Checkers’ Black has made a career of taking chances |

In honor of Women’s History Month, this week presents a multi-part series highlighting the women of the AHL.

📝 by Patrick Williams

Black Tera he didn’t really grow up around hockey, but he’s built a life around hockey.

It’s that classic story of a California kid who got his first taste of hockey through a preseason game with the San Jose Sharks in the early 1990s. he did, switched to the business side of the game, managed two professional franchises, won the Calder Cup and became one of the top executives in the sport.

“I’m going to say with 100 percent bias that it’s the greatest game in the world,” Black said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for the game of hockey, for all the people who lifted me up my entire career, for my husband (Jamieformer professional player and now CFO of Checkers) played the game and carefully taught me the rules”.

As director of operations for the Charlotte Checkers, Black has built the club into one of the premier franchises in the AHL. He came to Charlotte in 2006 to join the Checkers as their vice president when the organization was in the ECHL; two years later he was promoted to COO.

What exactly does a general manager of a hockey club do? Everything is more or less, to be honest. Although an independent franchise, Checkers’ day-to-day business operations are its responsibility. This work includes the team’s sales, marketing, public relations, community relations, gaming operations and community efforts.

But go back to the mid-1990s, when roller hockey temporarily became the next hot sport.

Especially in Black’s native California, where he was born in the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes before moving to Grass Valley, not far from Sacramento, as a young man. When did hockey come out? Wayne Gretzky He arrived at the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. The Sharks arrived three years later. Black attended San Diego State University and found a job as an athletic trainer for the Sacramento River Rats, one of the founding clubs of Roller Hockey International. Based on the summer schedule, RHI found a foothold in California and the rest of the US and Canadian markets.

But the RHI clubs ran very lean operations, and the Blacks’ work quickly spread beyond the trainer’s room.

“It was like a new frontier, who was doing what and trying to get the staff together in a very short amount of time for the summer season,” Black recalled.

The River Rat needed an equipment manager.

“I wasn’t good at it,” Black said, “but I definitely got good at it very, very quickly. I said I could do it. I would figure it out later.

“So that’s what I did.”

Then the team needed someone to run their hockey operations, handle travel, and more.

“When people needed someone to do something, I raised my hand as fast as I could,” Black continued.

These growing needs became a model.

There is a lesson there too. Take the chance. Take on a task you didn’t plan on. step forward

“I’m behind that 100 percent for sailing early in my career,” Black said of the approach. “Most things in this business, if you’re creative and skilled and have people willing to help you navigate, you can really learn on the job. Establishing your “board of directors”—the people who will surround you throughout your career—is very important early on.

“Raise your hand and say, ‘I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but I’m absolutely going to do it.'”

So that’s what Black did. Again and again, even if he looks back now and laughs a little.

“I think now I probably should have been a little more careful about the things I was volunteering for, but I’m glad I didn’t,” Black mused. “‘Youth is wasted on the young’, isn’t it? I think that helped me to say, ‘Yes, I can do it’”.

RHI eventually folded, but Black’s approach brought him back to San Diego where he joined the city’s ECHL franchise, known as the Seagulls. They had marketing and public relations work to do, so that’s what he did. He took home a bunch of awards in those departments, and soon became the team’s general manager.

When the Gulls went out of business in 2006, Black moved east to Charlotte, where the new owner named him Vice President of the Checkers. Michael A. Kahn. The Checkers organization had a lofty goal, and Kahn had the right person to make those goals happen.

Black led the Checkers team on several major projects. In 2010, the organization made the jump to the AHL, giving the league a new home in one of the fastest growing markets in the United States. The team’s 2015 move to Bojangles’ Coliseum — a facility better suited for hockey than the downtown home they shared with the NBA’s Hornets — included major renovation efforts needed to renovate the 60-year-old facility, which had no major tenant. a decade Now able to play at home and with a fan-friendly schedule, the Checkers thrived.

Black became the first woman to win the James C. Hendy Award as an AHL general manager. Featured in Sports Business Journal’s “Game Changers” program in 2016 highlighting female sports CEOs. A year later, Black won the Charlotte Business Journal’s Women in Business Award. And when the Checkers won the Calder Cup in 2019, Black became the first woman to be named to the AHL’s championship trophy.

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Black’s work also extends far beyond Charlotte. The manager of the AHL’s first team, he is an alternate governor and was the chairman of the League’s Executive Committee last year. He also played a key role with the AHL’s Return to Play team, which was formed in 2020, to navigate the league through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and put the necessary framework in place for the 2020-21 campaign.

After more than a quarter of a century in hockey, Black sees more opportunities for younger women now than when she first entered the game.

“I think it’s probably going to be a little bit easier because there’s a willingness and a desire to add qualified women to all kinds of sports and their staffs,” Black explained. “I think it’s probably easier to get an interview. Gaining experience is important, and there are more opportunities now than ever. With each passing day, there is another opportunity for women in sports.

“It is a very good time for women to enter this industry. There are opportunities everywhere, and there is certainly a desire for people, including women, who are making the decision to play a variety of roles.’

And that change of mindset can produce tangible results. Entry into any profession requires the approval of the people in those decision-making seats. Before Black’s quarter-century of success, he needed someone to get out of San Diego State.

“A group of guys from my entire career took a chance on me when it was their risk — they were willing to take on someone who was probably less experienced,” Black recalled. “Nowadays, no chance is taken. So many college programs, sports management programs, and athletic training programs are so specific to each sport that girls and women are coming out of college highly qualified and can go with the guy in the room. interviewing for the same position.”

Black has brought his advice to Sacramento.

“I tell this to every person who asks me, who I mentor… You have to be very diversified because you never know,” Black said. “If you’re an athletic trainer, but then a position graphic comes up and you have to give a presentation, all of a sudden you have that experience and a different kind of skill. Sometimes that doesn’t go the way of traditional four-year college degrees, does it? You may want to go and gain experience in all types of businesses so that you are ready when those opportunities arise.

“There’s a quote on my wall in the office,” he continued. “He says that earning a lot of money does not necessarily make him rich. The experiences you gather throughout your life build a life. I was lucky to live in it, but I also had the most remarkable set of experiences that brought me here today.’

Black didn’t grow up with hockey, but his hockey experience has helped build a life for him.

“It’s an absolute privilege to be where I am and to have the experiences I’ve had,” Black said. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today without all the previous experiences.

“That’s what’s so important: Saying ‘Yes’.”

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