Insert something snarky here about a 7-1 loss by the Charlotte Checkers to Texas

The Checkers were downed by the Stars by a score of 7-1 tonight.  The Stars, who lead the Checkers own West division, outplayed, outskated, and outshot the home team.

Texas, who has the league’s best powerplay, and in six PP opportunities, scored three times against Charlotte’s 22nd worst penalty kill.

The Checkers, who had four unsuccessful opportunities on the powerplay, came away from the game with one loan goal by Checkers scoring leader Aaron Palushaj.

Travis Morin scored once for the Stars, and also had four assists.  He leads his team in scoring (24g, 31a), especially against the Checkers, where he has 10 points (4g, 6a) in three games on Checkers home ice.

Texas’ Curtis McKenzie also had four assists on the night, and in three games against the Checkers, now has six points.

The most notable Checkers on the scoresheet were the five players who had minor penalties, including Matt Corrente, who received a double minor for boarding late in the first.  If you want a complete look at the score sheet, check it out here, but as you can imagine, it’s not pretty.

Despite the game’s final score, the team appears focused and prepared for tomorrow’s rematch against the Stars.

Coach Jeff Daniels didn’t seem concerned about the short turnaround, and knows his team has what it takes to get a better result.

“You can’t dwell on it.  It’s over. Whether it was 7-1 or 2-1, we lost the game tonight, and we play again at 12:00 and have to respond better. A lot of the guys in that locker room have to be better as individuals.”  Daniels continued, “We’ve got to be better, stronger on the puck.”

Despite a brutal result, Palushaj , who scored the only goal for Charlotte, knows what it will take for a different result tomorrow.  “We’re all athletes.  We want to show that we have a lot better than that.  I wish we could play again right now.  We have to come out and play a lot stronger, and we know that.

Brett Sutter, the Checkers Captain, believes tomorrow will be a different game.

“Guys are frustrated now.  But we’ve got to put it behind us.  We know things we can do better, we know what we did wrong. We’ll make sure we come mad tomorrow. Make sure we’re ready to go.  It’s the same team right away, so we’ve got to come a little pissed off tomorrow.”

Other notes:

  • According to TSN’s, the Hurricanes have placed a number of Checkers alumni on the trading block.

Drayson Bowman, Riley Nash and Brett Bellemore were of course regulars on the Checkers squad for three seasons.  Tlusty played five games during the 2010-11 season.

  • The Checkers had a sell out tonight of 8,102, with more huge crowds expected all weekend and next week.
  • I don’t think I’ve expressed my disappointment here, but the AHL announced their “All Star” team for the event next month in St. John’s.  No Checkers were named to the team, but at least three teams have multiple players representing it.  I’m glad I didn’t purchase the plane ticket to Newfoundland as I had planned to earlier in the season!

Charlotte Checkers defeat Texas Stars 4-3, win seventh game out of the last ten.

The Charlotte Checkers scored two even-strength goals, a shorthanded goal and a power play goal to defeat the Texas Stars tonight.

The second period was a game changer for Charlotte. The home team was outshot by the Stars 18-7, and had to kill three penalties.  Through all this, they still found a way to score two goals.  Mike Murphy, who, made a number of impressive saves during the second, and came away with his first win since early October, before he was recalled by the Hurricanes and then spent time recovering from an injury after returning to the Checkers.

Following the game, Murphy acknowledged the importance of the victory over the Texas Stars, and his contribution to the result. “It’s huge, especially to get it against one of the top teams. It’s huge for me and it’s huge for the team because we know we can beat anyone.”

Matt Pistilli, playing in only his fifth game with the Checkers this year after signing a PTO contract late last month, scored two goals and was the team’s first star.  Pistilli, a familiar face to the Checkers after a PTO last year and being a part of the Hurricanes organization the previous two seasons, proved he can contribute to this hockey team.

Pistilli was enthusiastic about his contributions so far this season. “I show up every day and try and bring some energy… I want to keep building on this [two goal game]”

With two of the team’s scoring leaders Zach Boychuk and Brett Sutter currently playing in Raleigh, the Checkers are trying to find new ways to score goals.

