For Checkers’ off-ice crew, a chance to stay in the game

Dick Theriault has been an off-ice official in the AHL for 23 seasons.

by Nick Niedzielski | AHL On The Beat

Perched near the top of a section of seats at every Charlotte Checkers home game you’ll find a group of off-ice officials, stationed in front of laptops and sheets of paper as they compile the statistics for the game on the ice.

The two men leading that crew – Terry Jordan and Dick Theriault – have been manning those positions for a long time, and they’ve had a front-row seat for the rapid growth of hockey in the Queen City.

Hockey has long been ingrained in the lives of both Jordan and Theriault.

“I started playing outdoors as a little kid in Winnipeg,” said Jordan. “I learned to skate when I was two years old, I played college hockey at RPI and played semi-pro hockey after that. I was even a practice goalie for the Checkers back 30 years ago whenever they needed a body.”

“When I got out of college and got married, I wanted to stay with hockey but I had been hurt pretty bad playing in college,” said Theriault. “My wife said no more hockey, so that’s when I started reffing. I was a referee for 25 years in New Hampshire.”

The unrelenting pull of staying involved with the sport eventually led both to become off-ice officials, a broad title that involves specific positions for everything from manning the penalty box to tallying shots on goal to managing the scoresheet that fans see online.

Jordan was the first to join the ranks.

“I’ve been doing this since the Checkers reformed in ’93,” he said. “I’m not really sure what made me want to start other than that they needed somebody. The club went to the youth hockey program and they were looking for someone who knew something about hockey to kind of steer it when we got started. I volunteered since I’ve been around hockey my whole life. I just love hockey. So I’m sort of giving back to it.”

The moment in 1993 Jordan is referring to is the inception of Charlotte’s ECHL franchise. While an iteration of the Checkers had been in the Queen City since 1956, that original era shuttered in 1977 and led to over a decade and a half of dormancy.

Jordan’s new role gave him a firsthand look as the city embraced the return of their much beloved sport.

“There was a lot of excitement,” he said of those early days. “The fans were great. We always had a huge crowd so it was a lot of fun.”

The ECHL franchise thrived over the next 17 years, including bringing the city a championship in 1996, and that bubbling popularity led to Michael Kahn purchasing an American Hockey League team and moving it to Charlotte to take over the Checkers mantle.

It was in this transition from era to era that Theriault found his way into the fold.

“We came to Charlotte in 2010,” he said. “Just when the AHL moved in.”

Theriault was already a veteran of the role – he started as an off-ice official with the Manchester Monarchs in 2001 – and took the opportunity to stay connected in a new city.

“It kept me in the sport,” he said.

He jumped onto Jordan’s crew and made himself a mainstay.

“In the 13 years that I’ve been down here I can probably count on one hand the number of games I’ve missed,” he said.

A New Englander at heart, Theriault was skeptical at first of hockey in the south. But the combination of die-hard Checkers fans and the influx of new faces that the move to the AHL brought quickly swayed him.

“It’s improved a lot down here,” he said. “I think what happened was the more they came, the more they learned about the game. When I first got here, hockey had been here, but I don’t know that the crowds were as plentiful as they are now. And of course the more you go see a sport, the easier it is to understand, because it’s a fast sport.”

Winning over an old-school hockey purist like Theriault says a lot about how the fanbase has evolved in Charlotte, reaching current heights previously unfathomable to some.

“It was just something fun to do,” said Jordan. “We thought it would stay low key, low level forever. But it has taken off. The caliber of the players has gotten so much better over the years.”

Several decades into their off-ice official tenures, both Jordan and Theriault have turned Checkers games into family affairs, with several generations accompanying them and even joining the crew.

“It’s kind of like a family thing,” said Theriault, whose wife is also an off-ice official (and arguably the glue that keeps the crew running). “My dad played pro hockey, my grandkids play, my wife and I don’t really go any places other than here and up north for the summers.”

“It’s wonderful,” said Jordan of his family’s involvement, which includes both his daughter and grandson working with him as off-ice officials. “It’s what we talk about most of the time at home with my daughter and her kids living with us; we talk about hockey and the Checkers all the time.”

Jordan and Theriault have seen a lot over their time with the Checkers, from the rebirth of Charlotte hockey to the AHL elevation to a Calder Cup and beyond. And with an eye toward the future, they’re ready to be there for the next milestone as well.

“I want to keep doing it for a while,” said Jordan. “We still enjoy it. I’m retired now so I don’t have a lot to do. It’s the thing we do rather than sitting at home all day long.”

“I’m going to be doing this until the man above or the person below says, ‘I’m coming to get you, Dick,’” said Theriault. “I like this.”