For the first time in franchise history, the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate) raise the Calder Cup.
Saturday, June 8th will be a day not soon forgotten for the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. In their first ever Calder Cup final in franchise history, the Checkers bring it home. The last time the Checkers registered a championship was in 1995, while they were still a part of the ECHL.
The long road
From the end of a spectacular 51-17-8 regular season, placing first within the AHL, it seemed like destiny. They landing the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy, the AHL’s equivalent to the Presidents’ Trophy (NHL), the Frank Mathers Trophy, and home-ice advantage for the entire playoff run. Their first opponent was the Providence Bruins, the AHL affiliate to the Boston Bruins in the division semi-finals. Unlike their NHL counterparts, the Checkers would go on to defeat the Bruins 3-1 in the series, and setting the tone for their entire playoff run.
Second up was the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals’ affiliate), again echoing a matchup their parent organization encountered. Unlike the Hurricanes, the Checkers would sweep Hershey 4-0 in the series. This secured their first division title and the Emilie Francis Trophy for the franchise.
Seven wins, the halfway mark. Moving into the conference finals, the Checkers would meet stiff resistance in the form of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs Affiliate). The first game of the series, the Marlies would shut down the Checkers on home ice, with a 2-1 win. They would bounce back, however, taking games 2 and 3 (5-2 and 5-1 respectively). Game 4 would put Toronto back in the series, with their 4-3 win over Charlotte and set the stage for an epic game 5. The game would end regulation in a 3-3 tie that would go on to double OT before a winner declared. A 4-2 series victory, and the Checkers’ first conference title, complete with Richard F. Canning Trophy.
Queue final boss music
Eleven wins. Four more. Charlotte would now be facing the Western Conference champions. The Chicago Wolves (Vegas Golden Knights affiliate). Chicago boasted a similar run to the Calder Cup finals as the Checkers did, and looked to be the most difficult matchup of the playoffs. While not displaying the best prowess in special teams during the playoffs, they’d proven themselves competent and capable.
Game 1 – Bojangles’ Coliseum
The Checkers would ultimately fall to the Wolves in game 1, in overtime, but not without a fight. The first period saw Charlotte post three goals (Carrick, Necas, Poturalski) to Chicago’s single (Matteau) putting them at a 3-1 lead. The second period would begin Chicago’s successful rally, and eventual victory. Tallies by Leslie and Whitecloud would wipe out the two goal lead that Charlotte had enjoyed going into the locker room after the first. The third period, and regulation, would end without either team breaking the deadlock. It wouldn’t take Chicago long to end the stalemate, however, with Stefan Matteau posting his second of the night at 5:30 into overtime.
Game 2 – Bojangles’ Part Deux
Charlotte would rally after their overtime loss on home ice against Chicago, going on to post a 5-3 win after a fierce back-and-forth game. The first period saw both teams post a tally each. One by Charlotte’s Nick Schilkey at 3:50 of the first, and one by Chicago’s Keegan Kolesar at 4:43 of the first. Both teams also having a powerplay opportunity, and failing to convert during the first frame. Things would heat up immensely in the second frame.
Charlotte would post two goals in an impressive :14, one by Nicholas Roy at 5:34, followed by an unassisted goal by Stelio Mattheos. Chicago wouldn’t be far behind with the answer, though. Gage Quinney would find the net at 7:00 even, and again at 11:13 of the second on the man advantage. Tomas Jurco would give Charlotte it’s first sustained lead at 18:53 of the second. The third period would see one final tally by Charlotte’s Andrew Porturalski at the final minute marker. This would give Charlotte a much needed victory on home ice going forward.
Game 3 – Enemy Territory
Coming off the series tying win, Charlotte would move to Allstate Arena for Game 3 against the Chicago Wolves, and ride their success into a series lead. Chicago would find themselves trailing behind by three within the first 40 minutes, and almost embarrassingly so. Julien Gauthier would post the lone tally in the first period in under two minutes of play giving Charlotte the 1-0 lead. The Checkers would extend that lead to 3-0 during the second period on a powerplay goal by Jake Bean at 2:16, and a shorthanded goal by Patrick Brown at 11:46. Determined not to go down in a shutout, Chicago’s Brooks Macek would tally the Wolves’ lone goal of the game at 14:49 of the third, while Martin Necas would ice the cake with an empty net goal at 16:55.
Game 4 – Haven’t we seen this one before?
Charlotte would again upset Chicago on their ice. Unphased by their loss the previous night, the Chicago Wolves would again prove that their franchise is aptly named. Chicago’s Nic Hague would quickly put them on the board, a mere :45 into the game and Charlotte’s Jesper Sellgren would answer the goal at 5:21. The tie game wouldn’t last, as Chicago would retake the lead on an unassisted goal by Zac Leslie at 16:29 of the first. Charlotte would find themselves down by a pair after a goal by Brooks Macek at 13:47 of the second, but pull back within one on a PPG by Martin Necas at the one-minute mark.
Going into the third period, Charlotte would finally take the gloves off. A mere :32 into the third, Nicolas Roy would tie up the scoreboard. Not satisfied with a tie game, Aleksi Saarela would give Charlotte it’s first lead of the night at 12:52 of the third. Roy would ice the cake with his second of the night, and the go ahead goal, on an empty netter at 17:28 securing the Checkers’ 5-3 victory. The Checkers after a disastrous start, lead the series 3-1. Fourteen down, one to go.
Checkmate – Game 5
Fourteen wins, eighteen games played. One win to rule them all. Wait. This isn’t Lord of the Rings. Having rallied from the devastating game one loss against Chicago, Charlotte would go on to win their fourth straight against Chicago on June 8th, and their third 5-3 victory of the series. Enjoy the win, boys, you earned it in the best way possible.
Public Celebration at Bojangles’ Coliseum
The team will be hosting a public celebration on Monday, June 10th at 7:00PM. Parking and admission is free for attendees. The event will feature a video presentation, remarks from team personnel, photo opportunities with the Calder Cup, and autograph sessions with members of the Charlotte Checkers hockey club. Parking and concessions open at 5:00PM. Season ticket holder admission begins at 6:00PM, and general admissions at 6:30PM.
Statistics and Game Recaps courtesy of the AHL.
Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler