The Charlotte Checkers’ 10-year run of being the top affiliate for the cross-state Carolina Hurricanes is apparently over.
During calls with reporters Thursday, new Florida Panthers GM Bill Zito and coach Joel Quenneville both mentioned Charlotte in reference to developing the team’s prospects, FloridaHockeyNow’s George Richards reported, seemingly confirming a months-long rumor that the Checkers would no longer be the Hurricanes’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Reports of the Checkers becoming Florida’s affiliate and Carolina moving its prospects to the Chicago Wolves started in March when the St. Louis Blues inked an affiliation deal with the Springfield Thunderbirds, who had been the Panthers’ affiliate. Neither the Checkers’ affiliation with Florida nor the Wolves’ with Carolina has been officially announced.
The Checkers moved from the ECHL to the AHL for the 2010-11 season, taking over for the Albany River Rats in becoming the Hurricanes’ top affiliate. The partnership was ideal for both sides in building a statewide network of hockey fans. Carolina benefited by having its top prospects a brief car ride away for both the purposes of evaluation and call-ups, while the Checkers had their parent team — and its fans — nearby.
Last year, the Hurricanes reached an agreement with the Greenville (S.C.) Swamp Rabbits to be its ECHL affiliate, a move placed the team’s two minor league teams in close proximity.
The partnership between Carolina and Charlotte peaked last season when the Checkers won the Calder Cup. The coach of that team, Mike Vellucci — who had a longtime affiliation with former Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos — did not come to a contract extension agreement to stay with the Checkers and was hired to coach the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins by former Hurricanes GM and current Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford. Vellucci was named an NHL assistant on Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan’s staff Wednesday.
Checkers assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky was promoted to head coach, and he had led Charlotte to a 34-22-0-5 record this season when the season was paused and later canceled.
The coaching staff, which this past season also included former Hurricanes forward Patrick Dwyer, is employed by Carolina and would relocate with the Hurricanes’ prospects to its new affiliate.
Hurricanes GM Don Waddell — who was general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers when the now-defunct team’s AHL affiliate was the Wolves — has said multiple times in recent months that an announcement would be coming soon regarding the organization’s AHL affiliation.
When reached Wednesday, the Hurricanes had no statement regarding the comments made by Florida’s Zito and Quenneville. The Checkers have not responded to an email requesting comment on the news.
During the team’s time in the AHL, the Checkers have become one of the most respected franchises in the league. On top of the Calder Cup championship last season, the Checkers are three-time winners of the AHL’s Award of Excellence in Community Service.
Tera Black, the team’s COO, was the lone woman named to the AHL’s Return to Play task force, joining five NHL GMs — including Steve Yzerman, Ken Holland and David Poile — and seven others on the 13-person committee.
In late June, Black referred all questions regarding the Checkers’ affiliation negotiations with Carolina to the Hurricanes.