In case you missed it yesterday and want to catch up, part 1 of 2 which you can find HERE had recaps of the Charlotte Checkers games from the first week of January.
In a year that had seen more downs than ups (until recently) for the Hurricanes, it was a little hard to get too excited about what’s happening in Charlotte. Sure, they’ve been utterly dominant at the highest level of hockey in North America outside of the NHL, but at times it felt a bit hollow with little improvement being visible with the parent team. But there’s a reason we pretty regularly hear and see quotes saying something along the lines of “they’re building something in Carolina”. When guys like Greg McKegg and Saku Maenalanen come up and show off the depth within the organization, adding some grit and jump to a struggling team, and a 7-in-8 streak gets ripped off, it starts to really feel like that quote is coming true.
And they’re not even the prized prospects everyone is waiting on, lest we forget.
Now, I am starting to get excited. It’s really getting easy to believe the Canes are well on their way. The next couple years the team is only going to strengthen with the incoming graduations, as guys like Saarela, Roy, Gauthier, Bean, and others continue to show incremental growth down on the farm. Not to mention the growth in store for Svechnikov, Wallmark, Foegele, and even the yep-he’s-still-only-21 Sebastian Aho. Oh, and in the pipeline, we’ve still got Mattheos, Fox, Geekie, Luostarinen, and so on.
I don’t mean to pander. I’m just legitimately excited.
As for the Checkers’ week of action, it was a relatively quiet one, with just a weekend back-to-back at Bojangles Coliseum against Wilkes-Barre. So I’ll stop rambling about what’s to come and give you what you came for.
Game 1 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh affiliate)
Being that this is a double-issue with the first portion pretty long, I’m going to keep this one short and (not so) sweet. The Pens crushed the Checkers in this game, 5-1. Scott Darling gave up three goals on 12 shots before being pulled with 3:30 to go in the first period. That buyout is going to sting this summer. He’s now rocking a 3.31 goals against average with an unsightly .882 save percentage. In the AHL. It’s a shame, and while I still don’t think it’s impossible for him to turn his career around, it’s not happening in this organization. He and the franchise both need to move on. Plus, as I’ve said before, Callum Booth has legitimate NHL potential in my eyes and is currently facing guys that are never going to sniff the big leagues. That’s not doing much for his development.
Andrew Poturalski scored the lone goal for the home team, and Nedeljkovic was solid in relief making 18 saves on 20 shots. But the Checkers were sloppy in their own end, undisciplined (6 penalties), and couldn’t solve Tristan Jarry (28 saves). At this point in the season, though, the Checkers are likely just bored anyway and tired of toying with other teams. It’s like in these back-to-backs they just lose the front end so that they can come out and pummel the team the next night as revenge. (Foreshadowing alert!)
Game 2 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Looking for that revenge, the Checkers dominated this game from the outset. Rocking the slick turquoise jerseys (that were auctioned off postgame with the proceeds going to fighting ovarian cancer), they jumped out to a big early lead. They would then let off the gas a bit and allowed the final score look a bit closer than the game felt early on. After building a 3-0 cushion after the first 20 minutes, the Checkers had to fight off a furious WBS comeback. The Pens would twice get within a goal, but Nicolas Roy would come through with an answer each time as part of his three-point night. Julien Gauthier, who had three points himself, was the one who got things started just 1:14 into the game. On a nice cycling shift from the Checkers, Gauthier would corral it at the left circle and rip one under the glove arm of Tristan Jarry to put the home team in front. Up next, Morgan Geekie collected a puck at center, entered the zone, cut across the top of the circles and rifled one that beat Jarry high to the blocker side to double the lead. Finally, Zach Nastasiuk scored a nicely-run powerplay goal off what looked like a set faceoff play. After winning the draw back to Bean at the point, he went D-to-D to Julien Gauthier at the far blue line, who then immediately found Nastasiuk cutting across the face of the goalie. Jarry kicked the initial tip chance right back to Nastasiuk who finished easily. It was his second goal and third point in seven games since being recalled from Florida of the ECHL. All this in the first 8:18 of play, and the Checkers outshot the Pens 14-4 in the frame to boot.
As I mentioned earlier, the Checkers seemed to sit back a bit in period two. Nedeljkovic was steady behind them. However, about 12 minutes in, a bit of a strange play resulted in a frenzy in front of the net and a bunch of hacks towards the cage. Ned stopped the first two, but Cameron Brown chopped the third over his glove to make it 3-1. Then, the Checkers’ second consecutive game with a few too many penalties came back to haunt them. With Haydn Fleury in the box for high-sticking, a point shot was deflected when navigating the heavy traffic in front and leaked through Nedeljkovic’s legs to make it 3-2. Just two and a half minutes later, though, Roy would bury the first of the aforementioned answering goals, getting a beautiful pass from Janne Kuokkanen in the slot and one-timing it off the crossbar and in to send them to the final 20 leading 4-2. Taylor was able to cut it to one again in the third, but Roy would again reinstate the two-goal lead with a minute and a half left with an empty netter. Alex Nedeljkovic played really well in making 32 saves to earn the W, as the Checkers were outshot 31-13 over the last two periods. Vengeful. Very vengeful.
Charlotte Chckers Statistics
Players (goals-assists-points, through 40 games played)
Andrew Poturalski – 16-23-39
Janne Kuokkanen – 11-19-30 (33 GP)
Aleksi Saarela – 11-18-29 (38 GP)
Martin Necas – 9-17-26 (30 GP)
Nicolas Roy – 13-13-26 (33 GP)
Jake Bean – 5-19-24
Greg McKegg – 6-17-23 (31 GP)
Julien Gauthier – 12-10-22
Trevor Carrick – 6-16-22
Morgan Geekie – 12-8-19
Roland McKeown – 2-17-19
Patrick Brown – 8-8-16
Nick Schilkey – 5-10-14 (28 GP)
Cliff Pu – 1-3-4 (34 GP)
Alex Nedeljkovic – 18-5-2, .902 SV%, 2.73 GAA
Scott Darling – 5-3-1, .882 SV%, 3.31 GAA
Callum Booth, just as a reminder and for comparison – 4-1-0, .924 SV%, 1.89 GAA