Sports Strength

The AHL’s Charlotte Checkers Are Ready For The Playoffs

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of covering the Charlotte Checkers who played their final regular-season home game against the Hartford Wolf Pack. Not only was it my first time ever covering a hockey game, but it was also my first time even attending a hockey match in person, which was incredible. The game took place at the Bojangles Coliseum, which was an overtime matchup that ended with the Hartford Wolf Pack taking it 4-3.

While the Checkers may not have gotten the win, it was still a memorable day for team captain Zac Dalpe who was playing in his milestone 600th professional game. I attended this game not for a “recap,” but to learn more about the team that has Charlotte’s heart.

The Charlotte Checkers are a minor league professional ice hockey team that are a part of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference in the American Hockey League. They are affiliates of the NHL’s Florida Panthers and Seattle Kraken.

Originally known as the Capital District Islanders from 1990 to 1993 and based in Troy, New York, the team took on another moniker, the Albany River Rats for nearly seventeen years before relocating to Charlotte in 2010. Once there, the River Rats officially changed their name to the Charlotte Checkers, making them the second professional minor league hockey team to officially be recognized in the highest level of minor-league hockey.

At the time, the Checkers were playing at what was then known as the Time Warner Cable Arena (now the Spectrum Center) and moved to the Bojangles Coliseum in 2010. While the Checkers have been fun to watch every year, their 2018-2019 season is widely regarded as their best thus far in team history. That year, the Checkers captured the Regular Season Title, the Division Championship, the Conference Championship, and the Calder Cup.

For those that don’t know, the Calder Cup is the annual trophy awarded to the American Hockey League Champion each year. Fast forward to 2022, and the Checkers are hoping for the same outcome. The team clinched their playoff berth on April 7th, making them the first team to get an invitation to the 2022 Playoffs

Obviously, the city of Charlotte is very excited about the team’s chance to bring home another trophy this year, and that was evident during this final home game. The Bojangles Coliseum houses 8,600 seats, and despite already clinching a playoff spot, the turnout was still amazing. I’d estimate that at least 8,300 of 8,600 seats were filled, and that number could have been more as there were tons of people getting food and merchandise.

Many of those fans were rocking Checkers gear, and we’re genuinely disappointed to see their team lose despite the fact that in the grand scheme of things, the game really didn’t matter much.

The food options were simple yet satisfying with an abundance of pizza, popcorn, hot dogs, chicken tenders, and more, and the live experience was awesome. Since I had never been to a hockey game before, I didn’t know what to expect. I had multiple people tell me that the hockey live experience is among the most exciting to watch, and after attending myself, I would have to agree. I can only imagine what a hockey playoff game feels like, and it is my hope that one day I’ll be able to attend one.

Best of luck to the Charlotte Checkers as they embark on their postseason journey, which you can follow via their Instagram and Twitter.

Sports Strength

The Packers Regain The Top Spot In Week 16 NFL Power Rankings

It may have taken longer than expected, but a team finally clinched a playoff spot! The Green Bay Packers, the NFC’s No. 1 seed and repeating NFC North champions, punched their ticket to the postseason last Sunday and the stage is set for more teams to join them this coming weekend. Down below are our latest power rankings before we enter Week 16 of this NFL season.

1. Green Bay Packers (11-3)

Although they’ve relatively flown under the radar, the Green Bay Packers have emerged as the best team in the league. In Week 15, Aaron Rodgers tied Brett Favre for most passing touchdowns in franchise history and helped his team seal up a NFC North division title.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

For the third time in the last four seasons, the Chiefs are once again the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Interestingly, the Chiefs are fueled by a stingy defense while their usually high-octane offense has sputtered at times. At this rate, if the current AFC West leader remains at No. 1, they’ll be the favorite to make a Super Bowl appearance for the third consecutive season.

3. New England Patriots (9-5)

While all NFL fans outside of New England are happy about the team’s seven-game winning stream coming to an end last Saturday, the Patriots’ second-half performance was noteworthy. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones is as good as advertised, and the Patriots are still a threat in the AFC’s playoff picture.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)

The Buccaneers’ stunning 9-0 home loss against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night capped off a hectic Week 15, but there’s little need for them to panic. Despite losing star receiver Chris Godwin to a torn ACL, the Buccaneers will likely find a way to readjust and be fine come playoff time.

5. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

Even with the looming cloud of the franchise’s recent postseason failures, the Cowboys are deservedly happy right now. They’ll clinch the NFC East with one more win and are currently the second seed in the NFC, riding an ongoing three-game win streak.

6. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)

The Rams are a living example of how fast things can change in the NFL. After going winless in November, they are back to playing winning football and could take the lead in the NFC West if they defeat the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday night.

7. Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

Over the course of a long season, every team—no matter how good—endures a tough stretch, as the injury-plagued Cardinals are quickly discovering. Arizona is undeniably a talented team, but now it’s a matter of whether they can right the ship with just three weeks remaining in the season—especially with a division title and higher playoff seeding on the line.

8. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

Led by MVP contender running back Jonathan Taylor, the Colts are beginning to look dangerous, as evidenced by their 27-17 win against the Patriots. Although they’re in the driver’s seat to lock up a Wild Card berth, the Colts face a difficult end to the season, with games against Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders in Weeks 16 and 17.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)

While the Chargers lost a heart-breaker to the Chiefs on Thursday night, they can at least take solace in the fact that their playoff positioning didn’t change at all. The AFC West competitor still holds one of their conference’s three wild-card spots along with tiebreaker advantages over other teams in that race.

10. Tennessee Titans (9-5)

At this point of the season, the Titans are looking at a half-full glass. On the positive side, they’re still in position to win the AFC South title. On the down side, though, they’re likely to be the third or fourth seed, which likely creates a matchup against the Colts, Chargers or Bills, three teams whose records belie their respective goodness.

Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 29th-December 5th

As everyone’s focus is to either improve or build upon what happened during the first quarter of this NBA season, the quote “iron sharpens iron” becomes a living reality. Whether it’s conference-leading teams going toe to toe or young stars taking on their idols, the season’s second quarter becomes a proving ground before the All-Star break. Below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

The league’s past, present and future are having memorable battles

It’s normal for the league to have its first heavy slate of important matchups when the calendar turns to December, but it doesn’t make it less exciting. Now on a nightly basis, there’s a matchup that pits any cominbation of the league’s past, present, and future stars against each other. Accordingly, on Sunday night, we watched an incredible duel between guards Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.

Garland, the third-year Cleveland Cavalier who’s having a breakout year, had 31 points and five assists, and Mitchell, the Utah Jazz’s soon-to-be superstar, finished with 35 points and six assists in a 109-108 thrilling Jazz victory. As the game inched closer to its conclusion, both players weren’t shy to score and guard each other in the clutch while already being the two best players on the court.

The NY Knicks are struggling to build upon last season’s success

After being one of the league’s biggest surprise stories last season, the Knicks have struggled to regain that spark as they’re currently 11-12 and sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race due to their ongoing three-game losing streak. And while this season’s Knicks team is more talented, they certainly don’t have the determination and focus that powered last season’s team to a surprise playoff appearance.

“We gotta look ourselves in the mirror and decide what we want the season to be,” Julius Randle said after the team’s 113-99 loss against the Denver Nuggets last Saturday. “I know what I want it to be. I know what the guys want it to be. But we have to commit to it, and that’s just really what it is.”

CanWill Damian Lillard find his swagger before it’s too late?

To say it’s been a crazy handful of months for Lillard is an understatement. In between readjusting to a new head coach, daily rumors surrounding his unhappiness with the Portland Trail Blazers, and him and the team’s constant struggles, Lillard now has one more problem: injuries.

The multi-time All-Star will be out of action for at least ten days due to an abdominal injury, and it couldn’t have happened at the worst time. Despite averaging his lowest points per game average since his third NBA season (2014-’15), Lillard was beginning to regain his previous form, as witnessed by his 39 and 32-point performances against the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings between November 20th-24th.

The Thunder are simply bad and there isn’t much to say about that

While it’s already unfathomable that the Oklahoma City Thunder lost by 73 points last Friday, it’s crazier when you realize they lost by 57 points less than six months ago. And even though the NBA can’t do anything about the Thunder and their rare, historic losses, some say an eye should be kept on their performance moving forward.

