The One Where the Checkers Stole My Heart (aka The Miracle at Mohegan)

Editor’s Note:  I’m here to bring you another special guest blog, this time from Renee, and Raleigh Checkers fan and friend of Chasing Checkers who was lucky enough to be in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday night.  I asked her to do a quick write-up about her experience, and this is way more awesome than I expected, except that she didn’t refer to Chris Terry as Terryiffic as I would have.  Thanks, Renee, for your insight!

The One Where the Checkers Stole My Heart (aka The Miracle at Mohegan)

Hell, who am I fooling? Anyone who knows me knows that the Checkers had a place in my heart the moment they became affiliated with my beloved Carolina Hurricanes.

But when did the giddy schoolgirl crush turn from carefree flirting into a full blown love affair?

Saturday morning, all decked out in Checkers gear, my sister-in-law Abi and I hit the road from Raleigh to Binghamton with a scheduled pitstop in Wilkes-Barre, PA for Game 6 between the Checkers and Penguins. Perfect timing. I could watch my boys finish off this series and then continue on to enjoy a week’s vacation at Mom’s.

We entered the arena excited and a bit nervous. During warmups we talked with a couple of nice Hershey fans that drove up to the game to cheer for the Checkers. (I know some of you may be shocked that there is such a thing after experiences in Hershey this year!) Though I was a little disappointed in the turnout for a Saturday night playoff game – especially when it could have been the Pens’ last of the year – I must say that the fans were very friendly and a lot of fun (noted exception being the lady who felt the need to drop f-bombs at us every time we cheered). Playful chirping started before the drop of the puck, with the guy behind me yelling that he hoped Murph could count to 7. I, of course, promptly made him aware that Murph only needed to know up to 6.
***Shout out to WBS fan, Matt, whose taunts kept me pumped up even after the Checkers fell behind. Matt, a word of advice, though…you really should be a little more creative than throwing the word “sucks” in there every other chirp. Work on that in the off-season and you’ll be gold for ’11-’12.***

The back and forth continued through the first period and got worse as the Pens took a 2-0 lead into the second intermission. Superstition set in so Abi and I decided that we needed to shake up the hockey mojo and swapped seats for the start of the third. Vitale’s shorty early in the period hit hard. I’ll admit, I was starting to hate the fact that I would have to drive back down to Wilkes-Barre on Monday for Game 7, yet as the Pens fans kept telling me they’d see me Monday, I continued to respond that the game was not over. I brought up Game 5 against Hershey and stated that the Checkers now had the Pens right where they wanted them.

Enter Chris Terry and begin the final capture of my heart.

Now of course, the first of Chris Terry’s third period goals just started my fall. It was the total team effort that night that completely pulled me under…

It was Murph keeping the boys in the game through the first 2+ periods until they could find a way to solve Thiessen and bust the scoring wide open.

It was Bryan Rodney coming out of the penalty box to feed Sutter for the score and keep the momentum in favour of the Checkers.

It was Michal Jordan firing the wrister that was tipped by Terry to tie the game just 30 seconds later.

It was Zac Dalpe playing the role of hero and giving the Checkers the lead with just 3:18 remaining in the third.

It was the life being sucked out of the building after Dalpe’s goal; Abi and I starting and sustaining a “Let’s Go Checkers” chant that we were told could be heard on the AHL Live tv and radio feeds.

It was the relentless pressure after Dalpe’s goal that kept the Pens hemmed in their zone and would not allow Thiessen off the ice for the extra attacker until there were less than 30 seconds left in the game.

It was the exhilarating feeling that overcame me when that final horn sounded. It was screaming so loud as I watched the Checkers surround Murph in celebration that I had no voice left. It was Fitzy skating across the ice and launching himself in jubilation into the glass right in front of us.

It was the adrenaline rush that kept me going after only 2 hours of sleep followed by a 9 hour drive from Raleigh.

It was realizing that the Binghamton Senators had just become the enemy;
that the city I grew up in, the city that introduced me to hockey was now hostile territory…

It was realizing that I had fallen head over heels in love and that the Charlotte Checkers had just stolen my heart.


The one about Lets Go Checkers, and rallying together

So, I was beginning to feel as neurotic as a goalie, freaking out about superstitions, to the point that for a hot second, I actually worried that by not drinking North Carolina beer prior to the game last night, I hurt my team’s chances.  (I know, there is NO WAY that North Carolina beer makes a difference, although it is good beer…. I’d had Craggie’s Antebellum Ale prior to games three and four, but none until AFTER the game yesterday).  Anyway.  So I’m changing my outlook, and starting fresh.  I am not wearing the same things I wore to the three games this week, though I will don my Chris Terry jersey before puck drop because it only seems right to cheer for my team wearing one of my favorite player’s name and number.

