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How Charlotte Checkers’ new AHL foes will offer touch of home for fans

The Charlotte Checkers, pictured in last season’s AHL playoffs, open their home season Friday against Bridgeport (Conn.) at Bojangles Coliseum.
The Charlotte Checkers, pictured in last season’s AHL playoffs, open their home season Friday against Bridgeport (Conn.) at Bojangles Coliseum. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Fans will see something new at Charlotte Checkers games this season – opponents from the Northeast.

Say goodbye to Manitoba, Milwaukee, Austin and Stockton. Get ready for Springfield, Hartford, Rochester and Laval.

Bridgeport will be the opponent Friday and Saturday nights, as the Checkers open their home season at Bojangles Coliseum with a 7:15 p.m. contest Friday and a 6 p.m. face-off Saturday.

After six seasons in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference, the Checkers have been moved to the East for the 2017-18 campaign. And Checkers officials think that will play well with their fans.

“First of all, we’re talking about some of the legendary names of the AHL – Rochester, Hersey, Providence,” says Checkers’ Chief Operating Officer Tera Black. “The Hershey Bears have 80 years of hockey history.”

Rochester, Hersey, Providence and Springfield have been AHL members for at least 60 years.

But an even bigger reason has to do with the backgrounds of Checkers’ fans.

“We know that a lot of our fans are from New England and the Mid-Atlantic area,” Black says. “So are most of the teams we’ll play this season.

“This will make marketing the team easier. The Checkers will often be playing teams from the cities where our fans moved here from.”

Charlotte is in the eight-team Atlantic Division, with Hersey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Lehigh Valley from Pennsylvania; Bridgeport Sound and Hartford from Connecticut; Springfield (Mass.); and Providence (RI.).

The seven-team North Division has Rochester, Binghamton, Syracuse and Utica from New York; Toronto and Belleville from Ontario; and Laval (Quebec).

All of the Checkers’ regular-season games will be against teams from the Atlantic and North divisions. The Western Conference has the seven-team Central Division and the eight-team Pacific Division.

In addition, most Eastern Conference members are farm clubs of National Hockey League teams that Charlotte transplants once followed – the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers.

Bridgeport Sound, this weekend’s opponent, is a farm team of the New York Islanders.

Moving to the East also makes it easier on the team, says team vice president Shawn Lynch. Team travel will be drastically cut this season, with most of the teams a few hours from one another. In fact, Charlotte is the only Eastern Conference member not in that Northeast-Canadian footprint.

Strong start

The Checkers swept their opening two games of the season last weekend, beating Hartford 5-4 last Friday and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5-2 on Saturday. Rookie Warren Foegele scored four goals in the two games and is tied for the AHL lead in that category. Phil Di Guiseppe added two goals and an assist.