Bojangles Coliseum: A sneak peak where #CheckersComeHome

Today I had the privilege of checking out the new and amazing Bojangles Coliseum. Wow. It has charm, character, and sightlines that can’t be beat, and all of the amenities a larger NBA arena might have. Checkers fans are going to have one of the best rinks in the AHL this season, and one of the oldest arenas in the league. The Toronto Marlies’ Ricoh Coliseum was built in 1921, but most other AHL arenas were built in the 1980’s and 1990’s.


A panorama from the middle aisle of section 108.

A panorama from the middle aisle of section 108.

Bojangles Coliseum is a unique and amazing 60 year-old building. It’s the first place I ever saw a professional hockey game, and the birthplace of professional hockey in the south, so sentimentally, I’d say it’s pretty special.

High at the end of the ice

High at the end of the ice

I’d stopped by to watch practice, but found myself too distracted by checking out the upgrades to focus on the skating, so instead I wandered around the seating bowl, walking to the top of all of the sections and choosing seats to sit in. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. Honestly, the higher up I got, the more I liked the view because of how well I could see formations and plays being created on the ice.

Almost as high as the rafters, and still an amazing view.

Almost as high as the rafters, and still an amazing view.

As I sat in about a dozen different locations, I continued to be filled with excitement for the upcoming home opener, and the historic venue coming to life again.

Observations and educational tid bits I learned today:

  • The seats are comfortable! I was sad they were plastic and not wood, but they feel great, even without padding like TWCA had.
  • The lighting is fantastic. It’s all LED, but it’s not a gross, harsh cold LED light. The color temperature was relatively warm and appealing (and now I will step down off my lighting designer soap box).
  • There honestly is NOT a bad seat in the house. I sat low and high on the sides, the corners, the end of the ice… it’s all a great view!
  • According to a handout the CRVA gave me, the Checkers plan to use the Hammond B2 organ that is original to the building. How awesome is that??!?!??!? I love organ music at a hockey game (it’s so much better than the awful “Jock Jams” stuff we hear so much of).
  • The roof of Bojangles Coliseum is made of tin. I guess I should have known that with its beautiful silver sheen, but that makes me love it even more. Nothing like a tin roof in the South, y’all!
I love the color of the ceiling, and how much brighter the arena is with new LED lighting!

I love the color of the ceiling, and how much brighter the arena is with new LED lighting!

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.

#CheckersComeHome: The chance to make history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

The AHL and western expansion: What does the future hold?

The AHL is bound to be a very different league next season, with as many as four teams moving west to a time zone that currently doesn’t have a single AHL squad.

The chips are falling, one by one, and soon the AHL will have their coveted “Pacific Division”… teams that will mostly be based in California, and will be closer to their NHL affiliate.

Most NHL teams will state they desire to have their AHL squads closer to home. It enables them to have easier call ups (Zach Boychuk can probably drive up I-85 to Raleigh with a blindfold on) and allow them to monitor their development, but the close by model is one that doesn’t always work. Charlotte has had success as an AHL franchise since 2010. Thanks to a dedicated front office, a strong fan base and consistent ticket sales, the Checkers seem to have found a home here, and the upcoming move home to Bojangles Coliseum only solidifies that.

The Checkers move (three miles east, to BoCo) shows a long term commitment to the city of Charlotte and its hockey fans, which is comforting to see when so many AHL clubs are being ripped from their homes and moved to California. The Checkers have found success where other franchises far away from the overly saturated AHL north east, despite a tough travel schedule thanks in part to being a member of the Western Conference but also because their closest AHL team is the Eastern Conference team of Norfolk, 325 miles and over five hours away. For the past five seasons, the Checkers have played the Admirals an average of 10-12 games per season, and the same can be said for the Oklahoma Barons, who have been the Checkers most common Western Conference opponent for the past four seasons. Next year, both of these rivals will be in southern California, and become cornerstones of the new AHL Pacific division.

Oklahoma City already announced the Barons will cease operations at the end of the 2014-15 season.  The Barons have been the Checkers most frequent opponent over the past four season, and they will (likely, unconfirmed but as the old magic eight ball says, all signs point to YES) play in Bakersfield, replacing the current ECHL squad there that the Oilers own. As of right now, there are no plans for another team to replace the Barons, which is quite the blow to the loyal fans in OKC. Neal & Co. at Tend the Farm have had great coverage of the move, and it’s worth a read for more in-depth information.

The Norfolk Admirals have been trying to deny a move for weeks, with facebook posts promising that they are staying, yet nobody was buying it.  Yesterday, Ken Young, the owner of the Admirals said in an interview that he had been forced to sell his team to the Anaheim Ducks.  You can read more about it here, but it’s a pretty sad story.  In a nutshell, since the Ducks want their team close, the only way to have that happen is to buy an AHL franchise (much Michael Kahn did to bring the River Rats to Charlotte in 2010.. the difference there was that Albany was ultimately able to keep an AHL team, albeit with a different NHL affiliate, but at least they kept the high caliber of hockey the fans of Albany were used to.

