One of These Things is Not Just Like the Other

Logo inspiration/imitation debate between a potential logo change for the AIHL (Australian Ice Hockey League….?) Sydney Bears and the existing AHL Charlotte Checkers here. Side-by-side comparison can be seen here. Based on the jawline, ears and eye creases, its pretty obvious to me that the Bears logo started out as the Checkers logo before minor changes were made.  Thoughts?

No doubt all four of my readers have noticed the lack of posting recently (there are actually six of you). I took an unannounced hiatus of sorts after son #2 was born. Four kids, two of whom can’t dress themselves, make life busy. It’s been all I can do to get out to Checkers games much less put my hockey thoughts down on paper recently. As things settle down and the holidays end, I hope to get some more out.

Posted in Charlotte Checkers | 2 Comments

Precursor of thingz to come aka Rumorz

Yesterday the SPHL Fayetteville FireAntz unveiled a new look for their team as well as a new coach.  Former minor league defenseman Sean Gillam will take the reins behind the bench.  The ridiculous logo and name are staying, which is to be expected since the Antz have been in town for ten years now.  However, they have dropped the yellow from their color scheme and added hints of silver to the already black and red design.

Coach Gillam and the slantiest jersey in the land (Cindy Burnham, Fayetteville Observer)

That US Southwest-looking motif on the bottom is actually a Fayetteville landmark.  So a North Carolina team modified it’s identity to match the local NHL team.  Does that sound familiar to anyone else?

Hurricane-ified in 2010

Tough to find logos that have only been out a day

So yeah, that new logo isn’t available online yet except the press photo above.  When the Albany River Rats relocated to Charlotte before last season, the Checkers (sadly) dropped the blue from their hues.  If they were going to be a Hurricanes affiliate, they needed to align their franchise with the big guys somehow.  The Checkers name and Chubby mascot were engrained in the city and a complete re-brand would have been a terrible choice.  So they gave the team the same palette as the Hurricanes.

Fast forward about a year and the FireAntz are looking for a little more grown-up look without a total re-brand that would erase the foundation built on the last ten years.  Given the Hurricanes success and popularity in the area, they jumped right on board with the same color scheme.

I mentioned yesterday the ECHL was likely losing a team in Trenton NJ, bringing the league down to a paltry nineteen participants.  It’s no secret the exodus of teams from the ECHL’s southeast markets in recent years: Charlotte, Greensboro NC, Columbia SC, Florence SC, Macon GA, Columbus GA, Augusta GA and Roanoke VA…and that’s just off the top of my head.  With the Columbia team still holding hope of a return, wouldn’t Fayetteville make a nice rival?  Their close proximity to I-95 would make travel less difficult, and it would eliminate traveling so far east for the league that’s now closer to a Gulf Coast league than a Southeastern one.  As one of the two elder franchises in the SPHL (with Knoxville), the Antz may be looking to make a jump.  They had a CHL team in the late 90s and are quite established in Fayetteville.  Plus, wouldn’t they make a much more sensible ECHL affiliate for the Hurricanes and Checkers than (dumb old) Fort Myers FL?

The only concern I’d have is the attendance.  In 28 openings, Fayetteville averaged 3,323 in 10-11.  While that would have ranked in the lower third of the ECHL last season, it’s only 1000 under league average.  Wheeling has been down at that level for years and they’re still around, nevermind how long Johnstown averaged less than 2000 before relocating.  Other than a couple seasons where the Antz flirted with 4000 a night they have remained eerily steady over time, floating between 3300 and 3600.  As Charlotte fans can attest, a better league brings more fans.  I’d say this is most definitely doable if ownership and leagues are on board.  From the looks of that jersey, I’d say one of those parties indeed is on board.

