The Charlotte Checkers find themselves in the 4th and final playoff position of the AHL’s Central Division by virtue of going undefeated this past week. They bested the Ontario Reign 5-3 on Friday (Mar. 17) and 3-2 in overtime on Saturday (Mar. 18). The Checkers would then go on to beat the Iowa Wild 1-0 on Tuesday (Mar. 21) and 3-2 on Wednesday (Mar. 22).
Charlotte Checkers three stars
Playing stellar in net for the Checkers, Tom McCollum is proving the team made no mistake in acquiring him recently. The former Grand Rapids Griffin is undefeated in five starts as a Checker, and he has stopped 139 of 147 shots thrown his way. This past week McCollum stopped 90 out of 97 shots for a .927 save percentage and a 1.75 GAA. The most encouraging thing for the Checkers is that he has looked calm under pressure and is not getting flustered and out of sorts after he lets in a goal. That has been one of the knocks on McCollum for his career, but he has done a nice job of cleaning that up while he has been in Charlotte. Another encouraging sign for this team and organization has been the solid play of Haydn Fleury. The 7th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft contributed a goal during the Checkers’ game Wednesday night and also added three assists. Fleury looked strong on the puck the past few games, not letting opposing players push him off it or poke it away, which could lead to a turnover. He also didn’t let the game get too fast for him on the fast break, and he stayed patient, making the smart pass and not forcing anything up the middle. On top of all that Fleury finished the week as a +5 and he leads the team in plus/minus with +13. The biggest star of the week for the Checkers was, without a doubt, Connor Brickley. Even though he is not known for his prolific goal scoring skills, he tallied an impressive 4 goals and came up big in the clutch. Three of the four goals that he scored were game winners, and one of those game winners was during the Checkers’ win on Wednesday night, which pushed them into the playoff picture. Not only did Brickley help out big offensively for the Checkers this week, but he was also solid on the penalty kill and he was relentless at times on the fore-check, picking up his play in the absence of team captain Patrick Brown.
Andrew Poturalski had a productive week and is still the team’s top performer. The 23-year old from the University of New Hampshire tallied the game’s first goal during the Checkers’ victory Friday, and he added three more assists on top of that. He continues to lead the team in points with 48 and is also the top playmaker with 32 assists. Poturalski is also second amongst all AHL rookies in scoring, being only four points behind the leader. His solid play keeps making his case for a spot on next year’s Hurricanes. Now it would not be right if we did not give Andrew Miller another shout out for his solid play. He scored a goal during the Checkers’ game on Saturday night by displaying a nice burst of speed that pushed him out on a breakaway, and he would finish with a solid back hand move. He would also tally two assists, consistently illustrating his excellent vision of the ice and ability to find open teammates for wide open opportunities on offense.
With the Checkers on a six-game win streak and just recently pushing themselves back into the playoff picture after being 30th in the standings in December, I do not feel the need to be a “Debbie Downer” on anyone this week. I will say though that all the Checkers need to make sure they are playing full 60 minute games. The Checkers were outshot every game in the third period but one, and the one game they were not outshot, they still gave up a two-goal lead in the third and had to win the game in overtime. While the Checkers still won every game, it is just something to be mindful of and to watch for going forward.
Charlotte Checkers injuries and roster notes
Bryan Bickell, Danny Kristo, Clark Bishop, Kyle Hagel, Brendan Woods, Michael Leighton and Erik Karlsson all missed games due to injury. Hudson Elynuik and Tyler Ganly were healthy extras. The Checkers signed Greger Hansen to a professional tryout contract on Monday (Mar. 20). The Checkers signed Hudson Elynuik to an amateur tryout contract on Tuesday (Mar. 21).
Forward lines as of now
- First line: Connor Brickley-Andrew Poturalski-Danny Kristo
- Second line: Kris Newbury-Lucas Wallmark-Andrew Miller
- Third line: Sergey Tolchinsky-Andrej Nestrasil-Patrick Dwyer
- Fourth line: Greger Hanson-Mitchell Heard-Levko Koper
Defensive pairings as of now
- First pairing: Trevor Carrick-Jake Chelios
- Second pairing: Dennis Robertson-Roland McKeown
- Third pairing: Hadyn Fleury-Philip Samuelsson