#CheckersComeHome: The chance to make history

When I think about the Checkers move home to Bojangles Coliseum, one wish continues to come to mind, and that’s a reconnection with history.  The Checkers aren’t a team that simply arrived in Charlotte in 2010.  They also aren’t a team that moved to TWCA in 2005 after 13 years at Bojangles that began in 1993 with the ECHL (even though the Charlotte Business Journal alludes to that being the only history the Checkers have at Bojangles Coliseum).

The Charlotte Checkers are a team that has spanned decades in Charlotte. My parents attended games on dates when they were high school and college sweethearts.  I attended my first pro hockey game there when I was in high school. The Checkers roots run deep at Bojangles Coliseum, and I know the current organization embraces this beyond the simple(yet eloquent!) “Checkers Come Home” phrase. The leagues and franchises have changed, but Charlotte hockey teams have won five championships over the course of the past 60 years.

The first Charlotte Hockey team, the Charlotte Clippers, were the Eastern Hockey League Champions in 1957, in their first full season in Charlotte.  After changing their name to the Charlotte Checkers in 1960, the franchise went on to win championships in 1970 and again in 1972. After moving to the Southern Hockey League in 1973, the Checkers won the championship in 1975 and 1976. Unfortunately, the following season was cut short when the league folded, and it wasn’t until 1993 that Charlotte had a professional hockey team again.

My dream for Bojangles Coliseum is to see five championship banners hanging from the rafters, or at least prominently inside the rink, because each of the five championships Charlotte has are significant, even if they aren’t from the current AHL era.  Having visited a number of AHL arenas, I’ve seen teams that embrace their history of past leagues and championships. I hope the Checkers show off their history, because they have a rich and storied one.

The logos and leagues have changed, but pride in the Milwaukee Admirals remains. (Photo: J. Propst)
The logos and leagues have changed, but pride in the Milwaukee Admirals remains. (Photo: J. Propst)

When I visited Milwaukee for the first time for an Admirals game, I was struck by the history in the building. Hanging prominently in the rafters of an arena shared with an NBA team, hung banners touting the USHL, IHL and AHL championships Milwaukee Admirals franchises have won over the year. Different leagues. Different levels of competitive hockey, but they all shared one beloved name in Milwaukee, and that’s the Admirals.


Retired jerseys and championship banners, from three different leagues worth of Milwaukee Admirals. (Photo: J. Propst)
Retired jerseys and championship banners, from three different leagues worth of Milwaukee Admirals. (Photo: J. Propst)

I then traveled to Chicago, and Peoria, and saw the same thing. Cities and teams proud of their history, of their hockey teams, even when they changed leagues.

I’ve always been a bit jealous of that history, or at least, the cities that not only embrace the history, but flaunt it.  And Charlotte has a hockey history that deserves to be flaunted. We have a rich and storied hockey past that at 59 years and counting, is something to be proud of.

So my dream is to walk into Bojangles Coliseum next fall and see banners in the rafters proclaiming the awesome feats that Checkers over the decades have accomplished. I want to see EHL and SHL Championship Banners.  A banner proclaiming the Charlotte Checkers as the Kelly Cup Champions.

Checkers fans have a lot to look forward to next season when the team moves home.  I’m excited about the old and new traditions that the building will facilitate.

January 30, 2016 is the 60th Anniversary of the first professional hockey game in Charlotte (and one of the grand opening events at BoCo?) Now that’s a date to celebrate and I hope it’s a great one.



So, what are your wishes for the 2015-16 season, and the Checkers return to Bojangles?



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 ChasingCheckers.com
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!

Part Two: A personal story – Why Chasing Checkers supports @YouCanPlay & the message it delivers

I know I just posted a piece about the Charlotte Checkers involvement with You Can Play, but there’s so much more to be shared, especially my own personal perspective of why it’s such an important and powerful organization.  Chasing Checkers doesn’t always fit into a typical sports blog mold, so I figure I’ll continue to go against the grain even more by expanding on the You Can Play story, and how it impacts me personally.