Posted in Carolina Hurricanes, Charlotte Checkers, Southern Professional Hockey League | Leave a comment

Everything new is new again

Well, American Hockey League, you’ve done it now.  I start a blog described as having a “southern flavor” and you go and put the Checkers in the Midwest Division for 11-12!  That’s the big news in Charlotte this week, but plenty has gone on around hockey since the NHL Entry Draft back on June 24.  As I’ve read news in the last ten days, I’ve stored appropriate topics away in the Home Cooked Cortex section of my brain.  Now it’s all upside down, and I have to stop and think to even tell you who is affiliated with whom.

The AHL announced it’s divisional alignment and playoff format for the 2011-12 season following summer meetings in Hilton Head SC.  Previously a four division league, the AHL split things up even further to match the NHL’s six division format.  Taking another cue from the bigs, instead of a playoff based by division they will now be ranked by the conference.  The three division winners from each conference will receive the top three seeds, with the fourth through eighth following in order.  The St. John’s franchise (nee Manitoba Moose) held seniority over the new teams and got to move to the Eastern Conference, while the wee babe Checkers got shuffled to the Western Conference.

 

Nevermind that Grand Rapids or Cleveland (Lake Erie) would make a fine fit with the Wisconsin & Illinois teams.  Syracuse is stupid close to Rochester, Hamilton, and Toronto, you say?  Well forget it buddy.  In essence what the AHL is telling you is that the Syracuse/Binghamton rivalry is more important than common sense.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little salty about having to look up some of the information on these teams instead of knowing it from last year.

While the Checkers didn’t play any Western Conference teams last year, the East and West do mix during the AHL season even if just a little.  I see the schedule playing out one of two ways for us this year:

First, we wouldn’t play any East teams at all.  I hope that’s not the case because the series with Norfolk, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton  developed nicely over the last year.  Additionally, the Checkers played the AHL affiliates of Washington and Tampa Bay, both Carolina division rivals.  As it stands now, the Junior Canes will line up most often versus the affiliates of Vancouver (Chicago), Nashville (Milwaukee), St. Louis (Peoria), and Chicago (Rockford).  As it stands now, all four are in the other conference from Carolina.  After the NHL moves Winnipeg out of the Southeast Division, Nashville is the logical choice to take their place but that won’t be until 2012-13.  The league has taken away an extra element of the passion that fuels our rivalries.

The second scheduling format I could see is letting us play all of the Western teams but reducing the number of West and North match-ups in favor of a few East Division teams.  There were a handful of crossovers on the schedule like this last year, and this would make a ton of sense from a travel perspective.  The schedule should be out within a month, hopefully the league keeps some regional rivalries intact.

Other recent news from the world of hockey:

  • In ECHL news, the New Jersey Devils have announced their intent to cease operations of their Trenton Devils affiliate.  The ECHL had the news article up yesterday, but it’s now mysteriously gone.  What’s that?  A Devils affiliate didn’t work in a Philly suburb?  How strange.  Here’s your lesson, folks: don’t open a butcher shop in a vegan neighborhood.
  • The 2018 Winter Olympic Games were awarded to Peyongchang, South Korea.  This will bring Olympic hockey a first time competitor as the Koreans are guaranteed a spot as host country.  The IIHF, international governing body for the sport, ranks them between Serbia & Bulgaria at 31st.  So if they score any goals at all, citizens of the scored-upon-country will get Kimchi’d in the eye.  Hopefully they get some jerseys that look like they didn’t come from a high school team.
  • Vancouver rioters are turning themselves into police.  Not like a Transformer (or an anarchist…), like a responsible citizen.
  • Finally, Peter Worrell was interviewed by The Rat Trick (FL Panthers blog) on hockey’s presence in the south.  The interview is quite vanilla, but it gives a great excuse to watch the following video.  Side note: Max Talbot got to wear #25 for the Penguins because Peter Worrell ate the guy in the picture on said blog.  Ate him.
Posted in American Hockey League, Charlotte Checkers | 1 Comment

2010-11 Postseason wrap-up: AHL (AAA)

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent many years watching tons of ECHL games in person here in Charlotte.  I’d seen American Hockey League games a handful of times previously, but after experiencing a full season at AAA, I’d be hesitant to go back down to a lower level.  The AHL requires member franchises to have established NHL affiliations, and this adds strength and stability to the league.

