Checkers score a touchdown against Chicago, defeat Wolves 6-5.

Early on in tonight’s matchup, it would have been easy to count the Checkers out. They had allowed the first two shots of the game, and were down 2-0 only 1:40 into the contest. The home team rallied, again and again, and after yo-yoing between being a goal behind and tied, they finally took the lead with 6:31 to go in the game with an even strength goal by Zach Boychuk.

Coach Morris recognized the team’s ability to bounce back.

“We showed some resilience, and I thought that it looked pretty dire at the start of the game,” Morris continued, “Guys just stuck with it, so, we’ll take it. They’re not all gonna be pretty. And hopefully we learned some things along the way.”

Four power play goals led to the Checkers victory at home against Chicago.

Drew MacIntyre made his first appearance for the Checkers since December 15. He was injured over the Christmas break while playing for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in Switzerland. Having missed the past month of Checkers play, it was no surprise he was a bit shaky on the start, but his teammates rallied around him to score six goals and win the game.

Coach Morris was complimentary of MacIntyre’s play despite the shaky start.

“He had a rough outing. That’s not the typical Mac game. He’s coming off an injury…. So we’ve got to cut him some slack. He made some big saves.” Morris continued, “It’s not an easy position to play, especially when you’ve been out so long.”

The Checkers are in a tight race for the playoffs, in a tough central division. The Wolves, who are division rivals, are lower in the standings but still a crucial matchup.

Brendan Woods, who was the game’s first star with two goals, recognized the importance of a strong showing against the Chicago Wolves.

“We have a board up in our room. Right when you walk in you see it,” Woods continued, “It’s really tight when you look at the standings. You can’t take any nights off with the division we have. It’s all really close, so any chance you have with a team coming in your building, in your division, it’s huge.”

Coach Morris also commented on the importance of a strong showing against division rival Chicago.

“They have no problem scoring goals against us. I thought we’d need a touchdown after the first two shots.”

The Checkers sit solidly in a playoff spot, but with over a third of the season to play, the team must continue to win games and pick up points in the standings. Since December 9, they’ve shown they know how to win.

After a 12 game point streak that took them through most of December and into January, and have points again in the past five starts.

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Comeback Checkers: Charlotte overcomes a 4-1 deficit with six unanswered goals to defeat Iowa Wild 7-4

For the second time in a week, the Charlotte Checkers became the comeback kids, overcoming a 4-1 deficit at the end of the second intermission win by a score of 7-4 over the Iowa Wild.

Coach Mark Morris spoke candidly about the lack of effort from the home team during the first two periods of play.

“Our execution was less than stellar,” Morris stated, “and again, we didn’t start the game with the kind of focus we need to really be on top of our game.”

After the first period, when the home team came out flat and allowed three goals, Drew MacIntyre replaced rookie Rasmus Tirronen, who faced 15 shots in the first period, which was almost twice what Mac faced in the remaining 40 minutes of play.

The Checkers looked slightly better in the second period, with MacIntyre allowing one goal and the Checkers scoring one as well, but there was still a lot of work to do.

Midway through the game, Brendan Woods tried to get former Checkers captain Brett Sutter to drop the gloves, but Brett was having none of it. Instead, Wild left wing Kellan Lain stepped in and defeated Woods quickly, with both players going to the box for a cool down.

Charlotte Checkers Captain Derek Ryan commented honestly about the lack of effort at the beginning of the game, and what Coach said to inspire the comeback.

“Well he didn’t really come in and yell at us. He’s done that before and probably is tired of doing that…. I think his message is just we’ve got to start figuring stuff out on our own…. We’re super inconsistent right now… I’m not sure what it is.”

After a 16-game drought that was broken only four days ago on Tuesday, Zach Boychuk scored his second goal in three games, an unassisted shot that found the back of the net one minute into the third period, and the first of six unanswered goals that led to the Checkers phenomenal comeback.

“It’s great. The leadership that we have in this room and the determination to come back. We’ve done it quite a few times this year…” Boychuk continued, “Hopefully next game we can come out with a little better start.”