The good news for Norfolk is the Admirals have a replacement ECHL team that will relocate from California to Norfolk next season.  The Oilers plan to move the Bakersfield Condors to Norfolk, who no longer need an ECHL team in SoCal since they will have their AHL squad instead. It is rumored that the Ducks AHL team will be located in San Diego, leaving a vacancy in Stockton for another potential AHL move.

Another domino that’s recently fallen in the Pacific division is the news a couple of days ago that the Worcester Sharks would be moving to San Jose, California and will share a building with their parent club.  No word on what the AHL team will be called, since having two teams named the Sharks in one city and one building would be confusing.  If it was my team, I think I’d name them the Minnows, in honor of my favorite pool game “Sharks and Minnows” from summer camp.

The third NHL team in California is, of course, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. Their AHL affiliate is the Manchester Monarchs, who the Checkers haven’t faced since their inaugural season in 2010-11.  The Monarchs are owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the same group who owns an ECHL team in California.  The Ontario Reign have had great success in the ECHL, breaking attendance records and would have no trouble continuing that should they get promoted to the AHL next season.

So, what other Western Conference teams might be affected by the TBA Pacific Division of the AHL? Only time will tell, but here are a few facts and figures:

  • The Utica Comets are owned by the Vancouver Canucks. It’s their second full season in New York, and they are hosting the AHL All Star Game next week. While it seems easy to consider the Comets moving west since they are owned by their NHL club, they signed a lengthy lease and spent a lot of cash on arena improvements in Utica, so only time will tell if the Canucks decide moving their prospects closer to home is worth the broken contracts and expense.
  • The Arizona Coyotes’ AHL team is the Portland Pirates. Last year, the Coyotes purchased a the Arizona Sundogs, a CHL team in Prescott, AZ, but decided to cease operations, though rumors have them joining the ECHL in 2015. They are a team that would obviously like to have their prospects closer than Maine.
  • The Colorado Avalanche also purchased a CHL team last year, and like the Coyotes, decided to cease operations in August, prior to the start of the CHL season. Rumors continue to circulate that the Denver Cutthroats could resume operations in 2015-16 as a member of the ECHL or AHL. Currently, the Avalanche’s AHL squad is the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, OH.
  • The Calgary Flames have said they want their AHL squad closer, and there may be an opening in Stockton, CA. It must be noted, however, that their attempt to have an AHL team close by in Abbotsford failed due to lack of fan support and a brutal travel schedule (remember last season, folks, when they were in the same division as Charlotte…) The Flames are playing their first season in Glen Falls, NY after moving their AHL Flames from Abbotsford following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Glen Falls has a three-year contract (they are in year one) with the Calgary Flames, but contracts are easily broken.
  • Albany, which has been the home of the New Jersey Devils AHL squad since the Hurricanes left in 2010, is in the final year of a five-year contract.
  • The Winnipeg Jets, who own the St. John’s Ice Caps, are planning to move the team to Thunder Bay, ON. Despite being in a time zone of their own and traveling more miles than any other team in the AHL, the IceCaps have had great success since they moved to St. John’s in 2011. Sell out crowds and a consistent winning record are just a couple of examples of this.  While it’s not as far west as California, Thunder Bay is about 2000 miles from St. John’s, and almost as far from every AHL team in the league as St. John’s is.

So… what does all of this mean for Charlotte? Only time will tell.

It is certain that Norfolk and Oklahoma City are gone, and in those two teams are 20-24 of the Checkers 76 games each season. Another realignment will have to happen in the AHL, since three to four eastern conference teams are leaving for California, and St. John’s is probably moving west to Thunder Bay. This makes rooms for “Eastern” Western Conference teams like Charlotte, Toronto, Hamilton and Rochester to potentially move conferences, though changing conferences won’t necessarily improve travel for the Checkers. Many I’ve spoken to with the Checkers have told me the Western conference travel is much nicer than the bus runs the Checkers used to make in the north east.

The AHL Board of Governors meet this weekend in Utica, so we will likely know something sooner than later.

Checkers announce move “home” to the birthplace of hockey in Charlotte and relocate to Bojangles Coliseum in 2015-16.

The Checkers announced today that they would be moving out of Time Warner Cable Arena next season, and back to the birthplace of hockey in the south, the old Charlotte Coliseum on Independence Blvd, which is known today as Bojangles Coliseum.  The Coliseum is on the Charlotte historic register, and is the largest free-standing dome in the world since Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena was demolished in 2011.

