it to the playoffs (though none of the games will be played at home…)

In goal for Charlotte was Justin Peters, and for Rockford, Kent Simpson in his first professional game.  He just completed his fourth (and final) year in Everett, where he was a teammate of Rasmus Rissanen.  Until the shootout, Simpson was phenomenal, especially against a Checkers team that was fiercely aggressive and not afraid to drive to the net over and over again.

A few observations about the game, and the players who won it for Charlotte:

  • Chris Durno is a beast against Rockford.  Last time I saw him, he had two fighting majors, and while he didn’t drop the gloves tonight, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he did.  He pushed all night long, forcing IceHogs off the puch, and driving to the net time and time again.
  • Justin Krueger was hands down the best Checkers defenseman tonight.  He’s consistently where he needs to be, and blocked shots that otherwise could have been IceHog goals.
  • Rasmus Rissanen makes up the other half of my favorite defensive pairing.  As the season has progressed, I’ve become more and more impressed with this guy.  He’s a smart player, and a huge asset to the team.
  • Bobby Sanguinetti had another great game.  Honestly, for the second night in a row, it was a game about defense, and seeing what the Checkers need out of their blue liners.

Things I learned in Rockford:

  • Hockey played in a building with broken air conditioning, and seats only slightly below the rafters makes for a very warm game.
  • Lighting in the BMO Harris Bank Centre is far superior to that of the Civic Center in Peoria, at least according to the photos Chasing Checkers official photographer showed me.
  • Though it was warm and a bit stuffy, Rockford’s arena has the best popcorn in the AHL, and that made up for the temp.

Charlotte wins! Justin Peters and the Checkers shut out Rockford 3-0

Confidence is key, and tonight in Rockford, it was that mentality that helped the Checkers break a four-game losing streak and defeat the IceHogs 3-0.  After a team that seemed to accept defeat early in each of their past four home games, tonight’s performance was a nice change of pace.

Brody Sutter made his Checkers debut in Charlotte last week. (Photo - J. Propst)

The first period started slowly.  It was over three minutes into the game before Charlotte registered their first shot on goal.  A couple of minutes later, and new Checker Brody Sutter scored his first professional goal.  At 5:46 into the first period, the shot was only the second of the period for Charlotte, and the eventual game winner.

Charlotte’s defenseman scored the next two.  In the second period, Mathieu Roy drove deep the right wing side with a shot that bounced off of the glove of Rockford’s netminder Carter Hutton, and into the net.

Checkers rookie Rasmus Rissanen scored the third goal in the third period, which also happens to be his third goal of the season.

Charlotte’s goaltender Justin Peters was phenomenal in net all night long.  Despite only registering four shots during the third, the IceHogs applied serious pressure during the final period of play, but Peters was able to prevent all 24 shots he faced.

The Checkers now have 81 points, with three games left to play.  They remain in 11th in the East, behind a five-way tie for sixth place of teams with 82 points.

Charlotte’s next game is Friday night in Peoria.  Chasing Checkers  will be on hand to take on the action in person.

Let’s Go Checkers!

Gameday: Charlotte at Rockford

Charlotte Checkers (35-28-3-6) at Rockford IceHogs (34-31-2-6)

  • The Checkers are 4-1-0-1 against the IceHogs this season, and has won both of the games in Rockford.  This is the first of two games in Rockford this week.
  • As with each of the four-games in this roadtrip, tonight’s game is a must-win for Charlotte.  Rockford is 12th in the West, with 73 games played (one more than Charlotte), and while their playoff hopes aren’t completely eliminated, they are going to need a lot more luck to make it to the post season.
  • The Checkers have a better record on the road than at home this year, and Rockford has a worse record at home than away.  Hopefully these statistics are in the Checkers favor tonight and Saturday.
  • This is Charlotte’s third of four visits to Rockford this year.  Rockford is the birthplace of Chasing Checkers favorite NASCAR crew chief, Chad Knaus, and the Rockford Peaches of the movie “A League of Their Own.”

Checker Stats

  • Michal Jordan and Riley Nash lead the Checkers with six points each against Rockford (2g, 4a).
  • Chris Terry also has six points against Rockford (1g, 5a).
  • Jerome Samson, in only five games against the IceHogs, has five points (3g, 2a).
  • The Checkers have only won two of their past eight games at home.  Their road record is moderately better, with wins in their past two starts, and points in three of their last four.

IceHog Stats

  • Goaltender Carter Hutton has been recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks three times since late February.  When with Rockford, he’s 5-3-1 in his last nine starts.  Hutton was undrafted, and played four years in the NCAA with U-Mass, Lowell.  This season, he was signed on an AHL contract with Rockford, but on February 24, signed an NHL contract with Chicago, and was recalled by the big team the next day. It’s interesting to note that Hutton, who started the 2011/12 season in the ECHL with Toledo, was able to bypass both of the Chicago prospects in Rockford (Alexander Salak and Alec Richards, who has since been reassigned to the ECHL) and have time in the NHL this year.  The Checkers faced Hutton once this year, and he lost in the shootout.
  • Rostislav Olesz missed the past two games due to a lower body injury.  No word yet on whether he will be able to play tonight.  In only four games against Charlotte, Olesz has seven points (2g, 5a).
  • Brandon Pirri, who also has seven points in five games against the Checkers this season (2g, 5a) has been on a scoring slump since a knee injury sidelined him for seven games a month ago.  Since returning, he has only two points (1g, 1a) in seven games.
  • Rob Flick, who started the brawl against the Admirals in Milwaukee over a week ago, will miss tonight’s game.  It is the third of his three-game suspension by the AHL.

