By the numbers : Counting down to November 7

I realize the AHL season started two weeks ago, but without a completed arena and the team being on the road the first month of the season, and having two full time jobs at the moment, it’s been easy for me to distance myself from the day-to-day happenings of the hockey season.

But every day when I drive by Bojangles coliseum and see construction activity, or late at night when they forget to turn off the neon lights on the concourse, I get more anxious and excited about the Checkers playing in my city again.

There are so many reasons Checkers fans have to be excited about the 2015-16 season, but a few in particular stick out at me. So without further ado…

3-0 – The Checkers three game winning streak they started the season. OK, so they lost their second game last weekend and again last night, but 3-0 is outstanding, and something to be proud of. This lineup has the potential to go far this season.

5 – Trevor Carrick, who wears number five was one of the biggest standouts last season as a rookie on a young team that struggled a lot in the win column. As a second year pro, I’m expecting great things from Mr. Carrick, and with five games under his belt and six points (3g, 3a), he’s on the right track.

2700 – The address of Bojangles Coliseum on E. Independence Blvd. This is going to be my favorite place to visit starting in November! The Checkers new(old) home is going to be filled with craft beer options, outstanding local food selections and best and most of all, the Checkers hockey team. And I can ride my bike to the arena, which is kind of amazing.

22 – Drew MacIntyre, the Checkers most excellent goaltender, is wearing my favorite number in hockey to honor his late uncle. – He was the first big off-season signing by the Carolina Hurricanes for the Charlotte Checkers, and will certainly prove to be the most important. MACnificent is one of the most skilled goaltenders in the AHL, and his experience in net will continue to benefit a young Checkers team (though, thankfully, not as young as last year’s squad).

6 – It’s the Checkers sixth AHL season in Charlotte, and I’m positive it’s going to be an outstanding one. With a new rink, new coach and an incredible roster the future is bright for the home team!

16 – Days until the #CheckersComeHome and start their season off right in Charlotte at the newly remodeled Bojangles Coliseum. November 7 is going to be a historic night!

341 – Mark Morris – This coach is the real deal. His coaching record in the AHL and NCAA levels speaks for itself, and won his 341st AHL game with the Checkers last weekend in Milwaukee. He’s a true development coach, and one who has helped players move on to Stanley Cup championships. What he has the potential to do in Charlotte and the Hurricanes organization is extraordinary. It might not come overnight, but change and growth is coming, and it’s going to be exciting to watch.

27 – Jake Cheelios, a second year pro in his first season with Charlotte, is someone to keep an eye one. After a four year career at Michigan State (go Spartans!) he had a strong rookie performance with the Chicago Wolves last season. He’s an offensively minded defenseman, and in his first three appearances with Charlotte, he has five points (1g, 4a).

28 – Phil DiGiuseppe is another second year pro, and in his first five games has seven points (3g, 4a). And he has 20 SOG. After a season last year where the team at times seems afraid of shooting the puck, it’s refreshing to see a more offensively minded team.

1956 – The year the Checkers (then named the Clippers, of the defunct Eastern Hockey League) first played at what is now called Bojangles Coliseum. Almost 60 years later, it’s going to be exciting to see a new, faster Checkers team take on their opponents in the arena that held the first professional hockey in the south.

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The Charlotte Checkers future with coach Mark Morris: A teacher, mentor and development coach.

After Jeff Daniels was relieved of his coaching duties last spring, many anxiously awaited the name of his replacement. Mark Morris, who most recently served as an assistant for the Florida Panthers, was named by the Hurricanes last week as the Checkers new head coach.

Morris has been touted for his proven win record at the AHL level and as a leading coach in NCAA. The statistics I find even more impressive than winning percentage, however, is the ability to develop championship players at the AHL and NHL level.

Morris’ AHL coaching experience comes from the Manchester Monarchs, where he spent eight seasons, becoming the winningest coach in Manchester history. The Monarchs were a part of the LA Kings organization (the club is moving to Ontario, California next season to become the Reign). During Morris’ tenure in Manchester, many of his players graduated to the NHL and won two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 (with the potential for more in the future.) A few of Morris’ former players in Manchester who won championships with the Kings include:

Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, Martin Jones, Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Jonathan Quick, Tyler Toffoli, Slava Voynov, and Kevin Westgarth

Last month, the Monarchs won the AHL’s Calder Cup, and while Morris was no longer the coach in Manchester, his fingerprints are all over the 2015 championship (just like they are on the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cups) through the players he spent eight seasons developing.

During Morris’ tenure in Manchester, the NHL club changed coaches a number of times. From Morris’ winning record with the Monarchs, it’s shows that he was able to adapt to new coaching styles from the parent club, and continue to develop players in the vision of the Kings organization. Earlier today, Morris affirmed it would be a continuing trend. “We’re going to play Carolina’s systems, there’s no doubt about that.”

When asked about his experience with Manchester, Coach Morris was very candid.

“Winning is hard. You just can’t flick a switch. It takes time. You’ve got to work on fundamentals of the game. There’s no secret to it other than the fact that you have to be thorough,” Morris said. “Without good players, it’s hard to make it happen, but you can take players that perhaps don’t have the confidence and pull them up and raise them to another level. You have to keep people accountable and responsible and make them realize that, in the end, it’s how hard they play for one another. We can wish winning to happen, but in the end good teams win because they play hard for each other.”

Now – a more personal explanation of why I’m excited about Morris’ upcoming debut in Charlotte. I was born in L.A. I’m a Kings fan, through and through, so clearly, I like seeing someone with ties to that organization come to Charlotte. But more than that, when I look at the past five or six seasons in the Kings organization at both the AHL and NHL levels, I see a pattern of success and growth. A winning NHL team doesn’t always equal a winning AHL team, or vice versa. With the way many teams develop prospects, often the NHL team may struggle while the AHL thrives with young talent on their way up. The reverse of course, can also be true, but during Morris’ time in Manchester, both the AHL and NHL squads in the Kings organization were thriving, despite being thousands of miles apart.

Morris is a development coach. It’s something I believe the Checkers has lacked over the past five seasons. Morris is a teacher, a mentor, a true young man’s coach. From his days in the NCAA and AHL, he has learned how to work with young players.

“What I’ve learned over time is that people develop at different rates. You can never count a kid out,” Morris said, “Sometimes you may think a guy’s career has a ceiling, but I’ve learned over time that you just have to be patient as an organization, specifically as a coach. “

Can this be something in the Checkers future? I believe so. With the continued strong relationship between Charlotte and Raleigh and a new vision from Coach Morris, the future looks bright.

“The important part is creating that expectation that we’re going to win,” Morris said, “We expect to win and we’ll find ways to make that happen. There’s no shortcuts.”

I can’t wait until November 7… can you?