“We need scoring by committee, and I think we saw that tonight with Pistilli getting a couple and Blanchard scoring.” Daniels continued, “If we’re going to win, it’s going to be by committee.”

Greg Nemisz played his first game for the Checkers tonight following a trade from the Calgary Flames organization. Despite not arriving in Charlotte until this morning, and not having any time to skate with his new team, he contributed immediately.  In his first shift, he had opportunities to shoot the puck, and physical play. He got his first point on the score sheet, with an assist on Pistilli’s powerplay goal.

Coach Jeff Daniels believes that Neimisz has a lot of potential.  “I thought he was real solid. I played him at left wing, right wing, center, he killed penalties, and I thought he did a lot of good things and he showed us the ability to make some plays,” Daniels continued, “In the long run, he’ll be good pick up for us.”

Other assorted notes that don’t fit anywhere else:

  • The Checkers had to kill seven penalties over the course of the game, against the league’s number one power play team. Charlotte was successful five of the seven times, allowing two back-to-back goals only 45 seconds apart in the first period.
  • After a rough start to the season, the Checkers improved their home record to 8-12 after tonight’s win.  They continue to play better on the road, with a record of 7-6-0-1.
  • Over the course of the past ten games, the Checkers have a record of 7-3.  I like where this is going after a really rough month of November (I can relate to that being a rough month… I re-wrote my thesis in the span of a week and a half!)
  • Despite the outcome last night, this week’s Checkers games are some of my favorite as both a hockey fan and blogger. Last night, I got to celebrate my graduate school career being OVER with some of my best friends from the stands, a ride on the Olympia (and a handful of beers!) and a lot of cheering. Tonight, I got to see an outstanding game with my more professional eye on the game. I’m pretty lucky to get to participate in the game in different ways.
  • The Checkers hit the road next weekend with a two-game trip to Oklahoma City.  They return home for another pair of games against Texas January 17-18, and a matinee game against Norfolk on the 19th.

Four-for-four – The Checkers will play in the West Division in 2013-14 following AHL realignment

I feel like I left my CD player on repeat… because I believe I’ve written about the Checkers changing divisions a few times already…

For the fourth time in the Checkers four seasons in the AHL, they will be in a new division in 2013-14, though this time, for the most part, the change is in name only.  For the AHL’s official release, you can go here.

The new division will be called the West division, which is comprised of four teams from last year’s South division, and one new addition.  The Abbotsford Heat are set to join the Checkers West  division, and nothing says West Division better than a team from North Carolina, in a city a short drive from the Atlantic ocean and about as far East as you can get! 

With the Houston Aero’s departure to become the Iowa Wild, the move of Peoria to New York to become the Utica Comets, other division moves occurred as well.

The Iowa Wild will become a part of the Midwest Division, filling in the hole that was left by the departure of the Peoria Rivermen.  The Utica Comets will join the North Division of the Western Conference, where Abbotsford was last year.

It’s interesting to note that the city of Utica is farther east than a number of New York Eastern Conference teams, including Syracuse, Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey.  They will have to ride a bus through the Eastern conference city of Syracuse to reach their Western Conference division mates in Rochester, Lake Erie, Hamilton and Toronto.

With the AHL’s realignment news comes very little information on how these divisional changes will affect game scheduling.  Unlike the National Hockey League, the American League does not have an exact formula it uses when scheduling teams as far as how many times each team faces their division, conference and opposite conference teams.  Instead, it is a mix of choosing opponents, and deciding whether or not they wish to play teams outside of their conference.

In 2012-13, the Checkers had an all-time low of only 12 opponents over the course of the season’s 76 games.  They faced only 11 Western Conference opponents, and one in the Eastern Conference.  In the Checkers three seasons in the AHL, they have never played Toronto, Hamilton, Rochester or St. John’s (or it’s previous home of Winnepeg).  All of the other teams in the Checkers division last season faced each of the teams in the Western Conference at least twice. 