Human rights and equality is something I believe in very strongly.  I work in the arts, which is a field that tends to be more open minded than mainstream sports when it comes to LGBT issues, so for my entire career, and as long ago as high school when I was just learning how to do my craft, I’ve worked  with many LGBT artists, musicians, dancers and technicians.

I remember the anti-gay protests in Charlotte while I was in college in response to Charlotte Repertory Theatre’s production of Angels in America.  My best friend attended college for a brief time with Matthew Shepard, and in my work and personal life, I’ve had countless friends who have been faced with hateful groups and individual who attempt to violate their most basic human rights just because they are gay.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, who had been targeted for being gay, was kidnapped, brutally attacked in Laramie, Wyoming,  tied to a fence post, and left to die.  He passed away a few days later due to head injuries sustained during the attack.  It was at Matthew’s funeral that the Westboro Baptist “Church” became famous for their hate-filled protest signs and banners.  Nearly a decade later, I watched the very same Westboro “church” protest the Lutheran church my father was a pastor of, and was reminded once again what a dreadful organization WBC is, and how important it is for others to counteract their evil in a positive way, and that’s what I think You Can Play is doing.

Shepard’s story has led to brilliant plays and films about his life and, and has given a voice to those who have been the victims of hate crimes.  In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that expanded 1969 hate crime legislation to include crimes motivated by a person’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability.  The bill is named in Shepard’s memory, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Because of the impact of people like Matthew Shepard, and organizations like You Can Play, the world is becoming a better place.  It’s becoming more welcoming and more equal for everyone.  There is still a lot of work to be done, but I’m confident You Can Play is helping society move in the right direction.

Nearly two weeks ago, Jason Collins was a groundbreaker in the world of professional sports. As an NBA player, he is the first active athlete in a major American sport to come out as gay.  He wore number 98 for the Boston Celtics last season in honor of Matthew Shepard.  And I applaud him.  In a world where homophobia, racism and sexism are still rampant, I know it took a lot of courage to do what Collins did, and I hope his message will help others struggling with a similar decision.  I hope that the message of Collins and You Can Play will continue to decrease the homophobic jeers in sports stadiums, and make athletics more welcoming to all people, gay or straight.

I’ve been name called by religious folk who believe my own salvation is at risk for supporting my LGBT friends.  I’ve been the victim of harassment in the workplace and in the sports arena for voicing my support of my gay friends.  But I will continue to stand with my friends, my coworkers, athletes like Jason Collins, and the potentially tens of thousands of athletes who haven’t yet found the courage to come out as gay.  I hope that You Can Play will continue to give courage to others, and spread their powerful message of equality to all who can hear it.

So to the Charlotte Checkers, again, I thank you.  I thank you for being the FIRST professional sports team in North Carolina to align yourselves with You Can Play.  With legislation such as last year’s “Amendment One,” 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.

The History Behind the Cup

It’s game day, so what better way to prepare than learning a bit about the ultimate goal of the playoffs! Thanks, as always, to the great writing team of Tess and Sara here at Chasing Checkers! – Jenni – Editor-of-Awesome

Most hockey fans know the history behind the Stanley Cup, but what about the Calder? The Calder Cup is 77 years old and bears its namesake from the late great, Frank Calder. This Cup is awarded to the American Hockey League’s final playoff championship winner. It is also the second oldest trophy of it’s kind, only trailing Stanley itself.

Frank Calder is a familiar name to many. Another piece of hardware claims the Calder title, the NHL’s Calder Memorial Trophy given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.” Calder served as the NHL’s first president from 1917 to 1943 and was instrumental in making hockey what it is today.

The first Calder Cup was given in 1938, the same year that the IHL (International) and C-AHL (Can-Am) formally merged together as one, to the Providence Reds. The season prior, when the leagues merely had interlocking schedules, the 1937 Syracuse Stars allegedly never got the privilege of receiving the Cup despite being the rightful champions and in 1996 finally had the chance to hoist it.