From here on out, it’s not about superstitions and rituals.  It’s about what feels right, and what makes me feel good, but first and foremost, what is the most positive, and exudes the most positive energy.  No voo-doo dolls, or goalie sucks chants (because, I’ve said it a million times, Brad Thiessen doesn’t suck, as much as I wish he did!!!!).  No taunting fans of the other team who are only being trolls and begging for attention.  Only positive feelings from here on out!

The bottom line is, I believe in my head and my heart that the Checkers are the better team.  I believe they have everything it takes to win.  Obviously, the Penguins are a strong team.  They have one of the best netminders in the league, and some great, NHL caliber guys on their roster.  It’s going to be a fight to the finish, and with every ounce of my being, I want the Checkers to come out victorious, and I believe they can and they will.

So tonight, I’m watching the game with some of my favorite people and fellow Checkers fans.  We’re going to cheer for our team, and applaud them until the final buzzer.  If our voices could carry 600 miles, I’m sure Mike Murphy would be able to hear us chanting his name all the way in Wilkes-Barre.

This team means the world to me… more than I dreamed they would when I bought my season tickets a little over a year ago, shortly after it was announced Charlotte was getting an AHL franchise.  I believe in the Charlotte Checkers, and I believe they are going to win tonight.

Lets Go Checkers

The one about losing in game 5… and going back to WBS

Mike Murphy makes another save in the third period. Photo 1/3. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

As I write this, both the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and the Charlotte Checkers are preparing to travel for game six, which has a scheduled puck drop of 7:05 pm tomorrow (today?  I guess it is after midnight…). The teams are flying to Pennsylvania, and one team is celebrating a win, but still on the brink of elimination, and the other team regrouping after a disappointing loss.

I think I lost more than a few brain cells during the game thanks to the cowbells, and I know I probably lost some hearing. I believe Mike McKenzie said it best on twitter with the following statement, “As a player these are the games you don’t wasn’t to be scratched for: Cow bell giveaway night.”  I swear, my head is still fuzzy and the game ended hours ago!

Is there a ringing in my ears?  What did you say?  I can’t hear anything… My ears are ringing.

The fans were amazing for the most part.  Over 6800 turned out tonight, including more than 1000 who bought their tickets TODAY.  They were so loud (even without the cowbells!).   I must put a negative shout out to those who abused their cowbells, and the mom in my section who thrust her rather unnaturally perky rack against the glass for the last two periods while banging on it non stop, especially at inappropriate moments.   I HATE GLASS BANGERS!  I was going to take a picture of her, but I’m here to lift up the team and it’s fans, not to break them down.

Mike Murphy makes another save in the third period. Photo 2/3. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

Wait… What is that ringing sound?

I’m not sure where to begin when actually talking about the game. I guess I should start by mentioning the fact that the Checkers missed about a million empty net chances, and until the third period, were unable to control the puck enough to keep it in the offensive end.

I’m sorry, did you say something?  I can’t hear you… all I can hear is cowbell… what?  Type louder?  OK, I’ll try… right… actual game content!

  • Mike Murphy was phenomenal in net once again, stopping all but one of the 33 shots that were sent his way.
  • The Penguins have figured out the only way to score is to crash the net time and time again, nearly slicing Murphy’s hands off with their skates and sticks, and eventually, a puck will go in (as it did tonight, finally).
  • The Checkers have GOT to figure out how to keep the Penguins out of our crease, and away from our goaltender.  I swear, I feared for Murph’s safety on a few plays, especially the one that left him helmet-less, sprawled out and protecting the goal.
  • For all three of our home games, the Checkers had the same pair of linesmen, MikeSheehan and Alex Stagnone .  I question this decision by the AHL schedulers.  Calls were made from opposite ends of the ice, which to me is ALWAYS questionable, because if you are on the opposite blue line, how can you blow the whistle for a play going on behind the net, with two officials only a few feet away from the action?  This happened more than once, and it’s frustrating.  I also think that there can be a tendency for officials to have a hard time separating one game from the next, and it proves to be an unequal playing field when we have the same guys for three games straight making the calls.
  • Best sign of the night!

    We only had six in the first, and THREE shots on goal in the second period.  THREE.  Some of this, I credit to Wilkes-Barre’s amazing ability to block shots (something we clearly lack) but I also blame the fact that we were unable to control the play, and spend ANY time in the offensive zone.