The 2010 off-season saw a few changes leading into the AHL’s 75th Anniversary.  The Albany River Rats had been purchased in the 09-10 season and moved to Charlotte becoming the Checkers as soon as the Rats’ season was over.  The void in Albany was filled when the New Jersey Devils moved their affiliate from Lowell (MA) retaining the Devils moniker.  The Texas Stars were coming off an incredibly successful inaugural campaign as a probationary franchise that led them to the Calder Cup Finals.  Technically the “baby Stars” were the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL franchise in 09-10, but after their success they were transferred to the Dallas Stars.  This allowed Edmonton to move their AHL franchise to Oklahoma City giving OKC the Barons.  The final team change didn’t happen until after Thanksgiving following the start of the 10-11 season.  The Hartford Wolf Pack rebranded themselves the Connecticut Whale in an attempt to regain the support of Hartford fans.

The start of the 2010-11 AHL season was marked by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins winning their first nine games.  Naturally that streak had to end, but the Pens still only lost 21 games all year and finished with 117 points.  The Portland Pirates, Milwaukee Admirals, and Hershey Bears all finished with more than 100 points as well.  The new guys in town, the Charlotte Checkers, topped defending back-to-back Calder Cup champs Hershey in six games to open the playoffs.  Next the Checkers drew the WBS Penguins who had won four in a row versus Norfolk in their first round match-up after the Admirals took the first two.  Despite winning only once versus WBS in the regular season, the Checkers quickly dispatched them in six games.  Next up for the Checkers were the Binghamton Senators, and this is where it got ugly for the boys from the Queen City.

Traditionally the top four teams from each of the AHL’s four divisions make the postseason.  Binghamton finished fifth in the East Division, but due to an unusual “crossover rule” they assumed the fourth seed in the Atlantic Division based on their record versus that of the actual fourth place Worcester Sharks.  As you may guess, the B-Sens are the affiliate of the NHL Ottawa Senators, who were terrible this year.  Due to a myriad of injuries Ottawa had called eight B-Sens on their roster when their season mercifully ended.  This caused Binghamton to slip to that fifth spot towards the end of the AHL regular season.  Once Ottawa sent the guys back that Binghamton was owed, the baby Sens turned it on.  They masterfully swept the Checkers in the Eastern Conference Finals, never giving Charlotte a chance to lead much less win a game.

In the Calder Cup Finals, the Sens would meet the Houston Aeros.  The Aeros were fresh off back-to-back seven game series that saw the demise of the two Western Conference division winners fall to the Minnesota farm club.  Houston played a very tough six game Finals, but Binghamton was too rested and too strong.  The Calder Cup victory gave Binghamton their first AHL title in club history.  Swedish goalie Robin Lehner took home the playoff MVP in his rookie season.  Keep your eyes open for him, he is sure to be part of Ottawa’s long term plan in net.

That brings us to this 2011 off-season.  The venerable AHL will be losing a storied franchise with the NHL’s Thrashers moving to Winnipeg.  The Manitoba Moose just completed their 15th season but will be forced out of town.  They’ve already announced a move to St. John’s (NL) – that’s Newfoundland and Labrador for you Yanks, and it’s northeast of Maine in the Maritime Provinces.  The AHL was in St. John’s for 14 seasons until the Maple Leafs moved their affiliate to Toronto to join the big club.  The QMJHL fielded a St. John’s squad briefly, but they soon moved to Montreal after just three seasons.  The success of the AHL in St. John’s will hinge on attendance.  The team’s travel bill will be substantial as they are alone on an island, both figuratively and literally.  With the Canadian economy in better shape than the American, I suspect people will come out for the as yet unnamed team.

That wraps up my postseason wrapups.  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me in Home Cooked’s inaugural week.  The first round of the NHL Entry Draft is tonight from Minnesota.  I’ll touch on who the southern teams picked, and there will be some uniform/logo/jersey news to discuss too.  Thanks again for reading, hope you come back.

