Kinnear expects even more success in Charlotte

QMI Agency

With one extremely successful inaugural season under the proverbial belt, Delhi's Geordie Kinnear and the AHL Checkers have become much more than the symbol for a final lap in Charlotte.

Following the Amer ican Hockey League team's relocation from Albany to Charlotte, Kinnear, an assistant coach with the club, and the newly named Checkers headed south for NASCAR Country and proceeded to establish themselves as a new player in town.

The club finished fifth in the AHL's Eastern Conference, and then knocked off the 11-time league champion Hershey Bears and the top seeded Wilkes- Barre/Scranton Penguins in the playoffs to qualify for the conference finals. The Binghamton Senators would eventually come in and spoil the party en route to their first Calder Cup title, but during their run, Charlotte firmly planted its skates in the city's sports landscape.

"Definitely fans down there like to follow a win-n er and we wanted to establish ourselves, not only in Charlotte, but in the league, that this team is for real," said Kinnear, 36.

"We' re ready to take that next step. We're in the American Hockey League to develop players to the NHL, but we're there to develop NHL players that can win, too."

With a host of young twenty-something's on the roster, including Paris's Zac Dalpe, Kinnear and Checkers head coach Jeff Daniels led their team to a regular season mark of 44-27-9, and a pair of six-game series victories when it mattered most.

"I think the biggest thing was the young players buying into what Jeff and I were trying to preach -- defence first. Because they had the high skill level to contribute offensively, but to buy in defensively, they did that and it really came to fruition in the playoffs," said Kinnear.

"We played two of the top teams in the first two rounds and they really believed that defence was going to win and it did, and we still got our goals to come out on top."

The Checkers weren't able to get on track in the Calder Cup semifinal. Binghamton, infused with a lineup of players that spent significant time with their parent club in Ottawa throughout the season, swept Charlotte in four games. The "Baby Sens" went on to capture the league title in a six-game series victory over Houston.

"Up front they had three lines that were very high offensive lines and they never really let us get our game going. They took us out of our game right from Game 1, and we never found that swagger that we found in the first two series," Kinnear said, adding his team gained some much-needed experience throughout the series.

"You don't win by accident, they came down and played very hard and won. I think, a lot of times you don't give the team that wins enough credit, and they deserve a lot of credit."

Though things are always changing in a league built for helping players reach the next level, Kinnear feels his team is certainly on the right path no matter how much player movement the organization experiences leading into the fall.

"It was a grind to get there, but we need to find that extra little bit of determination and dedication to get to the finals and go all the way," he said. "That's part of the maturity, part of leaning how to win and that's part of what we teach and continue to do so."

Not far down the road from Delhi, Dalpe, with his first pro year under his belt is a likely candidate to make the jump to the Hurricanes next season. In fact, he started the year with the big club, recording an assist in his first regular season game versus Minnesota in Finland. He would go on to put up 57 points (23g, 34a) in 61 games in Charlotte.

"I can't say enough about Zac Dalpe. He came in as a very highly skilled player, but what I liked is that he's very coachable, works hard every single day after practice -- almost to the point where you have to tell him, 'Look Zac, you're playing a lot of minutes, a lot of games, you need to take a break,'" Kinnear explained.

"He's highly skilled, but very modest, wanting to learn all the time and he's going to have a great NHL hockey career, it's just a matter of when."

Kinnear has had Dalpe work at his Tri-County Pro's Hockey School in recent years, including this past camp, which ran earlier this month.

For Dalpe -- a former Ohio State Buckeye -- the bond with his coach has been nothing but positive.

"I love Geordie. I can't say enough good things about Geordie," the 21-year-old centre said.

"For a guy who is from a small town, he's done well. I think he deserves to be (coaching) in the NHL one day."

At this point, it's unknown whether Kinnear and Dalpe will work together again this fall, but they already worked together alongside Simcoe's Ryan VandenBussche teaching the next generation.

"What Dalps brings is his work ethic and what I want him to show the kids is all the little puck skill drills he does, skill development drills he works on on a sis after practice when no coaches are watching and he's just out there by himself," said Kinnear. "As much as a coach teaches a player, I learned a lot from Zac this year too, just on all the puck skill drills he does. He's a special kid and he's a special hockey player in my opinion."

-- With files from Brian Smiley, QMI Agency