The Charlotte Checkers, American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the National Hockey League (NHL) Carolina Hurricanes, claimed a 3-1 win over the Norfolk Admirals at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Sunday.
It was a historic and exhilarating victory for 10,256 diehard North Carolina hockey fans in attendance to take in.
Not only was the game the first-ever AHL contest to take place in the building, but it was the first professional hockey game to take place there all season.
A lockout had been imposed by NHL owners on its players since Sept. 15, so no one had been able to watch PNC Arena’s main tenant, the Hurricanes, take to the ice there all this season,
Thus, the Checkers’ date in Raleigh was a highly anticipated one.
Big game gets bigger
Before the puck even dropped, the energy in and around the rink increased exponentially as jubilation over the earlier news of the day was still brewing.
After 113 days, the lockout ended as a tentative understanding to complete a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) was announced.
Many were asleep when the news broke, but social media alerted many upon waking, including Checkers players like defenseman Justin Faulk, who was a part of the Hurricanes roster before the lockout earned him an assignment to play in Charlotte.
“It’s pretty exciting for everybody,” Faulk said after the game.
“It was good news going into the game here and I think it helped the crowd too.”
Showing off for the brass
For Checkers fans, the team’s win over the Admirals wasn’t a surprising one as the team currently sits in first place in the Western Conference – South Division, now with a 20-11-2-3 record.
Hurricanes fans had a chance to see many familiar faces playing for the Checkers including Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, and Drayson Bowman, the team’s scoring leaders, who all have experience playing with the Hurricanes.
After falling behind 1-0 after the first period of play, it was Dalpe who evened the score, tallying a shorthanded goal on a wrist shot, with 4:22 remaining in the second.
Headed into the third period tied with the Admirals, Charlotte continued to pressure Norfolk goaltender, Frederik Andersen, a former prospect in the Hurricanes organization, until forward Chris Terry’s cross-crease wraparound extended the lead to 2-1.
Throughout the game, both Boychuk (+1, 4 shots) and Bowman (Even, 5 shots) remained constant threats while Andersen kept his team in the game, but an insurance goal from Jerome Samson, set up by Dalpe with 2:44 remaining, capped off the win for Charlotte.
For Dalpe and his teammates, not only was a win important to keep the Checkers in first place, but it showed that he and others were ready for a potential call-up to the NHL in the near future.
“Everbody knows the brass is all here, and they want to make a good impression,” Dalpe said.
Happy ending is just the beginning
What started out as a happy and joyous day for hockey fans throughout the Triangle-area and beyond, ended that way.
Both Checkers and Hurricanes fans who thought they were only going to see one professional hockey game played in Raleigh this season, definitely got their money’s worth.
The Checkers won, and the bonus that they all have to cash in on now is that the NHL and the Hurricanes will carry that momentum into the beginning of what will be an intense, shortened regular season of play, and hopefully beyond.
“It was pretty cool – the fans were excited – it was pretty lively,” Faulk said.
“You can see the passion the fans have for the game – it was great.”
Yes, it was great.