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2010-11 Postseason wrap-up: ECHL (AA)

Don’t call it the East Coast Hockey League.  Since absorbing the West Coast Hockey League in 2003, the ‘Coast is gone leaving just “ECHL.”  Think the Artist Formally Known as Prince with looser fitting pants (and much less guitar skill).  I have a soft spot in my heart for the ECHL after watching nearly every Charlotte Checkers home game between 2001 and 2010.  One season in the 2005ish era I managed to see over 80% of their total games in said season.  I’ve been to eight of the 20 arenas currently in use in the league, and eleven more that are no longer associated with the league.  So with a little nostalgia on the brain, I present to you the 2010-11 ECHL season.

The 2010 offseason was a sad one for the ECHL, as the Johnstown Chiefs announced they would not return to Johnstown.  The last continually operating original ECHL team would be absent.  The home of Slap Shot, which had housed a pro hockey team in all but eight seasons since 1950, is now vacant.  The league also lost the Charlotte Checkers after seventeen seasons as they moved up to the AHL.  Despite only losing two teams, they were crucially located teams from a geographic sense.  The divisions both Charlotte and Johnstown resided within were now down to three teams each.  Lucky for the South Division, Charlotte’s absence was replaced when Johnstown announced they would move to Greenville (SC) to become the Road Warriors.  Unfortunately for Elmira (NY), Reading (PA), and Trenton (NJ) this left them to play the season in a three team division.

Two teams dominated the regular 10-11 ECHL season: out west the Alaska Aces finished with 97 points, while newcomer Greenville was hot right out of the gate and finished at the 96 point mark.  The Road Warriors (decimated by AHL callups from their dual affiliation with the Rangers & Flyers) were upset in the second round by #4 seed Wheeling, who then lost to the Kalamazoo Wings for a trip to the Kelly Cup Finals.  The Aces had earned a first round bye with their dominance of the west.  They lost one game, game 3 versus the Wings, before taking the Kelly Cup with their 12th postseason win.  Aces starting goalie Gerald Coleman posted an 11-1 record with a .938 Sv% & 1.73 GAA.  They outscored opponents 47-24 in one of the more lopsided ECHL playoffs in history.

The 2011 offseason shows a little bit of a rebound in participation for the ECHL.   The Chicago Express are beginning play in 2011 after having the franchise announced last off-season.  The Colorado Eagles are also joining after losing a seven game finals in the CHL.  As is often seen when one team moves, the WHL’s relocation of Chilliwack (BC) to Victoria (BC) obviously trickles down to the the ECHL’s presence in Victoria.  The Salmon Kings turned in their franchise to the league leaving a twenty team league for 2011-12.  The league is still holding onto the dormant Columbia (SC) Inferno as they await completion of a new arena.  Bear in  mind the ECHL’s take on Columbia is far more positive than the reality of the Inferno’s arena, which isn’t built.

Further success for the ECHL is certain given their strong affiliations with the AHL and NHL (Adobe required).  The only concern I have for the new markets lies with Chicago.  The UHL had the Hounds there and they failed miserably.  While the ECHL is far above where the UHL was in 2007, there are still the NHL Blackhawks, AHL Wolves, USHL Steel, and NAHL Hitmen saturating the greater Chicago metro market.  Perhaps the ECHL will garner more attention from fans, but Chitown and the ECHL seems like a treacherous match.  Regardless, the ECHL will continue to prosper as the primary AA developmental hockey league going forward.

