The Checkers started off their opening weekend at home with success, beating the Grand Rapids Griffins by a score 4-2 on Friday (Oct. 28) and 3-0 on Saturday (Oct. 29).
Three stars of the week
Brock McGinn played his best game of the year on Friday night and was rewarded for his persistent play by scoring his first two goals of the season. He also tallied an assist on the team’s second goal during Saturday night’s game. To go along with his three points over the weekend, McGinn also had 7 shots to give him 25 on the year, which is good enough to be tied for 4th in the AHL. Friday night was also the ninth time in his AHL career that he has recorded two goals in a single game. Derek Ryan had the best week of any Checkers player that was not a goalie. He accounted for two goals and added three assists, as he overtook Andrew Poturalski for the team lead in points. Ryan is currently tied for second among all AHL players in total scoring with 10 points. He illustrated tremendous discipline over the past week by quickly getting the puck off his stick to find an open teammate instead of trying to get fancy and over stick handle, which can lead to turnovers and an odd man rushes heading the other way. While the Checkers new rookie goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic is still getting himself adjusted from the junior to the pro game, the team’s other goalie Michael Leighton is showing tremendous poise in net. Leighton started in both games over the weekend and accumulated 56 saves on 58 shots. He did not admit in a single goal during Saturday night’s game and is now just one of six goalies in the AHL so far to post a shutout this season. The team, as a whole, looks undoubtedly more comfortable and plays looser with him in net than it did playing with last year’s goaltenders during the second half of the season.
Another player to find the back of the net for the first time this season was forward Sergey Tolchinsky. Even though he only has one goal on the year, Tolchinsky has displayed exceptional patience and stick handling skills to create multiple scoring chances for himself and his teammates. He has also benefitted the Checkers’ special teams as he drew five penalties over two games. Another player to watch is Valentin Zykov, who found the back of the net for his second goal of the season on Saturday. He would also tally an assist later that night on a Derek Ryan goal. Zykov has not been the flashiest player so far into the season, but he has displayed a nose for the net by using his size and big frame to stand in front the goalie to try to act as a screen and bang in rebounds whenever they come his way.
With the Checkers coming off an undefeated week it is hard to put anyone in this category, but Jake Chelios has probably not started out the way he had envisioned after his career best 31-point season last year. The 25-year-old from Chicago has one assist so far into the season but he is also a -3 and was out on the ice for both of Grand Rapids’ goals on Friday night. Now, Chelios is still getting adjusted to playing with his new defensive partner Roland McKeown so look for him to start getting more comfortable with his play as the season progresses and he gets more adjusted playing with McKeown.
Injuries and roster notes
Erik Karlsson, Mitchell Heard, Kyle Hagel, Josh Wesley, and Dennis Robertson were all healthy extras.
Forward lines as of now
- First line: Brock McGinn-Derek Ryan-Valentin Zykov
- Second line: Connor Brickley-Andrew Poturalski-Patrick Brown
- Third line: Sergey Tolchinsky-Lucas Wallmark, Andrew Miller
- Fourth line: Brendan Woods-Patrick Dwyer-Clark Bishop
Defensive pairings as of now
- First pairing: Trevor Carrick-Matt Tennyson
- Second pairing: Jake Chelios-Roland McKeown
- Third pairing: Haydn Fleury-Keegan Lowe