Just to put into perspective how few opponents Charlotte faced, here are a few examples of what other teams schedules were like in 2012-13:

  • Abbotsford, a team like Charlotte that has no conference teams within driving distance, faced only Western Conference teams, but played all 14 of them.
  • By contrast, the Rochester Americans, also a Western Conference team, had 15 different opponents.  Six of them were Eastern Conference teams, and the remaining 11 were from the Western Conference.  They only faced one team from the Midwest (Grand Rapids), and did not play the Checkers.
  • The Syracuse Crunch, an Eastern Conference Team, had 15 different opponents, including four in the Western Conference.  They did not play two teams in their own conference though.

While I understand that travel, particularly in the West, can be more of a burden than in the East where a team such as Springfield can travel to 10 different cities without needing a hotel room, it seems unfair to the teams, the competition and the fans, that there is such a huge difference between the number of teams faced.

Many in Charlotte are already concerned about the addition of Abbotsford to their division.  Will the Checkers face them a dozen times? No, of course not, and the AHL’s Jason Chaimovitch has already addressed that via Twitter.

 

Will the Checkers play Abbotsford more than the four games of two and two schedule of the past two seasons? I’d have to assume so, but one more trip to beautiful British Columbia won’t be any more brutal than Charlotte’s usual travel (though the 10 p.m. starts for us on the East Coast will make for some late nights of listening to Jason Shaya!)

 

 

Do I anticipate the Checkers getting to play new teams, or having a more balanced schedule this season? Probably not. With the majority of it’s teams in north east, the AHL isn’t designed for balance, and has become even more unbalanced with one more team in New York, and one less in the west.  The biggest chance for a new city the Checkers will visit in 2013-14 will be Des Moines, home of the Iowa Wild.  I’ve heard the Checkers may return to the cities of at least one of their former Eastern conference foes, but the official word on that won’t come out until August when the schedule is released.

 

So, Checkers fans… what teams do you wish you could see in Charlotte? What about less of?  Who do you think I want to see in Charlotte? (Have I mentioned enough times here at Chasing Checkers and on Twitter what team(s) I want to see in Charlotte? Ha!)

 

 

 

Tweeting Around with Mike Commodore – a candid interview about @Commie22’s use of Twitter

A few weeks ago, I sat down with the Texas Stars’ Mike Commodore when he was in Charlotte to face the Checkers.  We talked about a wide variety of subjects, most of which I wrote about in this piece.

 

One of the parts of our chat that I’d planned to write about later was about social media, and more specifically, Twitter, and how Commodore uses it to stay informed and communicate with friends, fans, and fellow athletes.

 

After some particularly entertaining tweets last night during the first day of the NHL playoffs, I figure it’s the perfect opportunity to delve into Commodore’s feelings about Twitter.

Last night, Commodore tweeted a couple of #beauties about his feelings for Pierre McGuire, a media personality that he’s loved to chirp for many years.

That’s it. I want to watch, but I can’t take it any longer. Pierre McGuire ruins it for me. Too much useless info and ball sucking.

— Mike Commodore (@commie22) May 1, 2013

 

After he tweeted that, NHLers supported it.  Mike Modano retweeted it.  Many others commented and agreed, including guys like Theo Fleury.

Back in 2011, when he was playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Commodore had a lot of fun laughing about a sign he saw in the Joe Lewis Arena about McGuire.  His feelings aren’t unlike the ones many, many die-hard hockey fans have towards McGuire, an NBC broadcaster, who tends to dumb down the sport in his commentary to frustratingly idiotic levels.

When Commodore and I chatted in April, he shared with me how he uses Twitter, and what he loves and hates about the social media platform.  He began using the medium in 2009, and has become one of the most fun athletes to follow thanks to his candid commentary and lack of a filter.

“Honestly I started because I’d see on TV ‘So and so news reported by Twitter’ and I remember thinking what the hell is Twitter,” commented Commodore, about why he joined the craze in 2009, “So I went online, signed up for an account and just started playing around with it and it just went from there.”

Like many who have embraced the social media platform, Commodore is a regular user of Twitter.

“On my phone, other than my text messages and emails Twitter is the other thing I use the most. It’s how I get my news. I like it.  There are downfalls like anything else, but I like it.”

What makes Commodore such an interesting “follow” is his lack of a filter when he Tweets.  He tries to use common sense, but he also wants to come across as real and genuine, which is sometimes rare from celebrities and media-savvy personalities.

