At the start of March, the Checkers sat in fifth place in the Atlantic Division - mired in a winless skid and staring up at a steep climb ahead of them in the standings.
And while that was an incredible run to capture the Atlantic crown, it’s just the beginning for Charlotte.
“It’s something to be proud of,” said Head Coach Geordie Kinnear. “But we want to continue to be proud.”
The Checkers hit the ice for another slate of practices this week in preparation of the postseason - and while the stakes have been raised, the team’s approach remains consistent.
“The mindset hasn’t changed for us as a group,” said Kinnear. “We want to continue to build our game. This group has really come together, especially at the end of the year. Today’s practice and the ones before that have been outstanding.”
By virtue of winning the division title, the Checkers have earned a bye past the first-round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, which officially kicked off on Monday. The final four teams in the Atlantic Division are battling it out in this opening round, with the lowest remaining seed advancing to face Charlotte.
Kinnear has been adamant all season long that his team approach each game the same, regardless of who they were playing. With Charlotte’s second-round opponent yet to be determined, that long-held philosophy is coming in handy.
“It really does help,” said Kinnear of his team’s approach. “You have no chance of winning if you don’t play your game. If you start worrying about the opponent, you lose focus on what makes you good. The guys have done an unreal job keeping that laser focus on playing our game. Playoff series you obviously have to make slight adjustments and some tweaks here and there. But we just want to make sure that we play how the Charlotte Checkers play.”
The Checkers wrapped up their regular season on April 23, a week before the league’s regular season officially concluded - meaning it could be nearly three weeks between games for Charlotte.
Kinnear views that long layoff as an opportunity.
“You have a great opportunity here to continue to work hard,” he said. “We talked about getting one percent better on the smallest task. You have an opportunity to work on your shot, on your skating, whatever it is.”
There are obviously challenges that can arise with such a long gap between games, but the coaching staff is taking those head on.
“The mindset has been right and we want it to continue,” said Kinnear. “It’s up to us as coaches to make sure we have that focus and that we manage the week correctly. We’re going to have a scrimmage on Wednesday as a group and we want to see that intensity like it’s a game day.”
While there’s no games on the immediate horizon, this week will go a long way toward setting the tone for the Checkers’ playoff run.
“It’s about having the right mindset,” said Kinnear. “What are you going to do when someone puts a stick or hand on you - are you going to stop moving your legs or are you going to push forward? This group is going to push forward.”