It’s been tough times the past two seasons for the Charlotte Checkers, but at least they look great. The franchise has its roots in Albany where the River Rats had one of the most instantly recognizable AHL logos of all time, but the Checkers mark is certainly a worthy competitor for the franchise’s best.
(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.) The Checkers weren’t offensively impressive in 2014-15. They scored only 172 goals, the third lowest total in the AHL, and finished third last in the Western Conference. It won’t help for the Checkers that they lost a number of players, either. Chad LaRose, the team’s second-highest scorer, is still without a deal. They lost Greg Nemisz to retirement. Alex Aleardi is also on his way out. That’s three players from their top 10 scorers. They did, however, add T.J. Hensick who scored 14 goals and 60 points in 2014-15, which would have made him the top point-getter in Charlotte. The reinforcements look good, but they may not be good enough. Youngsters Sergei Tolchinsky, Lucas Wallmark and Erik Karlsson all project to make the team this season. On the backend, Jake Chelios and Justin Agosta will be entering the fold. The goaltending should also be all right with Drew McIntyre and Rasmus Tirronen.
Team History: The Checkers franchise began in 1990, but it’s an oft-forgotten team that gave them their birth. In 1990, the AHL dropped a team into Troy, N.Y.’s Houston Field House. The new AHL franchise, the top affiliate of the New York Islanders, was called the Capital District Islanders, but they would only last for three seasons. In 1993, with the team only finishing with a .500 record once, the club was sold and affiliation was changed to a partnership with the New Jersey Devils. For the next 13 seasons, the Devils and newly-minted Albany River Rats enjoyed a successful partnership. After the franchise had failed to make the post-season in its first three seasons in Troy, the move to Albany brought with it a more successful group of Devils hopefuls. The River Rats’ second season in 1994-95 was an outstanding campaign in which they won 46 games, lost only 17 and tied another 17. They finished with 109 points — the best in the AHL — and dominated through the playoffs. During their Calder Cup run, the River Rats lost just two games and swept the finals against the Fredericton Canadiens. In two of the next three seasons, the River Rats would return to the conference finals, but they failed to get through to the Calder Cup final again. By 2000-01, the wheels had fallen off for the River Rats, however. Over the next six seasons, the club failed to make the post-season once and they finished last in their division each season. In 2006, the Devils announced they had purchased the Lowell Lock Monsters and would be changing their affiliation, at which point Albany became the Carolina Hurricanes’ top affiliate. In the inaugural season under Carolina, the Colorado Avalanche also sent their AHL talent to Albany. Finally, as Carolina’s farm team, the club broke its post-season slump and landed in the playoffs. They would reach the playoffs in three of their four seasons as Carolina’s AHL club, but in 2010 Albany lost its team. A sale was made giving ownership to a group in Charlotte, N.C., which would go on to rename the team the Checkers. In Charlotte, the team has yet to find consistency. After making a run to the conference finals in 2010-11, they missed the post-season the following year and have only made the playoffs once since. Steve Brule is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals (155), assists (215) and points (370). Jiri Bicek played the most games for the franchise, suiting up for 423 contests over seven seasons with the River Rats.
Logo History: The Capital District Islanders logo was uninspired, but it didn’t last long. When the club moved to Albany is when they got their most iconic logo. The River Rats mark was one of the best in the AHL during the nearly 20 years the team spent in Albany.
The fierce, growling rat was a great mascot and an interesting mark for an AHL club. The only change the River Rats logo saw during their tenure in Albany was a creative and subtle switch to change the rat’s shoulder patches when the club became affiliated with Carolina. It’s been five years since the River Rats have been around and we kind of miss this crest.
Current Logo: The Checkers name was taken from the former ECHL franchise, but the updated logo the club took on when arriving in Charlotte as an AHL club is fantastic. The cherry red color really pops off and makes the skyline look incredible, the polar bear looks fierce and it’s hard not to like what they’ve done with the modernization of the word mark. The only thing that would have put Charlotte higher up the standings would have been a subtle tie-in of any kind to the city. The skyline is great, but something subtle like the San Diego Gulls’ hidden gull would work brilliantly.
(All logos courtesy of Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net)