“I want to be me on Twitter, but at the same time I don’t want to be rude.  There are some things I’d like to say, but I don’t.  I think that goes for a lot of people,” Commodore continues, “I try and watch what I say as far as language a little bit, but at the same time, hey, language is language and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to follow.”

One of the most admirable qualities of Commodore is his no-regrets attitude.  He’s honest and open about what he’s done in life, and even admits to a few slip-ups during the nearly-four years he’s been Tweeting.

“Every once in a while you have a few drinks in you, and I try and stay off of Twitter after a night out, that’s usually not good,” Commodore grins as he continues, as if remembering a few gems he shared after a night out,  “but every once in a while I’ve had fun in it.”

So what about taboo subjects? Just this week, Commodore led his support to Jason Collins, the first active major-professional athlete to come out publically as being gay.  But for the most part, he tries to avoid subjects that many find controversial, and have gotten others accounts taken away from them by agents who felt their use of the platform was getting out of hand. (Does anyone remember Paul Bissonette’s first Twitter account that his agent had him close after some pretty offensive statements and calling Ilya Kovalchuk a communist.)

“Politics I try and avoid, any kind of sexuality thing I try and avoid,” Commodore shares, “Race, I avoid at all costs. Stuff like that.”

With all of the positive that social media can bring, does Commodore have any Twitter regrets?

“I try and forget the bad stuff.  There are a few things I put on there and I’m not really sure how it’s going to go over, and that’s kind of exciting actually.  You know some people are going to take it bad, and some people are going to like it, but nothing crazy.”

Commodore also acknowledges that a lot of good and bad can come out of Twitter, especially if you get sucked into the trap of fans who set out to chirp him or other professional athletes.

“You can market yourself a little bit. I don’t know if brand is the right word. It doesn’t happen much in hockey.  It’s not like basketball and some other sports.” Unlike sports such as basketball, the fancy shoe endorsement deals aren’t as prevalent in hockey, so Commodore continued, “Yeah, none of that goes on. So you can market yourself a little bit, especially if you are into charity things.  It’s a good way to get the word out immediately.”

Commodore also acknowledged that he liked the interactive and insantaneous nature of Twitter, and being able to communicate with fans and other athletes.

“Obviously there’s another bad side of that too, if you say something stupid or something you shouldn’t, that is out immediately too.  But it’s a good way to interact with fans, there are a lot of good people on Twitter.  There are a lot of good questions on Twitter. There’s a lot of good comments on Twitter. There’s a lot of funny stuff on Twitter.”

Funny stuff like Commodore’s comments last night about Pierre McGuire.  I was watching the same NHL game Commodore was when I read his Tweets, and cheered out loud (much to the surprise of my sleeping dog) because I was in agreement with his statements.

So what about the bad side to Twitter? When things can go awry?  Commodore says it’s important to have a thick skin.

“There are a lot of total morons on Twitter. Complete idiots, that all they are looking for, I mean total losers, where they are just trying to say anything,” Commodore continued, relating his own personal experiences with the media, “I used to fall into the trap, when I was first into Twitter, and they would say something about me in the mentions thing, and I would read it, and before I got a thicker skin and really understood what was going on, I’d be pissed off and start firing back.  There’s a lot of losers on Twitter, but overall, I think it’s good.  If I wasn’t a fan of it, I’d delete my account.”

Near the end of my interview, I had to ask if Commodore thought he’d ever tweet something so outrageous that his agent would make him delete his account.

With a huge smile, Commodore replied.

“I don’t think my agent pays attention to me anymore so I can say whatever I want on there. So no, I don’t have to worry about that.”

Thank goodness for that.  I’d miss Commodore’s humor and candid honesty if he was forced to retire from social media!

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.