This season nurtures the Checkers’ second run at the Cup, their first was in their AHL inaugural season (2010-2011) where Charlotte made it all the way to the semi-finals only to lose four straight games to the Binghamton Senators and relinquish their fight to glory.

The Calder Cup stands at 24 inches tall, a beautiful mix of sterling silver and Brazilian mahogany boasting the names of the last 20 teams to hoist the hardware.
Be sure to go out and support your Checkers on the road to the Calder and help to make them a bigger part of this history!

Charlotte Checkers by the numbers: A bunch of reasons they are really awesome. End-of-season edition

Remember when I put together a “Checkers by the Numbers” piece last October?  Well… it was a lot of fun, so why not have a post-regular season edition to tide us all over until the first playoff game later this week!

257,688 – How many people who attended a Charlotte Checkers game this season.  That’s over a quarter of a million!

2163 – The huge number of pucks Checkers goaltenders stopped during the season.

191 – Pucks Checkers goaltenders allowed during the season.

92 – The number of points the Checkers finished the season with.

60 – Over the course of 70 games played for the Checkers, the number of points Chris Terry ended the season with.  He led the team in both goals (25) and assists (35).

48 – The number of different players who skated in a game for the Charlotte Checkers during the 2012-13 season.

44 – The number of shootout attempts the Checkers made this season.  They scored 11 shootout goals, or exactly one-fourth of their attempts.

34 – The number of Checkers who scored a goal during the season.  (and that number is out of 43 skaters and five goalies… and unless you are Martin Brodeur playing against the Hurricanes, it’s pretty unrealistic to expect a goal!)

19 – The number of Charlotte Checkers who suited up for the Carolina Hurricanes this season.  (Muse, Peters, Ellis, Sanguinetti, Faulk, Jordan, Bellemore, Gragnani, Dalpe, Boychuk, Bowman, R. Nash, Brett Sutter, Wallace, Blanchard, Terry, Welsh, Nodl, R. Murphy)

16 – The number of Checkers who played NCAA hockey before turning pro. (Eric Baier, Danny Biega, Zac Dalpe, Sean Dolan, Dan Ellis, Justin Faulk, Justin Krueger, Rob Madore, John Muse, Brendon Nash, Riley Nash, Bobby Raymond, Jeremy Welsh & Brendan Woods).  Two of these, John Muse and Justin Faulk, won NCAA titles, during their college career.

15 – The magic number of wins required by the Checkers in the post-season.

11 – Players who started and finished the regular season with the Charlotte Checkers.

10 – The number of shutouts Checkers goalies were responsible for. (Peters – 6, Ellis – 2, Madore – 2)

8 – The number of game-winning-goals that Chris Terry scored, which is also tied for the league-lead.  If that’s not Terryiffic, I don’t know what is!

8 – The longest game goal-scoring streak by a Charlotte Checker.  Drayson Bowman scored 9 goals over an eight-game period from October 19 through November 4.

8 – On a list of 1-30, where the Checkers stood on the attendance rankings.  Pretty great position, with a per-game average of 6781.

7 – The number of different Checkers who scored during shootouts (11 total goals between Chris Terry, Jerome Samson, Zac Dalpe, Justin Krueger, Brett Sutter, Justin Shugg and David Marshall).

5 –Justin’s who played for the Checkers this year (Soryal, Shugg, Peters, Faulk and Krueger).

5 – The number of goaltenders who played for the Checkers during the regular season. Only one was named Justin.

5 – The number of teams in the South division this year.  Of them, four are in the playoffs. Can you say tough division?

4 – The number of players who wore number 33 throughout the season.  (Andreas Nodl, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Leigh Salters and Brendan Woods).

4 – The number of shootout goals Jerome Samson scored during the season, out of six attempts. Not too shabby!

4 – The number of first-round draft picks who played for the Checkers this year. Only two (Zach Boychuk and Ryan Murphy) were first-rounders of the Hurricanes.

