The Charlotte Checkers returned to their roots Saturday night for an evening that had everything but a victory.
A lively crowd of 8.317 fans turned out for the Checkers’ first American Hockey League home opener at Bojangles Coliseum – an event that’s been delayed as the Charlotte team, which spent the last decade uptown playing at Time Warner Cable Arena, awaited the completion of renovations to their new old home.
A 3-0 loss to the Manitoba Moose put a damper on the homecoming, but the Checkers (6-5-0-0, 12 points) were clearly glad to be in their new digs.
“This is going to be a fine building,” Charlotte coach Mark Morris said. “The fans were ready for us to get that first goal, and we’re disappointed we didn’t give it to them. We were our own worst enemy tonight.”
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On a night with an old-school feel, including videos celebrating almost 60 years of professional hockey history in Charlotte, the two teams got the game off to an old-school start with a chippy first period which saw 16 penalty minutes handed out in the first four minutes of play.
“We wanted to put some life into the building,” said winger Kyle Hagel, who took a five-minute penalty for fighting Manitoba’s Darren Kramer just 2 minutes and 47 seconds into the game. “The crowd was loud and awesome. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to give them much to cheer about the rest of the way.”
That about summed up the night for Charlotte, which couldn’t generate many serious opportunities to score after the early minutes.
“You’ve got to be able to go out and earn that first goal,” said Checkers’ winger Zach Boychuk, who had one of a couple of breakaway chances in the first five minutes, but couldn’t get the puck past Manitoba goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. He stopped all 30 Charlotte shots.
The Moose (2-6-1-1, 6 pts) got its first goal with 1:53 left in the second period when Austen Brassard collected the rebound of a shot off the goalpost by Chase DeLeo and knocked it past Charlotte goaltender Drew MacIntyre on the stick side.
Scott Kosmachuk scored midway through the third period and Manitoba got its last score into an empty net by J.C. Lipon, when the Checkers pulled MacIntyre to get a 6-on-4 power play on a Moose penalty in the last two minutes of the game.
“We got all our chances early and we couldn’t take advantage,” Morris said. “Spending so much time on the penalty kill in the first period took its toll on us. We have to be more disciplined.”
The Checkers and Manitoba play again at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bojangles Coliseum.