The Checkers star in Charlotte, defeat Texas 4-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

Road Trip to Charlotte – a Texas Stars fan perspective

I love Twitter. I love that it introduces me to great people and fans of teams all across the country. I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of great AHL fans, and while I didn’t get to greet Erinn personally this weekend, she was great enough to put together a review of her weekend in Charlotte.  When I visit new arenas (like I did last season with Peoria/Rockford/Chicago/Milwaukee) I enjoy putting together my thoughts and observations about the new venues.  This is just as interesting to me, because I got to read what visitors to my beloved city see! So, without further adieu, Erinn’s recap!  You can follow her on Twitter at @atxstarsgirl

 

Road Trip to Charlotte

We arrived at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Friday afternoon and hopped into a cab and made our way to uptown. We checked in at the Aloft in the Epicenter.  Wow, what a great location so much to do within walking distance!

About an hour before game time we made our way over to the Time Warner Cable Arena and strangely were metal detected. We’ve only run into this at one other arena and that was in Cleveland. I would say it’s a basketball arena thing but we don’t have to do this in San Antonio or Houston.  Maybe we’re more trusting in Texas?

One of the things that first struck me about this venue is that I couldn’t tell it was a basketball arena.  In Cleveland, San Antonio and Houston its very obvious that this is a hockey rink worked into a basketball arena. Kudos to Charlotte for getting it right.  The next thing that struck me about Charlotte was the fans.  Everyone was so very nice and accommodating!  Not a nasty comment the entire night. In fact, just the opposite. The fans here are just as passionate about their team as Mark and I are about our team.

We had the chance to truly enjoy a unique event in the Old Time Hockey weekend at Charlotte.  We ended up staying in the same hotel as the Hanson brothers and kept running into them. They were fun to watch at intermission and the bit with the kids chasing them off the ice was priceless.

Saturday day Uptown was invaded by 1000’s of green clad Charlotte residents in town to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. We enjoyed the parade and spent a long time at the street festival. It seems all we did all day was eat!

Saturday night we went to the viewing of Slapshot at the Studio Movie Grill where we had the chance to meet some of the Checkers players and I must say their reaction to us in our Stars gear was priceless, one of the players, I think it was Matt Marquardt, did a double take and said “I don’t like your shirts, but hi.”  Then as we were headed to the theater one of the other guys yells “Get ‘Em!” and then lunged at us, all in good fun. Made us both laugh!

Finally on Sunday we enjoyed another game at Time Warner Arena, our fan experience this time was just a great as it was on Friday (The fan yelling at us to go the “F***” home not with standing). We rather enjoyed watching the kiddos in the box between the two benches playing and watching the game and watching our guys smile and wave at them.

We’ve been on many hockey trips in the last two years, this one completing our quest to hit every arena in the Western Conference.  Mark and I both agree that our trip to Charlotte was just about perfect. Thanks for having us, wish we could come back in April!

What we recommend:

Stay: The Aloft in the Epicenter, they have a Charlotte Checkers Rate!

Eat: We enjoyed Ri Ra Irish Pub, Merts Heart and Soul, Roosters and Mortimar’s was great for people watching on Saturday afternoon.


-Erinn Hughes

Texas Stars Hockey Fan

 

Getting to know the Texas Stars, an interview with @100degreehockey

It’s time for the second installment of the “Getting to know” series that’s become a yearly staple here at Chasing Checkers thanks to the team’s ever-changing division.  Last week, we learned about the San Antonio Rampage, and today I have a great interview about the Texas Stars.

The Charlotte Checkers season starts in just over three weeks with a weekend roadtrip to the great state of Texas, which on October 14, includes the first of eight games against the Texas Stars.  Stephen from Hundred Degree Hockey was generous with his time to answer a few questions that Checkers fans would want to know about the team he covers, the Texas Stars. You can also follow him on Twitter at @100degreehockey.

 

Chasing Checkers – What can you tell a new South Division team about life in the newly named division?

Hundred Degree Hockey – The South Division is a tough one.  In last year’s West Division, the Stars were the only one of the five teams not to make the playoffs. Houston and Chicago are the the flagship teams of the Western conference, in my opinion. San Antonio is on the rise with Dale Tallon taking the reins in Florida. OKC is on the up-and-up with drafted prospects starting to trickle in there. And Texas, finally, is starting to see results of the Joe Nieuwendyk era as GM Joe’s first draft class appears at the Cedar Park Center this fall. Charlotte, and every team in the division, has its work cut out.