  • Why couldn’t the Checkers play in the first two periods the way they did in the last ten minutes of the game????  I was SO WORRIED about false confidence, and I think that was a huge thing tonight.
  • Nicolas Blanchard impressed me a great deal tonight with his speed and aggressiveness!
  • After the Penguins finally got a goal in the third period, the game changed.  The Checkers became frantic, and FINALLY found a way to equal the shots on goal.  But nothing was good enough.  We missed a lot of nearly empty net opportunities and rebounds, and hit the post a number of times (though honestly, that noise reminds me of cowbells, and it was hard to differentiate…).
  • Mike Murphy was pulled with a little more than a minute to go in the third to allow for an extra attacker.  Unfortunately, the Checkers really had no chance to take advantage of a sixth attacker, because they had to become goaltenders and guard the empty net since the Penguins kept trying to make breakaways.
  • Michal Jordan continues to be my favorite defensively responsible defenseman.  While I know he was a -1 tonight, he is consistently one of our best guys out there, and I don’t get so nervous when he’s on the ice.
Mike Murphy makes another save in the third period. Photo 3/3. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst
So… that’s it.  I’m exhausted, and a bit brain dead, and I have some great pictures I could add to this post, but I’m too sleepy to upload them, so I’m signing off for now.  Game six is at 7 p.m., and available on AHL live.  We’re having a watching party here in Charlotte with a few friends of Chasing Checkers, so it should be a good night.
Lets Go Checkers!

The Posse Report: Round One, Game Five

The Posse Report:

By Posse Members: Pete & Blaine Hurdle

Friday, April 22 2011

Charlotte Checkers vs. Hershey Bears in game five of the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Game 5, Round 1

The Posse is here in a guest blogger role to cover one of the greatest games in the history of Charlotte Checkers Hockey. The hockey gods only saw it fit that Charlotte would be without number four tonight, that’s right- Zack FitzGerald the namesake of the Posse did not skate with the team in their morning practice and was a no go on the ice as well. Taking his place in the line up was Bobby Sanguinetti, turns out FitzGerald missed the game with a broken thumb. The buzz in Time Warner Cable Arena is that he should be back in the lineup for game six on Sunday in Hershey.

Mike Murphy started for the third game in the row for the Checkers. The first period was filled with action coming mostly from the Hershey players. There was a definite presence of the fans who came down from Raleigh but the building seemed a little lack luster at the start of the game. While I don’t have the official attendance numbers it looked to me like the building was not quite as full as it normally is on a Friday night.

As the game got underway the Checkers fell victim to a Hershey goal early on, just their forth shot on. The team seemed to be missing each other on their passes, shots were not hitting the net and guys were getting knocked around. Brad Herauf took a stand and started laying some heavy hits and the team slowly started to rally off his lead. Mike Murphy found himself out of position and made an awkward leap towards the post for his first huge save of the game. Despite this the crowd was still very quiet for the most part.

8:34 into the first Jonathan Matsumoto pushed the net off from the side of Murphy. At first glance it did not seem like he was preventing a goal but I am sure he had his reason. TWC Arena showed the replay from an angle that did not give any other explanation. While in the box for delay of game Murphy came back with two more huge saves.

As the first period comes to an end it is easy to see that Hershey is dominating the Checkers physically. Without having Fitzgerald on the ice Brad Herauf took his physicality up a notch from hardcore to insane. Herauf is (generously) listed on the Checkers site as being 5’11 and 195 lbs, he was taking and giving giant hits. The Bear on the other end of much of that play was Sheldon Souray who is listed at 6’4, 233 lbs and played an NHL career including three NHL All-Star games. In my opinion Souray got away with an obvious boarding call with about four minutes left in the first, the refs went out of their way all game to keep the players from breaking into fights.

The second period starts up with the crowd finally starting to get vocal. I personally felt like the fans were not as loud as they have been in recent games, that was until the end of the third period. A few fans who made the trip up from Raleigh made it known that they were impressed with the cheering of the Checkers fans.

18:11 into the second Hershey gets their second goal in a defensive break down from the Checkers. Soon after Riley Nash gets tossed in the box for a very weak hooking call. It seemed that the refs call the second period much tighter than the rest of the game.

Boyd Kane from the Bears gets mowed down by Nicolas Blanchard into the far side boards at 15:36 in the second. Blanchard gets two minutes for boarding, TWC again does not show a replay.

Hershey goaltender, Braden Holtby starts to play much more aggressive in net. Holtby plays the body a few times against the Checkers leaving the puck to fall where it may. In short he created the chance of chance but kept making the saves when needed.

Jacob Micflicker had been quiet most of the game but towards the end of the second period he started to step it up offensively and physically. Micflicker and Herauf have been playing high energy hockey from the end of the regular season and well through the first round. Casey Borer also made his presence known on D by breaking up a huge play from the Bears.

Hershey gets their third goal from former ECHL Checker, Andrew Carroll. It seems that the Bears figured out how to beat the fast paced skating of the Checkers, mainly in the form of brute physicality. The Bears are leading in shots 28-16 with 16:27 left in the third. Oskar Osala who had been realitivly quiet thus far in the game starts to play noticeably better.

