With an official attendance of 13,219, tonight was the largest crowd in franchise history. Prior to the game, the fans were treated to a special presentation of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, given to the AHL’s Man of the Year, from AHL president Dave Andrews to Checkers forward Kyle Hagel, who has excelled in giving back to the Charlotte community this season.
“He doesn’t do it to get his name up there, it’s truly from the heart,” said head coach Jeff Daniels of Hagel. “It was a good thing that he got recognized by both teams for what he does. Hopefully by watching that video some young guys can learn a lot from that. He’s a classy guy and he doesn’t do it to get recognized. He does it because he wants to be out there.”
With so many young players on the roster, Hagel’s efforts have certainly rubbed off, and his presence has affected the overall climate of the locker room.
“Guys have been awesome this year with coming out to as much stuff as they possibly can,” said Hagel. “I haven’t seen one guy this year that’s really begrudged a player appearance, whereas on other teams I’ve been on, guys say they can’t believe they have to go do this today. This group here, guys have a positive attitude and embrace it because they understand it’s a privilege.”
Trevor Carrick is one of those young players that Hagel has taken under his wing, and the defenseman acknowledges Hagel’s contributions.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever had on a hockey team and a great role model,” said Carrick. “He’s taught us a whole lot - me and all the other rookies. He’s a guy you look up to and respect. He’s a guy you want on your team.”
The crowd was also treated to a video highlighting Hagel’s efforts, something that touched both fans and players.
“I don’t think anyone on the team was expecting a video like that before the game,” said Carrick. “It’s kind of hard to play a hockey game after seeing that. You kind of get watery eyes even watching it. It’s much deserved and it was great to see that.”
On the ice, Hagel is a part of a strong leadership core for the Checkers, one that has refused to let their team quit. Going up against a Rockford team that still has very much to play for, the Checkers matched their intensity stride for stride, coming up just short in the end.
“Guys have been playing hard all year,” said Hagel. “There was times over the course of the season with a different group where things really could have went south. Guys could have packed it in early and we could be looking at having 40 points right now. Guys are competing hard and they want to win. You have to play for pride and you have to play for your next contract, but guys are really battling and want to win, which is great to see. We played well enough to win tonight and I wish that we did.”
Drew MacIntyre turned in a strong performance in goal for the Checkers, making 33 saves, but a Spencer Abbott deflection in the second was enough to lift Rockford to victory as the Checkers’ offense was unable to put anything behind goalie Antti Raanta. The IceHogs sealed the game with a late empty net goal to squash any hopes of a Checkers comeback.
“That’s a pretty good team over there,” said Daniels. “They’re up there in the standings for a reason. They play a real strong game, but I thought we were right there with them. We had a lot of chances to tie it, but we’ve got to play a fast game against that team.”
The Checkers’ blue line continues to sport new faces each night, with Roland McKeown making his pro debut tonight. Despite the overall inexperience of the group, Charlotte’s defensive corps was able to contain the IceHogs’ high-flying offense, holding them to just one goal prior to the empty netter.
“I thought it was solid,” said Daniels of his blue line’s effort. “We obviously have a young defense out there. I thought they gave us a great chance to win. They made some mistakes but they also made some good plays. I think it was a bit of an eye-opener for them since this is an elite team.” The Checkers will wrap up their home schedule tomorrow night in a rematch with Rockford.