Travel is pretty easy between the three Texas cities. For those unfamiliar with the geography, San Antonio, Austin and Houston are all within easy driving distance of each other.  OKC is driveable, but many teams from Texas prefer to fly on tight timelines, since it’s a 6 hour one-way trip from Austin (the fathest north).

The Stars have good rivalries with Houston and San Antonio.  I’d say the SA rivalry is stronger due to how many of the games tend to go to overtime.

 

CC – Can you give me a brief synopsis of how the AHL team came to Austin and the history of hockey in your city?

HDH – Dallas had previously had an affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, but abandoned those operations after the 2007-8 year.  Attendance was not great, apparently.  Dallas was without an affilaite in 08-9 and then founded the Texas Stars in Cedar Park, a suburb of Austin, in 2009.

Austin had hosted a minor league team before, the Austin Ice Bats. The Bats were in the Western Professional League before joining the CHL. They folded in 2008. (I would recommend the book “Zamboni Rodeo” for those interested in life in the minors. Jason Cohen, the author, spent a year with the team and wrote a book about it.)

The cupboard was generally bare in terms of prospects that first season, so the team was built out using a lot of veteran talent.  That vet-laden team took the campaign all the way to the Calder Cup Final, losing in six games to the Hershey Bears.  Texas went to the playoffs again in their second season but lost in the first round to Milwaukee. In the third year, Dallas snatched up the coaching staff, Glen Gulutzan and Paul Jerrard, and Texas hired Jeff Pyle from the Gwinnett Gladiators. The Stars had the second worst record in the AHL last season, and Pyle was fired.  This made way for a changing of the guard as many older players were not re-signed, being replaced by those recently drafted prospects I mentioned.  Willie Desjardins, formerly an assistant coach in Dallas, was hired as head coach with Doug Lidster as assistant.

CC – How is the relationship between Dallas and Austin?  With Dallas so relatively close by, is there a larger NHL presence at your practices and games?

HDH – We see hockey ops people a lot in Austin. I’m sure the numbers will increase this year even more with the lockout. We often see Joe Nieuwendyk, Stu Barnes, Les Jackson. Less frequently, we see Ralph Strangis (Dallas PxP), Glen Gulutzan or Paul Jerrard.  Dallas is only three hours away, so it is very easy for team personnel to travel back and forth. On short notice, callups have been known to pile in their car and drive up I-35 for games. Maxime Fortunus did this in year one, I remember.

 

CC – I’m a bit of a beer connoisseur, and according to google maps, Shiner Texas isn’t too far from where the Stars play.  On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate Shiner Boch?  Are there better Texas microbrews to be on the lookout for?

HDH – I’m a fan of Shiner Bock (7/10). Also on the list from Shiner is their Hefeweizen.  The big thing around here is the seasonal brews (not sure if you get those out in Carolina).  If you ever get a chance to enjoy a Shiner Ruby Redbird, a light summer lager brewed with Texas Rio Red Grapefruit, the signature sweet citrus of the Rio Grande Valley, and ginger, do it.

Austin is big on microbrews. I like a good Fireman #4 (American blonde brewed in the Hill Country) or a 512 Pecan Porter. 512 is the area code for Austin.

 

Editor’s Note:  We do get some of the Shiner seasonals here.  If I make it to a game in Austin, I’ll be sure to bring some find NC Beers in my bag for you!  Asheville has been declared “Beer City USA” for a few years running, and some of the best microbrews in the country are here!

 

CC – What style of play do the Stars employ? Who are a few players that Checkers fans should keep on their radar?

HDH – That’s an interesting question. With a new coach coming in, it’s hard to pin it down 100%, but all indications point to a defensive style very similar to what Dallas plays in the NHL.  There were a lot of issues last year with the systems alignment, which I wrote about here.  This year, Coach Desjardins has been brought in to make sure that they are practicing what they preach in Dallas. It will make the transition easier for callups and improve the quality of play for the NHL club in the longer term.

Keep your eye on Jack Campbell in net. Drafted #11 in 2010, Campbell is the next big thing in net for Dallas. He played the last 12 games of the season in Texas last year and was a relevation. Fans are excited to see what he can do with a full campaign and a fully invested team (Texas was far out of the playoff race by then).

