The Charlotte Checkers played some of their best hockey since the beginning of November this past week. They bested the Cleveland Monsters 3-2 in a shootout on Friday (Jan. 13) and then again on Saturday (Jan. 14) by a score of 5-3. After that, the Checkers would hit a speed bump losing 3-0 to the Milwaukee Admirals on Tuesday (Jan. 17) and 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday (Jan. 18).
Three stars of the week
After missing 18 straight games, Trevor Carrick made his long awaited comeback during the Checkers’ game against the Monsters on Friday night. His presence was felt less than two minutes into his first game as he fired a big shot from the point with Andrew Poturalski then deflecting it into the back of the net for a goal. But being an offensive spark was not what made Carrick a star, as that assist was the only point that he collected this week. The Checkers’ defense looked noticeably more confident and stable on the blue line with the third year pro back in the line up. Carrick made smart and simple plays when breaking the puck out on offense, and he did not try to force much that could have lead to a turnover. With the team’s best defensemen from last season back in the lineup, look for the Checkers’ young defense to continue to gain confidence. Next, Sergey Tolchinsky played a solid week of hockey on the team’s third line. He scored the game-winning goal in the team’s game against the Monsters on Saturday night, and he also tallied two more assists during the week, as well. Tolchinsky still falls into the habit, at times, of trying to over stick handle on offense which eventually leads to turning the puck over without even getting off a shot. He did a terrific job this past week of making sure that he got the puck on a teammate’s stick or at the net instead of attempting to stick handle through two or three opposing players. And this week’s third star, Phil Di Giuseppe, continues to be the most impressive force on this Checkers’ team since he was sent down from the Canes earlier in the season. The 23-year old forward from Toronto tallied two goals and an assist in the team’s past week of play. Di Giuseppe has accepted his role beautifully as the team’s catalyst and go to guy on offense when they need a goal. The confidence he is displaying with the Checkers is encouraging to see. Hopefully, he will be able to transfer it to the NHL when he is eventually called back up with the Hurricanes.
Andrej Nestrasil has made a smooth transition from playing with the Canes in the NHL to the AHL with the Checkers. He switched in between playing on the first and second lines and he also got in a few times on some special teams play. He scored his first goal of the season as a Checker during the team’s 5-3 victory over the Cleveland Monsters, and he had a beautiful assist to Patrick Dwyer that put him on a breakaway in the team’s game on Wednesday night. While not truly distinguishing himself among the pack, Nestrasil did play a solid game without any major mistakes while out on the ice. Lucas Wallmark is also inching his way up to overtake Andrew Poturalski as the team’s leader in points. He netted three goals in the past week of play. Wallmark did a great job of moving without the puck while in the offensive zone, and it lead to him getting some terrific scoring chances around the net.
Roland McKeown did not play his greatest week of hockey this past week. He didn’t put up a point in any of the three games he played and missed the Checkers’ last game due to injury. For the season he has 7 points in 37 games played, and he is a team low -10. McKeown makes the typical defensemen rookie mistakes of trying to force the pass on the breakout or passing the puck in front of the team’s net on defense which can easily lead to a goal against. McKeown just needs to make sure that he learns from his mistakes and that he does not let them become consistent habits later into his pro career.
Michael Leighton season notes
With the expectation that Michael Leighton will be starting Saturday for the Canes, it is only right that we touch on how he has been playing this season and as of late. Currently, he is 8-6-3, with a 2.32 GAA, and .918 save percentage. At the beginning of the season in Charlotte, Leighton looked unbeatable at times and rose to near the top of the best goalies in the league. But ever since Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, and Matt Tennyson were all called up in a two day span, Leighton has had to adjust to a much younger and more offensively challenged Checkers’ team. That has affected his numbers but he is still in the top half of the AHL in GAA and save percentage. Look for Leighton to play a solid game up with the Canes on Saturday and at least give them a reasonable chance at winning.
Injuries and roster notes
Brendan Woods, Andrew Miller, and Roland McKeown all missed games due to injury. Kyle Hagel, Mitchell Heard, Kevin Raine, and Kris Newbury were all scratched at least one game. The Hurricanes called up goaltender Michael Leighton and sent down goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic on Thursday (Jan. 19).
Forward lines as of now
- First line: Andrej Nestrasil-Andrew Poturalski-Patrick Dwyer
- Second line: Phil Di Giuseppe-Lucas Wallmark-Valentin Zykov
- Third line: Connor Brickley-Patrick Brown-Sergey Tolchinsky
- Fourth line: Kris Newbury-Erik Karlsson-Levko Koper
Defensive pairings as of now
- First pairing: Haydn Fleury-Keegan Lowe
- Second pairing: Dennis Robertson-Jake Chelios
- Third pairing: Trevor Carrick-Kevin Raine