Gametime:  8:05 p.m. EST

Charlotte Radio:  WFNZ 610
Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
Rockford Twitter: @goIceHogs

Charlotte Checkers – Playoff Outlook and regular season wind-down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other teams to watch out for:

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

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

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

Rockford at Charlotte – Another Third Period Not to Remember

Few quick thoughts and observations from Charlotte’s 3-2 loss to Rockford.

1. Overall the Checkers were coasting to an extent during the whole game, even with the 2-0 lead the team had the look of players ready for the all-star break.  As the lead started slipping they did not get urgent until it was too late.

2. To add to the coasting losing Dalpe to an injury and Bowman for 17 minutes for policing the hit to Dalpe really sucked the energy out of the team.

3.  The first power play looked great with Sanguinetti putting an absolute laser into the back of the net.  The 3 minutes they got on the boarding major was ugly and was really the turning point of the game.  Charlotte could have put Rockford away but that kill really gave the Icehogs some momentum going forward.

4. The 5-3 PK in the first period was huge by Muse and the PK unit.  They kept to their lanes, Muse made some nice saves and they applied just enough pressure to cause Rockford to mess up on their own a few times.

5. Muse continues to look good as a rookie free agent signing but his rebound control needs to get a little better and he is still adjusting to making saves around screens.  Rockford’s last 2 goals were both screened out pretty well (including somewhat of a screen by our D on the last goal).

6. AJ Jenks had one of the best open ice hits the Checkers have had this year down near the goal.  This kid looks even bigger than his stats and moves well for his size.  Hopefully he continues to progress but if he winds up with Staal and Soryal on 4th line do not expect a ton of offense.

7. As much as I point out Soryal on the 4th line–he had one of his better offensive games in a while.  Puck control and passing were more crisp and he avoided bad penalties.

8. I’m no coach but Boychuck and Dadonov need to be on different lines, both play a similar game and dont look like they complement each other very well.  Plus they are two small guys on a the same line trying to back check and knock people off the puck.

9. A little more on Dalpe’s hit/injury.  Honestly it did not look intentional but it is exactly why organized hockey needs to increase the penalty for any type of boarding.  Its going to take a lot to get players mind-sets to change when they are going that fast but as players get bigger and faster more and more guys are going to go down on plays as simple as an extra push from an elbow.

10. Good luck to Nash on his lastest recall–he has been a great player all year even though his numbers are not huge.  He came through big time when Matsumoto was traded and gave 110% even he had to center the 4th line and was not given as many offensive chances.

11. February is going to be a tough month for the team only 10 games but 7 of the next 8 are on the road. They also have two 3 games in 3 days and 3 games against the best team in the AHL Oklahoma City.  If they come out of this stretch with a winning record the team should be well on their way to winning the division.

Third period woes continue for Charlotte, but the Checkers defeat the IceHogs in the shootout

For the third time in six meetings, the Checkers and IceHogs had to take it to a shootout to determine the game winner.  Fortunately, Charlotte came out on top, and John Muse won his fifth game of the season.

In what has become a reoccurring theme for the home team, Charlotte went into the third period with a 3-1 advantage, and ended it with a trip to overtime, and ultimately, the shoot out. A friend commented to me that the Checkers need offense in the third period, and to not be so offensive.  I couldn’t have been more eloquent myself!

It was a night of special teams in Charlotte.  The Checkers, who began the night with the sixth-best power play in the league, went three for three on the evening, scoring a goal in each of their three opportunities, two by Riley Nash, and the third by Zac Dalpe.

Rockford holds the record of the 28th “best” penalty kill in the league, and it showed tonight.  The IceHogs struggled.  In four power play chances, they failed to score on the man advantage, however they had two even strength goals, something Charlotte was unable to get.

The IceHogs, who were on a four-game winning streak thanks in part to the exceptional play of goaltender Carter Hutton, scored three unanswered goals to tie the game by the end of regulation.  The Checkers had countless breakaway chances during the game, but Hutton prevented any of the pucks from finding the back of the net.

General observations about the game:

  • Nash’s power play goals in the first and second periods had identical lines, and obviously, the same goal scorer.  The 25-20-27 line is fan-freaking-tastic… though technically it was more of a 15-20-27 line, with a “D” pairing of Terry and Sanguinetti.


  • On that note, wow, Terry should play the point on every power play.  He’s got to be one of the most versatile players the Checkers have.
  • Pistilli served two minors that weren’t his during the first period.  He’s a player that has flashes of greatness.  He’s physical, he hustles, and has speed and scoring prowess, however he seems to consistently be one of the last guys on the Checkers depth chart.  Once one of the currently injured forwards can go, he may be the one to sit.
  • Rasmus Rissanen – He gains more confidence with each game.  He is more physical, and using his body more effectively.  With just half a season under his belt at the AHL level, he’s made huge strides, and continues to be a defensive asset each and every night.
  • John Muse has been fantastic in all of his starts this season, and is a true asset to the Checkers. While he lacks the speed and technique of Mike Murphy and Justin Peters (especially when it comes to his agility,or reading the puck), the bottom line is he gets it done when it matters, and with Peters in Raleigh for the unforeseen future, it is CRUCIAL that the Checkers have a confident, reliable backup for Mike Murphy.
  • Carter Hutton – In his first appearance tonight versus Charlotte was his seventh consecutive start.  Like John Muse, he was signed to a one-year deal with the AHL club, and after starting the season in the ECHL, has found himself a key player at the AHL level.  He has become the most reliable goaltender the IceHogs have, and recent play has made him a valuable asset.