Coach Mark Morris talked to the team after the first two periods of play, and what was said turned the effort and energy around, leading to an epic comeback.

“I told the guys, I said listen,” Morris said, “we’ve come back from 4-1 against these guys in the past and I’m not counting us out.

With a 7-4 win over the Iowa Wild, Coach was right. Never count out the Charlotte Checkers.

 

 

Checkers win! McGinn and Boychuk help Charlotte defeat San Jose Barracuda.

In a game where the Checkers were outshot by the visiting San Jose Barracuda 29-19, the home team was victorious. The highlights are plentiful. Zach Boychuk scored his first goal since March 22 of last season in Iowa. The 16 game drought is the longest in his career, and a true anomaly for the Checkers all-time leading goal scorer.

 

The last five minutes of the first period were action packed, with three goals scored by the Checkers in quick succession. Brock McGinn scored his first goal since returning to the Checkers roster from a stint in the NHL, and then a few minutes later, scored a second. Zach Boychuk scored the second goal of the game, and the eventual game-winner with 1:41 to go in the first period.

 

After the first period, the goal horn (which, by the way, is one of the best goal horns I’ve heard… it really is the perfect tone and timbre and is far superior to the noise we heard at TWCA!) was silent for the home team. With less than 14 seconds to go in the game, the Barracuda robbed Rasmus Tirronen of what could have been his first professional shutout. Tirronen, who the Hurricanes signed last spring to a one-year contract, has only six professional games to his credit, but continues to make great impressions with his confidence and skill. Tonight’s win was his first back-to-back start of the season, and his first (of hopefully many) back-to-back wins with the Checkers.

 

The game and post-game interviews left a lot of impressions on me.

First of all, Coach Morris seems to be exactly what this team needs. He’s a development coach in the truest sense of the word. He appears to be an excellent judge of skills and character, and has the ability to shape and groom good young players into excellent ones. I heard it in his analysis of the game and his athletes, and was impressed by his candid honesty about the players strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what he said about Zach Boychuk and whether the end of his scoring drought would lead to more goals:

“I sure hope so. He’s starting to throw his weight around and create space for himself. I’ve encouraged him to shoot more pucks and nobody’s going to ever condemn a guy for shooting the puck,” Coach Mark Morris continued, “He’s certainly a skilled guy but I think the more he gets involved and gets his juices flowing, the better he’s going to be and he’s going to play with more jump in his step.”

Zach Boychuk seemed (obviously) relieved to have the scoring jinx off his back, and has a realistic idea of what to expect tomorrow night when the Checkers face San Jose again:

“Staying engaged…. Sometimes it’s tough playing the same team in back-to-back nights. Sometimes you don’t come out as hard,” Boychuk continues, “[We’ve got to] come out hard. Hopefully we can keep this streak going.”

 

Boychuk on tonight’s game and continuing the momentum:

“We came out hard in the first period and kind of weathered the storm a little bit and put them on their heels. Once we were up three-nothing I feel like the ref was calling some penalties on us and we weren’t getting any of the breaks,” Boychuck says, “We’ve got to stay on the gas pedal a little more and we’ll try and focus on that tomorrow.”

 

You can stop reading now if you’re only interested in the game coverage… because from here on it’s purely editorial!

 

 

As I mentioned on Twitter before the game, tonight was the first time I got to see a game from start-to-finish at Bojangles Coliseum. A big promotion at work means I have even less evenings free, so it was a luxury to see a game on home ice. Charlotte is so lucky to have an amazing, historic rink like we do with so many great amenities. Sure, there’s no WiFi (though, it was just as bad at TWCA) and there aren’t any theatrical lighting effects (I’m a lighting designer by trade… I have to complain about the lack of special lights!) the things that actually matter are top notch. While the LED lights provide great coverage of the playing surface, and are a really nice, warm color temperature, it always seems dark right under the video board and I wish that could be fixed.

