Charlotte Checkers: History of hockey in NC

ROSEMONT, IL - JUNE 08: The Charlotte Checkers after game five of the AHL Calder Cup Finals against the Chicago Wolves on June 8, 2019, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ROSEMONT, IL - JUNE 08: The Charlotte Checkers after game five of the AHL Calder Cup Finals against the Chicago Wolves on June 8, 2019, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Hockey has a long history in North Carolina. While most people know them as the reigning Calder Cup Champions, the Charlotte Checkers got their start over 60 years ago.

The Charlotte Checkers are enjoying tremendous success during the summer of 2019. They just won their first Calder Cup after all. But, that’s the current AHL incarnation of the Checkers. The Checkers franchise has been around for over 60 years.

The Charlotte Checkers were not always called the Checkers, or the Charlotte Checkers for that matter. They were first known as the Baltimore Clippers. They were one of the original Eastern Hockey League (EHL) teams, playing their first season being the 1933-1934 season. When a fire destroyed their home ice in early 1956 the franchise was forced to relocate, and fast. They still had 5 more home games to play.

Luckily for the Clippers, there was already a group of investors looking to bring hockey to Charlotte. Seeing as the people of Charlotte had little to no experience with hockey, the Clippers were able to draw in 10,000 curious fans for their debut appearance in the new Charlotte Coliseum, what we now know as the Bojangles Coliseum.

However, the initial fan interest did not last. A contest to rename the team was held ahead of the 1960-1961 season, but still failed to draw fans in. The team now known as the Checkers was struggling on the ice. This coupled with a lack of fan enthusiasm lead to the team being took over by the Charlotte Coliseum Authority in 1959. With the franchise hemorrhaging money, they were in danger of being forced to fold. However, brighter days were ahead for the Checkers.

A citizen’s group fronted by future Checkers chairman, Al Manch, were able to raise enough money from stockholders to keep the team alive. In total they raised $25,000 dollars, which today would be worth over $216,000.

Over the next few years, the Checkers would make their ascent to the top of the EHL. Their eventual success was spearheaded by head coach Fred Creighton. They played in three EHL finals. Losing their first in 1968 to the Clinton Comets, which was the first of an impressive three straight championships for the Comets. Thankfully, the Comets reign came to an end in 1971 when the Checkers defeated the New Haven Blades for their first EHL chamionship. And how did the Checkers follow up their first championship you might ask? By beating Syracuse Blazers for another one in 1971.

Following the 1973 season the EHL split into two new hockey leagues. One was the North American Hockey League (NAHL). The other, which Charlotte joined was the short lived Southern Hockey League (SHL). The SHL also included two other teams in North Carolina. The Greensboro Generals and Winston-Salem Polar Twins. The Checkers won the SHL championship in 1976. Sadly however, following the 1976-1977 season the SHL folded and so came the end of the original incarnation Charlotte Checkers.

15 years later in 1992, the East Coast Hockey League, ECHL, awarded an expansion team to Charlotte. Thus marking the return of the Checkers, who were almost called the Blades upon their return. They also agreed to their first NHL affiliation with the Boston Bruins.

This version of the Checkers enjoyed early success that mirrored that of the original team. In only their third season they won the Jack Riley Cup, the ECHL championship. They were also the last team to win the Jack Riley Cup as it was renamed the Kelly Cup the following season.

It is worth mentioning that ahead of the 2005-2006 season that the Checkers announced that they were moving to Time Warner Cable Arena, now known as the Spectrum Center. This was the first time that the team had not called their original coliseum home. They wouldn’t return for another 10 long seasons.

2010 marked the beginning of the current AHL incarnation of the Checkers. Owner Michael Kahn announced that he was moving the Albany River Rats to Charlotte the following season and, that they would retain the Checkers name. The team also entered a new affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes that continues to this day. In their first season in the AHL, the Checkers made their first trip to the eastern conference finals.

That brings us to today, and we all know what the Checkers just did…

The Checkers are only a part of the story when it comes to the history of hockey in North Carolina. There have been, and still are, teams all over the state. Over the next few weeks I will bring you articles detailing other teams that have called this state home.

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Question for Cardiac Cane readers: What is your favorite moment in Charlotte Checkers history?