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2010-11 Postseason wrap-up: Central Hockey League (number of As questioned)

The Central Hockey League promotes itself as a AA minor league while using the slogan “The Center of Hockey.”  The ECHL promotes itself as a AA minor league with the slogan “Premier AA Hockey League.”  I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve never seen a CHL game live or otherwise.  I was, however, a season ticket holder for the ECHL Charlotte Checkers from 2001-02 till 09-10 when they moved up to the AHL.  I’ve seen hundreds if not more players who shouldn’t be giving the ECHL the time of day as well as guys who struggled to keep up with the regulars.  In ECHL barns it’s no secret that a lot of guys get “called up” from the CHL as fill-ins for injuries or legitimate call-ups.  I won’t make the argument that the CHL isn’t fun to watch because I’m sure it is a lot of fun.  I will argue that it’s not a AA league despite what teams and fans will tell you.  I have friends who are long supporters of the CHL, and I know guys who play there that moved on from Charlotte.  In terms of baseball, I liken the CHL as “Advanced A” hockey.  It’s not all NCAA DIII grads and 40 year-olds like the SPHL, but it’s not guys who are getting calls from AHL teams (often).  With that established, here’s the rundown on their 10-11 season.

The Central League was easily the most changed league in 2010-11.  In June 2010, they announced they were “merging” with the International Hockey League (not that IHL).  The IHL was struggling to keep its head above water after losing league cornerstone Kalamazoo in 2009 to the ECHL.  The end of the 09-10 season saw them lose markets in Port Huron, Flint, and Muskegon to the ranks of US Juniors, leaving them with only five teams.  The days of the early 21st century UHL footprint extending into upstate New York and Connecticut were gone, leaving them with a core of teams located between Iowa and Ohio. (Tangent: Does a five team league actually have a core?)  With the CHL’s relatively recent expansion into Rapid City (SD) and Independence (MO), this remaining “core” from the IHL seemed to fit kind of on the side of the CHL’s footprint.

Originally the plan was to “merge,” and the IHL would continue operations in the background.  Nostradamus wasn’t needed to predict what would happen next: the failing league silently dissolved leaving it’s exes to the CHL.  And with that, Quad Cities (IL/IA), Fort Wayne & Evansville (IN), Dayton (OH) and Bloomington (IL) joined forces with teams stretching from Arizona to Colorado to Louisiana (Dayton actually moved over a year earlier).  Evansville (IN) also tagged along, replacing the same-named franchise from the AAHL.

The regular CHL season was dominated by the Allen (TX) Americans.  Most of the new teams from the IHL finished near .500, Fort Wayne 4 games over and Evansville 11 games under the mark.  Bloomington was really the only success out of the I, finishing three points out of first place in their conference.  Since 16 of the 18 member teams make the playoffs, many of the lesser teams (excepting Evansville) did indeed reach the postseason.  However Fort Wayne was the sole IHL team to win their first round match-up….against Bloomington.

After the garbage was weeded out, the cream of course rose to the top with perennial successes the Colorado Eagles and Bossier-Shreveport (LA) Mudbugs playing for the league title.  In a thrilling seven game series, the ‘Bugs brought home their first Ray Miron Cup.  This was an especially sweet CHL championship for my fellow Charlotte hockey fans as the Mudbugs included some former key players from the Checkers’ previous seasons.  After posting consecutive 40+ point seasons for the Mudbugs, forward Jeff Kyrzakos finished the 10-11 postseason with 12-7-19 in 21 games.  He won the Playoff MVP Award, though, based on the four goals he scored in the Finals.  Three of those were game winning tallies; one in OT to take a crucial game four and one the winner of the decisive game seven.  Bossier-Shreveport fan favorite David Rutherford (team leading 22 pts), defenseman Clay Plume (5 pts and a game winner), and backup goalie Ryan Munce (2.57 GAA/.905 Sv%) all played a single season here in Charlotte before prospering in the CHL.

The Mudbugs had only days to savor their victory though, as the ownership announced they would suspend operations immediately due to low season ticket sales.  Minor league sports, and hockey in particular, are rarely profitable endeavors for an owner.  The Mudbugs owners have flirted with closing shop more than once in recent offseasons, but they are now unable to continue.  The Central League has lost three other teams, though not directly to financial losses.  The Odessa Jackalopes essentially stepped down to the NAHL, a (perfectly suitable) US Junior-A Tier II league.  The Mississippi River Kings, who play just across the state line from Memphis, announced they will move to the Southern Pro League in a move that makes more sense for them geographically especially without Bossier-Shreveport in the CHL mix.  If there is one positive out of the CHL’s losses, it would be the Colorado Eagles.  They have moved “up” to the ECHL for the 11-12 season.