3 – The number of Checkers who are the sons of current NHL coaches (Darryl Sutter of the LA Kings and dad of Brett; Ralph Krueger of the Edmonton Oilers and dad of Justin; and Bob Woods of the Anaheim Ducks, dad of Brendan).

2 – The number of goaltenders who had points during the game.  Dan Ellis has one assist, and Justin Peters had three.

0 – The number of times Nathan Beasley had to dress for the Checkers despite injuries and last-minute call ups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knitting and Hockey – how Jacques Plante’s legacy goes far beyond the goalie mask

Jacques Plante knitting. (Photo credit unknown)
Jacques Plante knitting. (Photo credit unknown)

It’s probably safe to say that for most hockey fans, when the name “Jacques Plante” is mentioned, can tell you that his biggest claim to fame is he was the first goalie to wear a mask during play.  By 1963 (only about half way through his playing career which ended in 1975, he’d already received over 150 stitches on his face.  He was criticized for wearing that mask, and was taunted by coaches, players and fans for first using it during games. In a 1963 article, Plante said, “People said I was afraid when I started to use the mask in 1959, but I ask them, ‘Would you call it brave if you jumped out of a plane and didn’t wear a parachute?’  I call it stupid.”

So while Plante’s goalie mask may be the one bit of information that he is best known for, as an artist and knitter myself, I will forever associate Jacques Plante with knitting, and though it wasn’t spoken of as frequently, he was also a painter and created great landscapes, and wrote a hockey column for a newspaper in Quebec.  He even had an off-season job working for a brewery.  As a child, grew up in a large family with 11 children, and his mother taught him how to knit, sew, cook and clean, but it seems that knitting was the skill he took with him the farthest in life.  He would knit his own toques to wear under his goalie mask, and even knit socks, undershirts, scarves and gloves for himself, and shared his creations with others, such as a ¾ length coat that he knit for his wife.

When his team traveled on buses and teammates played card games together, Plante was knitting.  Can you imagine one of those smoke and booze filled busses, traveling from city to city with a team of hockey players engaging in poker while they smoked cigars, drank out of flasks, but sitting quietly on his own, the team goaltender sitting by himself, happily knitting a new toque for himself or a coat for his wife.  Like many professional hockey players, it took a few years for Plante to make the NHL.  He underwent surgery on his hand, and eventually became a full time goaltender as a member of the Canadiens.  After a few years in the minors, Plante was excited that the hockey season in Montreal would allow him to catch up on his knitting. “A fellow’s got to have something to do when he’s not tending the nets.”

If I ever get the chance to visit Switzerland where Mr. Plante is buried, I’ll leave a knitted gift on his grave.  I think he would appreciate that.

The very beginnings of my Old Time Hockey sweater
The very beginnings of my Old Time Hockey sweater

An note from the author:  Sometimes I get sucked into a research project, and it ends up so far beyond what the initial plan was, but I can’t stop reading.  In a few weeks, the Charlotte Knitting Guild is going to be attending a Checkers game, and they’ve asked me to speak to their group beforehand, so I wanted to come up with some fun facts that tie hockey and knitting together.  I also cast on a new project that I doubt will be done in time for the Checkers “Old Time Hockey Weekend” next month, but when my own, hand knit retro Checkers sweater is done, it will be epic!

So as I worked on my own hockey knitting, and researched other’s hockey knitting, I became more and more fascinated by a hall of famer I previously knew very little about. Thanks for reading, and indulging in a bit of very random hockey trivial!

Other Hockey Knitting Links: 

The Charlotte Checkers – More than just a great hockey team

Zac Dalpe scored the game winning goal.  Charlotte beat the San Antonio Rampage 2-1. (Photo - J. Propst)
Zac Dalpe scored the game winning goal. Charlotte beat the San Antonio Rampage 2-1. (Photo – J. Propst)

Instead of recapping the game and goal scorers (Michal Jordan and Zac Dalpe, in case you missed it) I thought I’d talk about something so much more important in the big picture, and that’s the Checkers Charitable Foundation, and even beyond that, the things individual members of the organization do to make the entire Charlotte community a better place to live.