 

 

Some of my critiques are so minor I feel bad even mentioning them. Most are out of the control of the organization anyway, so there’s even less of a point talking about it…

  • The only thing I miss about TWCA is I had a place to sit, out of the way in the corner, but with enough space to set up my laptop and take notes. BoCo is a bit cramped, and that’s annoying, but I made do and got to see the game from a number of vantage points throughout the night.
  • I really hope the built-in ice system is fixed next off-season. The tank ice set up and the sub floor around the ice surface is annoying, mostly because I almost tripped walking up and down them tonight. Fingers are crossed whatever leak exists can be easily fixed.
  • I found some of the ribbon boards distracting, and lacking crucial information… like when both teams had a player in the box, there was no distinction between who was who. Such a minor, silly complaint, really!

The great stuff, because I’d like to end on a high note:

  • There’s an organ!!!!! (more organ music and less jock jams, please!).
  • There’s a goal horn that has serenaded championships and hockey games for the past 60 years. And it sounds amazing.
  • Sightlines! Awesome! There isn’t a bad seat in the house… and there were a LOT of bad seats uptown at TWCA.
  • The rink is less than two miles from my house, and my neighborhood sports bar where I watch so many NHL games is advertised on the boards. So meet me at Steamers, y’all. Their Wednesday night drink special is one of the best in the city!
  • Most of all, what I love about the “new” arena is there’s a hockey organization at home there that has embraced the history of the sport in Charlotte and all of the Checkers different incarnations, as evidenced by the amazing intro video and love of history. Charlotte is so lucky to have this team, and this organization.

It was a great first night for me… and I can’t wait to see many, many more wins at BoCo this season and beyond!

 

Charlotte Checkers lose 4-1 to Chicago Wolves: The good, the bad and the ugly

The Good:

  • Chad LaRose has points in seven of his last nine games. As the sole goal scorer for Charlotte tonight, he continues to lead the team with 26 points (13g, 13a).
  • The Checkers pink jerseys, socks and helmets looked amazing. They are probably my favorite of the five years of AHL Pink in the Rink uniforms
  • The Checkers sell-out was the highest attended game of the season. Way to go to the Checkers sales team for selling so many tickets to a game that benefits so many great organizations.
  • Jason Bast, who was signed by the Checkers to a PTO on Thursday, scored his first AHL point, in his fourth AHL game this season (he played two with Bridgeport earlier this season). Bast, who has taken an unconventional route to the AHL, has been tearing up the ECHL as a rookie member of the Idaho Steelheads following five seasons in the WHL with Moose Jaw and then four years as a student at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Canadian universities don’t have the same restrictions that NCAA schools do regarding Major Junior being a “professional” league. Bast is a speedy, skilled centerman who was a lot of fun to watch, and will hopefully create the offensive spark the Checkers so desperately need.
  • Tonight is (possibly) the last time Checkers fans will have to see a terrible loss to the Chicago Wolves, or at least, as regularly as they have come the past four seasons the Checkers have been in the same conference as Chicago. Rumors have Charlotte moving back to the Eastern Conference in 2015-16, where they began their tenure as an AHL franchise in 2010.

The Bad:

  • Charlotte lost 4-1, for the second night in a row, to the Chicago Wolves.
  • The Checkers allowed seven power play opportunities for the Wolves. Chicago was successful on two of these, including a 5-on-3.
  • After the game, Coach Jeff Daniels confirmed that Zach Boychuk was a healthy scratch for the Checkers tonight. He has played 13 games for the Checkers this season, having spent most of the first half with the Carolina Hurricanes. He is the Checkers franchise leading goal scorer, with 106 to his credit over the course of five seasons.

The Ugly:

  • The Checkers lost their fourth game in a row following the AHL All-Star break in late January. Following the Christmas break in December, the Checkers also lost four games in a row after a strong month leading up to the break. Coach Jeff Daniels recognized the pattern of the Checkers faltering a bit following breaks. “It’s a trend. It’s a concern. Both times we’ve come off a break we haven’t been sharp. We’ve forgotten how to work.”
  • With another loss for the Iowa Wild, the Charlotte Checkers still sit two points out of last place in the American Hockey League.