In the spirit of competitiveness and further eliminating the thought of tanking, which at one point plagued the mind of sports fans, the Thunder must turn the corner in that department, even if it doesn’t produce a more wins.

Sports Strength

NYCFC’s Latest Playoff Journey Is Not A Surprise

The New York City Football Club has experienced consistent success for the majority of its eight years of existence. In addition to making the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, the Eastern Conference club has housed top-notch talent such as legendary players like David Villa and Andrea Pirlo as well as up-and-comers like 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner and forward Valentin Castellanos. But amidst such success, NYCFC has gone through tons of heartbreak too.

Followers of the club vividly remember those cold October and November nights where NYCFC would get knocked out of the playoffs at home in the first round. The club’s losses against the likes of Columbus FC (2017) and Toronto FC (2019) shifted the franchise’s direction and sparked several departures, whether it was Villa or previous managers Patrick Vieria and Domenec Torrent who all thrived during the regular season.

This year, though, it seems like NYCFC has learned from their past failures and now stands at the precipice of making their first MLS Cup. On Sunday, they’ll have the chance to exorcise their previous demons when they go on the road to face off against the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Finals.

While this year’s NYCFC club may not be as talented or accomplished, this group has a greater amount of grit and focus than they have in years past. Club veterans such as midfielder Maxi Moralez, goalie Sean Johnson, defender Alexander Callens, and Castellanos have accumulated years of important playoff experience, which sets the tone and positively influences the rest of their roster.

It’s honestly not a surprise that NYCFC’s path to an MLS Cup appearance, let alone a championship, comes in the form of being a road warrior as they travel to Philadelphia this weekend. Fewer things bring a team together than playing on the road and knowing the odds are against you all. But you know what else helps you accomplish your goal? Living in the moment and for NYCFC, they’ll experience another one this Sunday.

Sports Strength

Which NFL Teams Are In Danger Of Missing The Playoffs?

Although it gets accepted that life in the NFL can change at any moment, teams aren’t always prepared for when it does. Whether it’s due to injuries, inconsistency, or a tough schedule, teams often regress throughout the regular season and can suffer the enormous consequence of missing the playoffs as a result of their failure.

As we enter Week 13 of the NFL season, which teams are currently in danger of missing the playoffs? Take a look down below at the five teams who qualify for this conversation.

Buffalo Bills (7-4)

Yes, the Bills certainly have enough talent to get back on track and reestablish themselves as a Super Bowl contender, but their remaining schedule doesn’t do them any favors. With just a one-game lead over three other teams in the AFC Wild Card race, the Bills face the daunting task of playing the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers three times within the next month. Even more concerning, they’ll be without All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.

Dallas Cowboys (7-4)

The Cowboys are now involved in a closely-contested divisional race against Washington Football Team, who are not only playing better football than Dallas but are healthier and have a slightly easier remaining schedule. Having lost three of their last four games, the Cowboys desperately need to scrape together some wins if they want to salvage what’s quickly becoming a lost season.

San Francisco 49ers (6-5)

Immense credit has and will be given to the 49ers for turning their ship around and grabbing one of the NFC’s Wild Card spots, but their remaining schedule creates doubt about their chance of making the postseason. Four of their final six games are on the road and this slate includes contests against divisional rivals (Seahawks and Rams) and playoff-contending teams (Bengals and Titans).

Los Angeles Chargers (6-5)

The case against the Chargers making the postseason surrounds their inconsistency which has been horrid to watch. With three more playoff teams to face on their schedule, including the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, the Chargers have the opportunity to strengthen their grasp on the AFC’s last Wild Card or lose it for good.

Indianapolis Colts (6-6)

Amongst the lower to middle-tier teams competing to make this year’s playoffs, the Colts have arguably the best chance to rise out of the muck and make the postseason. Other than possessing enough talent and coaching to win games, the Colts have given up leads or fallen short at the end of four games this season, most recently against the Buccaneers last Sunday. If they won at least two of those games, the Colts would be 8-5 and in line to win the AFC South division instead of looking from the outside at the AFC Wild Card race.