At a stoppage in play Wilson takes to the microphone and really gets the crowd on their collective feet. Shortly after this during a failure of communication between the Bear’s defense and Holtby the Checkers get their first goal of the game from Brett Sutter. Hershey get’s a boarding minor for a huge hit against Herauf who was quick to get up but slow to get to the bench. The Checkers ended the last 20 seconds on the power play with Bryan Rodney quarterbacking the movement with help from his defensive partner and 19 year old rookie, Justin Faulk. They have a great passing game and came close to grabbing a goal at the close of the second.

Riley Nash continues to impress as we jump to the third, this rookie skates the ice with confidence of a seasoned veteran which is good news for such a young team. One minute into the third Drayson Bowman slaps one into the net for the Checkers 2nd goal. Later in the period they change the credit of the goal to Zach Boychuck in what might have been a tip in or deflection. Rodney and Faulk continue to play great together on the point and created the play that fed Bowman the puck.

The crowd is now going crazy, the Checkers have two unanswered goals. Chris Terry takes a hard hit from Hershey’s Patrick Wellar and Charlotte gets another chance on the power play and more of the Rodney/Faulk action.

Oscar Osala on a second wind steals a goal by taking the puck away from Holtby and forcing it into the net. In the replay it seems like Holtby was looking for some defensive backup but nobody was there. The frustrated Bears rack up another penalty as Charlotte’s Michal Jordan takes a hit from Steve Pinizzotto. To be honest I did not really see the hit too well but it shook up Michal as he stayed on the ground for a while.

It seems that Holtby is starting to play a little more nervous but he come through with some big saves, at one point right after the halfway mark of the third he leaned backwards against the goal, it popped up for a second and then fell back into place, the play was called dead. Seemed a little fishy to me.

The Hershey penalties gave Charlotte a good number of scoring chances as the shot count has jumped to 28 each. Murphy has seen very little action in the third. At 8:36 to go in the game Nick Dodge gets the eventual game winning goal with assists from Bowman and Osala. The goal is reviewed by the refs who keep it as a good goal.

Soon after Chris Terry runs into Holtby on a one-on-one chance and is given a goaltender interference call. Most of the Bears players that are on the ice tackle him to the ground and into the bottom of net. The fans were not happy with the call but it got everyone making noise and the booing of the refs which turned into harder cheering for the Checkers.

Nicolas Blanchard keeps the Bears from getting the puck on goal with a huge defensive play followed by a clear. It’s not long before the Bears are back on full attack in the Checkers defensive zone. An very aggressive game was played by both teams, there are three broken sticks on the ice at one time. The Checkers are in desperate need of a line change and the refs are looking to get the broken pieces of sticks of the ice. After a stoppage Bowman gets a great play off where he missed the inside of the goal by inches, he was skating in a way that showed you how tired he was but how capable and strong he was at the same time.

Holtby makes some more big saves as the Bears are within one goal of the Checkers. They pull Holtby, last time they tried this on Thursday it worked. With the extra attacker Hershey makes their play against the Checkers. Murphy comes up big with little over a minute left in the game, Bowman shoots the puck into the empty net for the insurance goal with one minute left in the game.

The crowd is going wild as the clock ticks down, the Checkers have scored five goals in a row after being down by three. It seems like the game is over but the refs call a penalty with 00.1 left in the game and Michal Jordan steps into the box for the final face-off.

Game over, the fans are all celebrating in the stands, you can tell the team really wanted the win as they leave the ice. The overall end of game atmosphere is out of this world, the fans are celebrating as if the Checkers were just named the world champions of hockey- that is one of the great things about the fans! When leaving TWC Arena there were multiple “we want the cup” and “let’s go Checkers” chants from the crowd as well as a sea of “Whoooooos” that started at the end of the game and might still be going.

Other notes:

During the intermission in the “though the eyes of the Checkers” interview most of the team picks Zac Dalpe as having the worst playoff beard.

I think Braden Holtby wins the award for most taunted player of the year by the Charlotte fans. There was rarely a second in the game where you would not hear the anti- Holtby chants. Holtby always gets some words from the Charlotte crowd but tonight took it to a new level.

The Raleigh crowd defiantly brought their cowbells, there was a noticeable increase in cowbell noise.

It was interesting to see the way that some of the fans who came down from Raleigh interacted at the Checkers game. I could tell many of them were not used to how up close and personal the game can be, the divide between the players and fans is totally different while the skill level is still very high.

Faulk is off to a great start, can’t wait to see what he does either in Charlotte or Raleigh.

It seems like Dalpe and Boychuck are getting caught up in more physical play than they are used to.

If Zack FitzGerald does come back Sunday who will sit? I don’t see Faulk sitting out and I think the team could really use FitzGerald’s physical presence and veteran know how on the ice.

I have total confidence in both Mike Murphy and Justin Pogge but would be surprised if Murphy does not start Sunday’s game.

Family takes pictures with Posse members

You can join the Zack FitzGerald has a Posse group on Facebook.