Friday, July 23, 2010
July by the Numbers visits the southeast for jersey #23.
Located in the heart of NASCAR country, the Charlotte Checkers were formed in 1993 as members of the East Coast Hockey League. The ECHL ranks third on the ladder system of North American hockey leagues below the top rung of the NHL and the top minor league, the AHL.
The Checkers, a clever reference to both body checks in hockey and the checkered flag in racing, have been a bright spot in the ECHL, with the team averaging nine or ten thousand fans a game, with some crowds reaching 12,000.
Attendance has been helped by the team's success on the ice in the early years, with the team posting winning records in their first two seasons prior to winning the ECHL championship and the Kelly Cup in just their third season of existence in 1995-96. Two more winning seasons followed, giving the club five consecutive years of playoff appearances from their inception.
Even their first season below .500 was just barely so with a record of 29-30-11. The club qualified for the playoffs in the next two seasons before perhaps setting a record for the best team to miss the playoffs in any hockey league anywhere, when the Checkers posted a 41-20-3 mark, a .665 wining percentage, yet failed to make the ECHL playoffs despite having more points in the standings than six other teams and 21 points more than the Greenville Grrrowl, who did qualify!
After one more season out of the playoffs, the Checkers ran off a string of six consecutive postseason appearances, including the 2009-10 season when they tied a club record set during their championship season of 1995-96 with 94 points in the standings.
The 2009-10 season was the last for the Checkers in the ECHL, as the team owner relinquished their ECHL membership after purchasing the Albany River Rats of the AHL and relocating that franchise to Charlotte where they will adopt the Checkers identity, moving the Charlotte market up one level of play from the ECHL to the AHL. The only alteration will be to the team's colors, changing from light blue, navy blue and black to red, black and silver to reflect the team's new affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, located just 150 miles up the road.
Darryl Noren was the all-time leading scorer for the Checkers during the ECHL era. Noren skated for Charlotte from 1994 to 2000, scoring 174 goals and 229 assists for 403 points in six seasons to lead the franchise in all three categories. Defenseman Kurt Seher was the longest serving Checker, having played 10 seasons in Charlotte, four more than anyone else.
Notable players to have played for the Checkers include Eric Boulton, Eric Cairns, Antti Laaksonen, Jason LaBarbera and Peter Worrell.
Today's featured jersey is a 2002-03 Charlotte Checkers Norm McIver jersey. During their early years the Checkers were known for their frankly horrific jerseys, which all seem to have been designed by someone unfamiliar with ice hockey and for some reason reminds us more of the kind of interior decorating you'd find in a breakfast cafe along the interstate while on vacation in North Dakota.
Despite their checkered past, Charlotte's jersey situation has been on the upswing as of late, thanks in no small part to an excellent new logo which was introduced in 2007 after a change in ownership, replacing the amateurish, cartoony logos of the past.
Still, you cannot erase the past, and Charlotte has some real skeletons in their jersey closet, not the least of which are their jerseys from the early 2000's, a checkered flag trimmed jersey with the body and sleeves adorned with "speed stripes", parallel stripes of decreasing width separated by contrasting color stripes of increasing width. The overall effect, when combined with the cartoonish logo, was a loud assault on the eyes better suited to mid-90's roller hockey.
In our video section today, Charlotte shows it's connection with the citizens of Charlotte, the kind of connection only possible in the minors.
Here's another funny ad campaign from the Checkers.
They did it, and did it rather well, but we can't really figure out why they did it. The Checkers mascot, by the way, is the brilliantly named "Chubby Checker".