As most hockey historians know, the first professional hockey game was held at Bojangles Coliseum in January, 1956 after the Baltimore Clippers arena burned down, and the team needed a temporary home to play the remainder of the year.  Hockey had never been played professionally in the South, and the Checkers success was crucial to the southern expansion of the sport. In the fall of 1956, the Clippers relocated permanently to Charlotte, and later became the Charlotte Checkers, a team that has been a fixture in Charlotte for much of the past 60 years.

The Checkers moved to uptown Charlotte in 2006 when TWCA was built and the NBA returned to Charlotte with the Bobcats, and now Hornets.  In 2010, the Checkers were upgraded to the AHL after many successful seasons in the ECHL.

I’ve been a fixture at Checkers games regularly since 2010.  The first hockey game I ever attended was in 1993 at the old coliseum.  I don’t have as many memories of games at the old barn, but from what I’ve been told, the atmosphere was electric.

I’ve also been lucky enough to visit a number of AHL hockey arenas over the past five season.  Hershey, which has a similar capacity to Bojangles Coliseum, is an exciting place to watch a game (especially in the playoffs, when the Checkers win a game!).  Rockford and Peoria were also outstanding venues, because the size of the arena was a better fit to the fan base.  A full building is always an exciting building.  Both of those arenas were located in downtown areas, but the smaller size made it much more fun than the vast, empty TWCA on most Checkers nights.

Will I miss having games in uptown? Heck yes.  I work uptown. I spend a lot of my free time there as well, at local bars and restaurants.  I love the convenience of TWCA and the fact I never have to pay to park because I walk there from work, and have dozens of choices of places to meet friends and family for drinks before or after games.

Though those are certainly downfalls and inconveniences for me, the move to Bojangles Coliseum is going to be a good one for the city of Charlotte, the Checkers and the fans, and here are just a few reasons:

  • Instead of having to curtain off the top half of a gigantic building, Checkers fans will be able to fill the coliseum night after night, from top to bottom. Can you imagine the sound of a game under the Bojangles dome? It will be incredible.
  • The Charlotte Checkers will no longer have to pack up and travel to Indian Trail for practice. Having their own home ice for games and practice will be a huge benefit to the team.
  • The Checkers will have their OWN building. They won’t be the minor league team that rents an NBA arena 36 times a year, but as the primary tenant at Bojangles, they will have a space that will be Charlotte Checkers, through and through.
  • The schedule will be much improved for home games. Instead of having to play second fiddle to the Hornets (and the circus, and Disney on Ice, and every other event), the Checkers will have a say in when their home games are played, and won’t be competing with other tenants at TWCA.
  • The Checkers (and Clippers) won six championships (in a number of different leagues) while they played at Bojangles Coliseum. They have not yet won a championship at TWCA, so maybe a move back to their roots is what is needed to get back in the championship chase.
  • An upgraded Bojangles Coliseum will be a huge step towards revitalizing East Charlotte and Independence Blvd. As an East-side resident, this excites me a great deal. The venue has so much history. The list of people who have performed under it’s dome is a long one: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, The Who, The Jackson 5, Judy Garland, The Rolling Stones… you get the idea.
  • I’d much rather see the city of Charlotte upgrade Bojangles Coliseum to what it was designed and built to be, a hockey arena and sports venue, then the dumb youth basketball court they talked about doing recently.
  • The $16 million in upgrades are long overdue for this historic venue. Instead of being a city that bulldozes new construction when it no longer serves a purpose (Tyvola Road Coliseum, most of uptown Charlotte, etc.) I’m happy to see the city preserving and revitalizing what they have. Charlotte is a world class city, and our history is important. I’m excited to see what they can do for $16 million, though I know it won’t be enough.

What are my fears of the move? They are few, and mostly have to do with human nature having a hard time with change.

  • $16 million isn’t a lot of money. Technology is EXPENSIVE, and new videoboards, seats, lighting, a sound system, bathroom upgrades etc. cost a lot of money.  Last summer the Belk Theater spent $1.6 million to replace 2000 seats and upgrade ONE bathroom, and Bojangles Coliseum is five times the size.  New dressing rooms and the backstage areas are in disrepair at Bojangles, and will require more than just a coat of paint to freshen them up.
  • The Hornets claim that they need $30 million to upgrade TWCA… and it’s a much newer building that got a number of upgrades for the recent 2012 Democratic National Convention. Where is all that money going, and why do they need it over a historic building that hasn’t been upgraded practically since it opened in 1956?
  • Parking at Bojangles might be a drag. I live close by the Coliseum, but not close enough to walk, and public transportation isn’t an option. The City of Charlotte charges $10 to park for events at Bojangles and Ovens Auditorium. This is way too much, and I don’t look forward to shelling out that kind of cash!
  • I’m going to miss all of the options in walking distance of the arena. I enjoy sharing a beer before and after games and on the nearly-dead Independence Blvd., this won’t be an option.

All in all?  Two thumbs up for this historic move home to the birthplace of hockey in Charlotte.