The 2018-19 season was a special one for the Checkers, with the team tearing through the AHL to capture its first Calder Cup.
That monumental season is now forever commemorated in the form of championship rings.
“I wanted to everybody to have something for the rest of their lives to commemorate this achievement because it doesn’t happen often,” said Checkers owner Michael Kahn.
The rings are the final product of a lengthy design process led by Kahn and COO Tera Black.
“Baron [the company that produced the rings] gave us some examples from previous Calder Cup championship rings and we went from there,” said Black. “Michael and I talked probably three or four times a day for several weeks on what we felt was important in terms of the representation of various symbols that would have significance to our players and staff.”
The design highlights several features that harken back to that season.
“There were so many things that, when you see them, make you think of our best year in history,” said Black. “The little red CLT that was on the hats that the players wore all year, that was really important. The Coliseum, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did without our move back here so that was a huge part of what we wanted to incorporate. Pressure Is A Privilege, which was the team’s slogan during the playoffs, we certainly all felt that going through it all.”
The returning players received their rings at a ceremony earlier this week, finally getting one last piece of hardware from their title run.
“It means a lot,” said Alex Nedeljkovic. “It’s something that you’re always going to have, you’re always going to remember and treasure.”
The players who departed for other teams will be getting theirs over the next month. And while the members of that championship team have spread across the world, the ring embodies what made that group as a whole special.
“It’s something that is going to be a reminder for the rest of our lives of all the good memories with the guys,” said Jake Bean. “We knew we were never going to play with that exact team again, so to have that memento brings a lot of good memories.”
The players weren’t the only ones rewarded with a ring, however, as Kahn and Black wanted to recognize the sheer magnitude of efforts that helped the team on its way to a title.
“Everyone contributed to this,” said Kahn. “The guys on the ice get all the recognition, but without the office staff we have, which is the best in the league, this doesn’t happen.”
That includes not only the front office staff, but the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (who manage the coliseum), the building staff, gameday staff and more.
“There are so many people behind the scenes who help pull off something of this magnitude,” said Black. “There were many late nights spent trying to figure out how we were going to pull it off. The CRVA worked tirelessly to make it work for us. There was a litany of things that had to be done and no one batted an eye. Everyone was so happy to be a part of it so it was imperative that we recognize all of those people with this symbol.”
For all that Kahn has sunk in during his tenure owning the team, the ring has a special meaning.
“I get to carry something for the rest of my life,” said Kahn. “I’ve been in this business for 14 years, I know people who have been in it a lot longer than that that haven’t achieved this. This was always the goal.”
“I know how bad he wanted this,” said Black. “It’s been a 14-year hunt for the unicorn. And you never really know if you’ll ever see that in your career. So for him and all the resources that he’s put into this, the loyalty that he’s represented and shown to his staff and players over the years, to see it culminate with him lifting that cup is something that I literally can’t explain.”
While the seasons will come and go, everyone involved in that magical championship run now have a constant reminder to what they accomplished for Charlotte.
“I’m so proud of our city,” said Black. “This city in North Carolina is the proud owner of a Calder Cup championship. Some traditional hockey markets never get that. I’m really proud of that.”