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 Charlotte Checkers

Disappointment Sets in as Checkers' Season Ends Early

May 1, 2024 - American Hockey League (AHL)
Charlotte Checkers News Release

It's been a long time since the Checkers had exit interviews in April.

So on Tuesday, as the team wrapped up a 2023-24 campaign that ended too soon, there was an air of disappointment around the Coliseum.

"We had a great team and played some great hockey," said defenseman Santtu Kinnunen. "I think all of us thought we would go a lot farther than this. It's a disappointment that we had our season come to an end this weekend."

The Checkers were eliminated from the Calder Cup Playoffs just two days prior - falling in a decisive Game 3 of their first round series against Hartford - and the loss proved to still be a fresh wound.

"It's tough," said team captain Zac Dalpe. "It's tough to draw positives when you're cleaning out your locker at the end of April. You play for one thing and one thing only, and that's to win in the end. And when you fall very short of that it's disappointing."

This Checkers team pushed through a myriad of highs and lows across the sprawling regular season. After a solid start, a slump early in the 2024 calendar year threatened to torpedo any chances of even qualifying for the postseason. With a 21-20-4-0 record entering a road tilt against the Monsters on Feb. 9, something flipped for the Checkers, though.

"I think when we went to Cleveland, we started playing our best hockey and took off from there," said forward Gerry Mayhew. "The young guys started to get comfortable and started to play awesome. Everyone just seemed to gel at that point."

"At the end of the regular season there we really came together and things started to click," said defenseman Matt Kiersted. "Everyone was on the same page. We were playing the way we knew how to play and the way we wanted to play the whole year. It all came together at the end."

Charlotte would go 18-6-3-0 down the stretch from that point and enter the playoffs as one of the AHL's hottest teams.

"I said this before the playoffs even started, I said to my wife - this is an extremely hard working group, extremely good group of people that I want to see go deep because they put the work in," said head coach Geordie Kinnear.

That hot streak was halted by Hartford in the first round.

"It did not happen so I'm extremely disappointed," said Kinnear. "To try to pinpoint, I don't even know if you could say what went wrong or what happened. It's still probably hard to figure that out."

Despite having a fighter's chance at a first-round bye going into the final week of the regular season, the Checkers eventually settled into the fourth seed and a date with the Wolf Pack. Even having all three possible meetings on home ice, the nature of a best-of-three series is it can truly go either way.

"I thought we deserved better," said Dalpe. "You just leave it up to chance in a three-game series."

"Those short series in the playoffs are tough," said forward Rasmus Asplund. "You need to win two games but you only have three games to do it."

The Checkers took Game 1 and had the chance to close things out in overtime of Game 2, but one scrambly sequence flipped the series on its head and ultimately led to Hartford moving on.

"I think if you look at the lesson moving forward, it's that you don't want to play in the best-two-out-of-three," said Kinnear. "You want to shoot for the top two in the division because in a small window like that there's not a lot of room for error, there's not a lot of room build off of. I thought we did some good things within the three games, but we didn't do the ultimate thing - win two of them."

The early exit was painful for a squad that had, by all accounts, become very close.

"I'm extremely disappointed for the players mostly," said Kinnear. "Because I know there was a lot of belief in that room."

"It was a special group," said defenseman Casey Fitzgerald. "It was probably the closest group of teammates I've had. It stings even more with how special the group was."

"It was a pleasure coming to the rink every day with this group," said forward Will Lockwood. "It's hard to reflect so early on, there's still a bitter taste in our mouths."

Any type of reflection on the season at this point is clouded by a haze of disappointment, but that doesn't mean there were no highlights for this team to be proud of.

"We came in every day and worked our asses off to become a better team and a better group," said Asplund. "I think that showed throughout the year, we had some tough stretches and some really good stretches, and I think that shows the strength of the group. Overall it was a good season but not the result we wanted."

"The group was really tight, from the older guys who were in leadership positions all the way to the rookies and new guys," said goalie Spencer Knight. "Everyone bought in and really liked being around each other, and I think that played a big role into how we played on the ice. It didn't end the way we wanted it to on the ice, but realistically only one team can go home happy in the end. I think you look at how we pulled together towards the end and played some really good hockey, it was fun. It was a lot of fun to be a part of."

It's setting up to be a long offseason, and one that the coaching staff will be using to build for a deep run next year.

"We lost for a reason," said Kinnear. "We have to learn from it and move on. Winning is very hard. I want to be the last team standing, that's my motivation."

But for now, the overwhelming feeling is disappointment for a season that ended sooner than anyone wanted.

"Charlotte is a beautiful city," said Dalpe. "It sucks guys have to leave this great city so early."

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The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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