By knocking off the defending champion Toronto Marlies last weekend, the Checkers punched their ticket for the Calder Cup Finals, something that no other incarnation of franchise has been able to do in its eight-year AHL existence.
So what is it about this specific team that has given the Checkers their best season ever?
There’s certainly an abundance of high-end talent on the 2018-19 Checkers, but there’s been no shortage of that over the years in Charlotte. There’s something bigger that has set this team apart, and it starts in the locker room.
“This is the most fun that I’ve had in my five years in Charlotte,” said Trevor Carrick. “And it’s not because we’re winning games and doing well, it’s this group of guys.”
“We’ve built a great culture here, even starting last year or the year before,” said Andrew Poturalski. “We love it here. We love showing up to the rink.”
Fans have been lucky enough to get a bit of a glimpse into the locker room following wins during this postseason run, and that power of that positive culture is on full display.
Big win, happy locker room ? pic.twitter.com/WP3Wq6ToyY
— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) May 25, 2019
“We’ve got to credit Dan Renouf for starting that little celebration there,” said Poturalski. “It’s been great and the boys are buying in. We’ve got good leadership and good coaches, the new guys come in and they fit in.”
Even as they power through the grind of more than two months of extra hockey, the significance of this season to the organization as a whole isn’t lost on the team.
“Michael Kahn has put a lot of money and time into this organization and he loves this city and this team,” said head coach Mike Vellucci. “His family is around all the time. For me, it’s a pride to be able to do it for him.”
If the record crowd on hand for the thrilling Game 6 victory is any indication, the city of Charlotte has started to pick up on how special this season is as well.
“Sunday night was magical,” said Vellucci of Game 6. “I had chills, it was so loud. To see the jubilation and everyone hugging and high-fiving in the crowd, it was pretty exciting.”
“When we showed up for warmups the place was already packed,” said Poturalski. “To have that support from the people of Charlotte has been great.”
“We love playing in front of them,” said Carrick of the Charlotte fans. “That’s why we worked hard during the season to get that home-ice advantage.”
The city of Charlotte has waited a long time for a championship, and that close-knit group in the locker room wants to be the one to deliver it.
“It’d be awesome to go all the way with this group,” said Carrick.
“There’s no better team to win it with,” said Poturalski.