Also watch the defensemen Patrik Nemeth (#41, 2010) and Jamie Oleksiak (#14, 2011). A combined thirteen feet tall, these two will form a nasty defensive pairing for anyone that wants to approach the Texas net.

In the forward ranks, keep an eye on #2 scorer from last year, Matt Fraser (undrafted) in his sophomore season. Alex Chiasson (#38, 2009) came on strong with five points in nine games on an ATO last year.

Of course, things are going to change up a bit with new players coming down to Austin due to the lockout. The players expected to join who wouldn’t have played here otherwise are Cody Eakin and Tomas Vincour.

 

CC – Is there anyone Checkers fans should follow in the media or with the team to keep abreast of one of our new division rivals?  Why did you start writing a blog about the Texas Stars?

HDH – To bo honest, coverage is pretty sparse. @100degreehockey is your best bet for timely news. Of course, following the team itself @TexasStars is good. The Austin American-Statesman beat writer does not have a Twitter and does not primarily cover hockey anyways.

I started writing the blog because I saw what Defending Big D had done for the Dallas Stars and realized that there was zero coverage of any quality for Texas.  I started the blog in December 2009 and have been going strong ever since. I have been credentialed since the 2009-10 playoffs. I feel that my coverage provides hockey fans in Austin with something that goes beyond the box score. I strive to provide meaningful analysis while also writing human interest stories about the players and keeping tabs on the hockey community in Austin.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Mike Murphy plays for the Hurricanes again in Winnipeg, and post game notes from Texas

For the first time in my Checkers-watching career, I turned the game off last night in favor of an NHL game.  It didn’t help that the Checkers weren’t doing well, but I was interested to see how Mike Murphy would do in his second NHL appearance in relief of Cam Ward.

Mike Murphy guards the net against the Lake Erie Monsters. (Photo - N. Huffstickler)

Murph came into the game halfway through the second period.  The Hurricanes were down 4-0, in a Winnipeg building that has become a really tough place to play for visiting teams. (Only four teams have beat the Jets on home ice).  Within moments of Murphy taking the ice, the crowd went wild with chants taunting him, but clearly Murphy didn’t let it affect him.  He stopped all seven shots he faced, and his NHL stats still read a 1.000 SV%.

In Murphy’s 36 minutes of ice time in two NHL games, the Hurricanes have scored five goals, and only allowed nine shots (Prior to being pulled, in 31 minutes, Ward faced 30 shots…. in nearly the same amount of time, Murphy only faced seven… the whole team turned around for that second half).  Clearly, the team is rallying behind their young goaltender, but a lot of it falls on Murph, too.  He’s got confidence which pays huge dividends in his performance.

The Hurricanes have a few days off before their next game, which is on Tuesday in Toronto.  I’d love to see Murphy get an entire game…. he sure has done great in relief this week, and it seems to me he deserves to see what he can do from the beginning!

 

And… since this is a Charlotte Checkers blog and not one just about one of our awesome goaltenders… a few notes about last night’s game:

  • Official gamesheet is here, and you can read Paul Branecky’s much more thorough recap is here.
  • For the second time this season, the Checkers were shut out. This time, Tyler Beskorowany stopped all 29 shots he faced, winning the game and first-star honors for Texas.
  • The Checkers lost their second straight game, a streak I hope ends at two!
  • I feel like by mentioning special teams again, I am beginning to sound like a broken record.  The Checkers powerplay went scoreless in five attempts.
  • On a positive note, the Stars had six power play opportunities, and were also shut down.  Kudos to the Checkers Penalty Kill unit!
  • Last night marked the third time in four games they allowed a shorthanded goal.  The best word I can think of in response to that, which wouldn’t require a bunch of &@%#$ symbols is YUCK.
  • It seems to me while the team is perfectly willing to get physical and drop the gloves, etc., where they REALLY need to get physical is in front of the net. The team hasn’t been in front of the opposing goaltender enough to snag rebounds.  I’d like to see more physicality when it comes to rebounds.
  • When I see 17 minor penalties on the board, I say yikes… (for those keeping track, there were also five majors given out)