As a die-hard New York Islanders fan now located in Charlotte, I was in desperate need of a live hockey fix. With the Carolina Hurricanes nearly three hours away, there had to be a closer option. After only a few seconds on the computer, I found the AHL affiliate of the Hurricanes, the Charlotte Checkers.
After my experience with the Rockalnd Boulders last summer, I reached out to Mike Lappan, the Directer of Public and Media Relations for the Checkers to see if it was possible to do the same type of thing for our readers. Mike graciously granted me a media credential for Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Wolves. I was pretty excited because there was a good chance that former New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro, would be in net for the Checkers.
The drive to the arena was very easy, and parking was incredibly inexpensive. I parked directly across the street from Time Warner Cable Arena in a parking garage, and it was only five dollars. I’ve never paid so little in my entire adult life to park at a sporting event. What a pleasure.
I arrived at the arena about an hour and forty minutes before faceoff so that I would walk around the arena a little before the crowd showed up. Boy is this place is beautiful. TWC Arena is the home of the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA and is first class all the way. For Checkers games, the upper bowl is closed and seats about 10,000 fans. With it being Military Appreciation Night, the arena was full of current and former service men and women.
As I made my way around the spacious concourse, they had all the typical arena food and merchandise on display. The concessions were very large and had plenty of employees on hand to avoid long lines. I checked the prices and they were pretty much in line with any professional sports arena.
The main entrance to the arena was absolutely packed 30 minutes before the game. The Checkmates, who are the Checkers dance crew, were on hand to give out commemorative hats to the first 2,000 fans in attendance. These girls clearly have a great rapport with Checkers fans and the community. Every kid, and some adults, wanted a picture or some sort of interaction with them.
Just as warm ups started, I sat down in the media section next to Seth Lasko of the Charlotte Observer/Newsday/Boston Globe. That was pretty cool considering I had actually read his column earlier in the day about DiPietro on Newsday’s website. He filled me in on some things going on around the team and where things were in the arena. It was great to sit next to him and talk hockey, and also about what to do and what not to do, when covering a professional team.
As warm ups ended, it was clear that DiPietro was not going to be in net for the Checkers. Instead, John Muse was in goal for his second straight start. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who looking forward to seeing Rick between the pipes as I encountered a handful of fans rocking Islanders paraphernalia.
Before the puck dropped, McAlpine Elementary School performed God Bless America. It was really cute to see these little kids singing right next to us. You would expect them to be a little nervous at least. But not them. Great job kids! Following the kids, Director of Community Relations and Fan Development Elle Bunn, sang the national anthem and did a wonderful job.
The puck dropped and I had a great view of the action. The media section was in the corner, to the left of the Checkers goalie, right above the height of the glass. I guess that was good since most of the action was in the Checkers end during the first period.
As I tweeted during the game, you really have to give it up to the in-house staff for all of the video/music during the game. Being an Islanders fan, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum has had the same set of CD’s since 1983. If I have to hear The Ramones one more time at a game, I’m going to go crazy. The music was current, upbeat, and got the fans going. Last game, one of the Wolves players stepped on Checkers goalie Jonathan Muse’s stick, so he grabbed that player’s stick and threw it on the ice. The scoreboard showed a replay of the incident and set it to The Lonely Island song, “I threw it on the ground”. Very well done. The 8,033 fans in attendance seemed to love it as well.
As for the product on the ice went, it was a very entertaining game. The Checkers scored midway through the first period and took a 1-0 lead into the locker room. The Wolves tied the game up early in the second period, then took the lead with a power play goal with just over two and a half minutes left in the period. In the third, the Checkers tilted the ice and played much of the period in the Wolves end, but could not solve goaltender Jake Allen. With the 2-1 loss, the Checkers fell to 0-4-0 at home and 5-6-1 on the season.
I had such a great time live tweeting the game action. I give a lot of credit to the journalists who do this for a living. It was pretty difficult to pay such close attention to the live action while tweeting out game info and taking notes at the same time.
When the game was over, Seth took me down to just outside the Checker locker room to where players and coaches do interviews. I’ll admit that I was pretty intimidated standing there with my recorder in the face of the coach and players for the first time. I pretty much just stood there and observed the professionals doing their job and didn’t want to get in the way.
The Charlotte Checkers are a first class organization and put on a first class show. When you are a minor league affiliate, fans aren’t always going to games to see wins, but to be entertained. The Checkers have a pretty solid team and few highly touted players in Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, and Danny Biega. The combination of a good product on the ice and a fantastic arena experience, makes for a great night out. Tickets are extremely affordable and even if you don’t want to eat while at the game, you have plenty of choices around the arena. If you go to the Checkers website, you can get seats twelve rows from the ice for about $20. That’s an incredible price.
TotalSportsBlog.com would like to thank the Charlotte Checkers and Mike Lappan for allowing us to come into their home and enjoy such a wonderful experience. We wish them a great season and many more to come.