21,500 people saw the Checkers play this weekend, and by my math, they raised and gave away over  $50K during the two games. (Heck, the jersey auction alone raised $16,175!)

Last night at the Pink in the Rink game, even more than the money they raised, the team raised awareness for women’s health initiatives and organizations, all of which do amazing things to improve the lives of women and the unique health risks they have.  Then, even

Brett Sutter is fierce. (Photo - J. Propst)
Brett Sutter is fierce. (Photo – J. Propst)

more incredibly, Michael Kahn presented a check from his own personal foundation to Go Jen Go which from all I’ve read (and heard about during the 2013 Laugh for the Cure event), is an amazing organization.   That Mr. Kahn felt so passionate about this cause to donate is impressive, and makes me proud to be a fan of the team he owns.

Today, I watched a video on the video board with a great sense of pride during the first intermission about Tera Black’s participation in North Carolina Dance Theatre’s “Dancing with the stars of Charlotte” gala later in this month. You see, I’ve worked with NCDT for many, many years, and they are hands down the most incredible arts organization in this city.  The work they create on a pretty miniscule budget is truly first class and a huge cultural asset to the city, so to see my favorite ballet company partnering with my favorite hockey team is pretty special.  Tera will be dancing with Addul Manzano who has been with the company for seven years, and during that time I’ve seen him in some pretty incredible performances.  I’m telling you…. The Charlotte Checkers and the North Carolina Dance Theatre have the most amazingly talented athletes in all of Charlotte.   I will be at the event later this month, and can’t wait to see the moves Addul has taught Tera!

I'm going to admit it openly. Jared Staal might have been my favorite player today. It's like... he's growing into his name! Go Staal Go! (Photo - J. Propst)
I’m going to admit it openly. Jared Staal might have been my favorite player today. It’s like… he’s growing into his name! Go Staal Go! (Photo – J. Propst)

Every game it seems, Checkers fans learn of another amazing group or person they’ve helped through their foundation.  From buying Bug’s family a house, to Wheels For Forrest  to Go Jen Go and the North Carolina Dance Theatre, there are great things at work on the part of the Charlotte Checkers.  I read a tweet tonight from another AHL team who was excited to have raised $2400 for a charity event tonight.  That’s wonderful, and I’m so glad other teams make charitable initiatives a big part of their team, but when I see what the Checkers did this weekend alone, I’m just amazed and proud.  This is a great team we have in Charlotte, and I’m so glad they give back to the community as much as they do.

The quest for a new goal song

So, it’s old news by now that the Checkers need a new official goal song (though, I stand by the fact I had no idea they ever had an “official” goal song to begin with!)  Who else was on pins and needles waiting to see what would be played after the lone goal on Sunday?  I wasn’t opposed to the unknown guitar riff, but it wasn’t that exciting, either.

Gary Glitter is essentially a dirty perve, so obviously, the family friendly Charlotte Checkers don’t want his music representing the team. I think this change is going to be a good thing for the organization.  It’s going to give them an opportunity to have a goal song that hopefully energizes the crowd, and can show off the personality of Charlotte and the region’s best team.

So, first… a bit of background on what some of the best goal songs are, and what I think makes for a good goal song.

Countless teams share songs like Glitter’s Rock and Roll pt. 2 or Blur’s Song 2.  While they are catchy songs, they aren’t exactly unique.  No fewer than three teams claim the above songs as their “official” goal song.

The best goal songs are unique to the team.  They inspire a sense of pride in the team, and are recognizable outside of the arena.

Instead of just listing a bunch of qualities, I’ll share some of the best goal songs, in my opinion:

St. Louis – When the Saints Go Marching In.  How can you say anything bad about a song, played on an organ, such as this?  It’s St. Louis.  It’s an American hymn.  It’s been recorded by hundreds of artists. And for a team who’s logo and name reflect the musical history of America, there’s no better song!