There is an additional technicality for the CHL’s upcoming campaign: the Bloomington PrairieThunder have ceased operations, however an expansion franchise was awarded to an ownership group that will put a team in Bloomington.  Not only was Bloomington saved from the chopping block, but the Quad City Mallards announced they were folding after the season only to be bought and reinstated.  The latest hockey resurrection in the Quad Cities includes Carl Scheer as part owner.  Fans from the Carolinas will recognize Mr Scheer’s incredible resume, which includes GM roles for the ABA Carolina Cougars, NBA Denver Nuggets, ECHL Charlotte Checkers and Greenville Grrrowl, and not to mention his longtime partnership with NASCAR’s Felix Sabates.

Since the year 2000, the Central League has effectively absorbed both the WPHL and IHL, and lost an astonishing 13 teams (not including the the 9 from the WPHL who are now gone). During the changes, they’ve grown from a 12 team league based largely between Texas and Georgia to a 14 team league that’s shifted into a Texas-to-the-Midwest league.  Despite all the turmoil CHL fans have endured in the last 12 years (and really all the way back to the league’s inception in 1992), this is a steady league that will not be going anywhere soon.  Many fans are calling for an ECHL/CHL merger to create a nationwide AA super league.  While this idea may be a few years from fruition, count on the CHL as being part of the plan.

Posted in Central Hockey League | 1 Comment

Several stories from the NHL go to players’, fans’ heads

Before I touch on the Central League recap, there are a couple NHL topics to discuss: Winnipeg, hits to the head, and the Awards Ceremony.  Caution: terrible segues ahead.

The Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg MB was officially approved by the NHL Board of Governors yesterday.  I’m fairly certain all the jokes have been made about this already.  I’d like to extend my sympathies to the 25 or 30 fans left in Atlanta at the end of last year.  As a life long Braves supporter, I know too well the fickleness of Atlanta sports fans.  Much like my hometown Charlotte, the ATL is full of people from other parts of the country.  In theory this means a traditionally northern sport like hockey should work with all the northerners down here.  Unfortunately when you put an embarrassing product on the ice people don’t want to come see it.  Wonder what will happen to those giant flame-spitting Thrasher heads in the rafters at Philips….

Speaking of heads, the NHL has revised how they want players to make contact with them.  First, Rule 41 Boarding was revised to give more responsibility to the player getting hit.  On paper it sounds silly to think a guy that’s about to get his vertebrae compressed into his skull should be held accountable.  On the ice, however, we’ve all seen a boarding call that was technically legitimate come from a guy turning his back at the last micro second.  Referees will now be able to take into account whether a player had the chance to get out of being boarded, or if he made the hit worse by repositioning himself.

Last year the NHL announced it would begin enforcing hits to the head that came from the player’s blindside, aka Rule 48.  The words “lateral” and “blindside” have now been eliminated from the rule book to put more focus on any hit to the head.  Like Rule 41 Boarding, the player getting hit can now be held responsible should he put himself in a position to get hit high.  There are to be no minor penalties called on illegal hits to the head; a major and game misconduct will be assessed on offending players.  Hopefully this eliminates dangerous hits while giving some thought to a guy who’s 6’15″ like Zdeno Chara hitting a guy that’s minus-5’10″ who likes to lean away from hits like Max Pacioretty:

More exciting than a concussion, the NHL Awards Ceremony is tonight in Las Vegas.  Versus and the CBC will be carrying live coverage at 7:00pm ET.  Tune in to see Tim Thomas have his tires pumped till they burst and Jeff Skinner win the Calder for Rookie of the Year.  You think all those puck bunnies and teeny boppers who voted for his outfit in Seventeen magazine will be watching?  I don’t care either as long as he wins.  NHL.com has a nice preview up with rundowns of the finalists for each trophy.

Posted in National Hockey League | Leave a comment