LA Kings – I Love LA.  So, Randy Newman’s hit is probably not the most upbeat and traditional of goal songs, but it’s got a good theme going.  It fits the market, and they’ve done some fancy editing that merges I Love L.A. into a pretty awesome rock song.

Nashville Predators – I Like It I Love It.  I’m not a big Tim McGraw fan, but how do you fault the team’s song, especially when McGraw re-recorded it with Preds themes?  OK, the fang fingers are annoying, and I don’t particularly enjoy the team, but it’s a good song, and VERY appropriate for a Country music market.

Chicago Blackhawks – Chelsea Dagger – I really really dislike the Chicago Blackhawks, but I can’t help but give credit where credit is due, and without a doubt, they have done the most amazing thing with the use of Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis as their goal song.  You take a song by an unknown indie band, get the fans in Chicago to rally behind it, and you have one of the most unique and recognizable goal songs in hockey.  Well done, Chicago!

So… about the Checkers.  How does this relate to them?  They need a goal song.  And sure, it would be easy to pick a catchy techno song that everyone likes and nobody remembers what it’s called.  Or to pick Song 2 by Blur to match the Hurricanes.  But there’s something special about the North Carolina hockey history that embodies the Checkers.
So… here are a couple of my own personal suggestions (some serious, some not-so-much):

The Safe and the Humorous:

Poison – Unskinny Bop – What’s not to love about a hair band from my youth?  It’s catchy.  It’s not overplayed like Welcome to the Jungle.  It would be an amusing goal song.

Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar On Me – One of the best hair bands of the 80’s.  And if a one-armed drummer doesn’t make them badass, I don’t know what does.  I wish it was a bit faster, but tempo can be increased.  The refrain is, of course, the best part.

Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up – Yes, I am in fact suggesting that we Rick Roll the visiting team every time the Checkers score a goal.  But it’s funny, right?

Van Halen – Jump – Another 80’s hair band song of awesome.  Is there really anything bad to say about it?

My top picks though, are the sentimental picks:  These fit into the above category of songs that are appropriate to the team, and UNIQUE.

I did some thinking about famous North Carolina musicians.  And there are a lot of them.  But not all of them have goal-song worthy works of music.  James Taylor is awesome, and so is the song Carolina in my Mind, but it’s a little TOO mellow.  North Carolina is the home state of a number of American Idol finalists (Fantasia, Clay Aiken, Kelly Pickler, Chris Daughtry, Bucky Covington and that kid from last year), but do we really want a competition winner to represent the Checkers?  I don’t think so.

I thought about beach music from the 60’s… but none of the songs seemed catchy enough (though, I REALLY love Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price).  And I kept coming back to two artists… The Avett Brothers, from nearby Cabarrus County, and Ben Folds, one of my favorite musicians of all time.  Neither have the main-stream recognizability of some artists, but they are home grown.  They are local icons that make North Carolina awesome.

So, my local picks (and top picks) are:

Ben Folds – Army.  This is a great song.  It’s peppy.  It makes you want to sing along, even during the instrumental parts, which are my favorite in the song.  Listen to it (shh, I know, it has the F-bomb in the beginning!) but I propose one of two musical interludes.  Two minutes in, there is an AWESOME horn solo.  Another great section is at 1:30.  It might not have lyrics (neither does Chelsea Dagger or most of the techno crap songs people play at games) but you can still sing along with the ba-bop-ba… it’s a GREAT SONG.

The Avett Brothers – Kick Drum Heart – This is a close second to Army, in my opinion.  I love that Scott and Seth Avett grew up so close to Charlotte.  I love that they’ve become huge musical superstars, but still give back to their home community.  The instrumental intro is fantastic, and fun, and it’s North Carolina!


So… what do you think?  Leave a comment, and let’s discuss! I have a list of songs that need to be added to the rather repetitive Checkers playlist for key moments during games (bad calls, fights, and when the other team scores) but we’ll save those for another day.