For Checkers' Carroll all about love of the game

Tuesday, 01.19.2010 / 10:11 AM
Lindsay Kramer  - Correspondent
Charlotte Checkers forward Andrew Carroll is having trouble grasping this whole notion of professional leverage.
Consider the rookie's assertion that, if given a place to sleep and enough money to buy a few meals, he'd play pro hockey for virtually nothing.
"Oh yeah. I'm just fortunate enough to play hockey," said Carroll, 24. "To be honest, I don't know what else I'd be doing if I wasn't playing hockey. I don't need money. It's not an issue. You get your hockey equipment for free."
Carroll's approach is noble and complements his kid-friendly attitude, but it's also one that he contradicts by showcasing the rising value of his skills nearly every game.
Carroll ranks tied for third among ECHL rookies with 18 goals and is tied for 12th with 28 points. He's currently riding a scoring streak of 7 goals and 6 assists in his last eight games. Whatever the price tag is on that kind of effort, it has to be more than free.
"I can't imagine another team in our league getting more bang for their buck than we're getting out of him," said Checkers coach Derek Wilkinson. "He's got more determination than anyone on the ice. He's a kid who will make the most out of every second he has. There's no one who would have projected him to do what he's doing. He's getting rewarded for all his hard work."
And yet, Carroll keeps paying out. There's a group of children who hang around the Checkers' apartment complex in Charlotte. Carroll often stops to play with them, and helps them scrounge up tickets for games.
Over the Christmas break, a handful of kids were waiting to take the Checkers' ice after some players were done skating. Carroll finished his work, gathered the youngsters together and went at it three-on-three for 90 minutes.
"I know when I was that age, if I skated with someone who was older, it was a joy for me," Carroll said. "To see the joy on their faces, it feels good helping them out."
Or maybe it's just that Carroll doesn't see himself as all that far removed from where they are now.
After Carroll concluded his career at Minnesota-Duluth last season, he had an inkling that shinny might be the extent of his hockey from that point on. Wilkinson, though, needed a little depth for his team. Charlotte forward Matt Ford was friends with Carroll and lobbied Wilkinson to bring him in.
When Carroll picked up the phone to hear Wilkinson's pitch, he was blindsided.
"He was shocked that a pro team would call him. It wasn't about money, it wasn't about anything. It was, when can I get a flight and get there?" Wilkinson said.
"When Coach Wilkinson called, I was like, 'Wow,'" Carroll said. "I didn't have anywhere to go. I didn't think anything would happen. Mainly, I was just trying to finish school. To be honest, I didn't know what I was going to do."
Carroll played in just one regular season game and six playoff contests, but Wilkinson saw the makings of an all-around plugger. Carroll potted 13 goals as a freshman, but then hit the back of the net only 16 times in his three seasons after that. The tradeoff was that Carroll decided to start hoarding the tools of a defensive forward, a job that was his entry to the pro game.
"There're a lot of players out there who can score goals," he said. "But there's players out there who have to prevent them. Where I am today is because of that. I still have to play my role defensively."
Carroll's motor won't allow him to idle there. Wilkinson's offensive scouting report on Carroll is somewhat modest - "He doesn't have the best speed. He doesn't have the best shot" - but his effort puts him in position to pick up the leftover scoring chance here and there.
"I'm just doing what I can. It's been good to score, but as long as the team is winning, that's all that matters," he said.
The Hartford Wolf Pack thought Carroll would be a nice short-term addition to its mix earlier this season, and when Wilkinson gave the news to Carroll his response was predictable.
"He was just dead silent," the coach recalled. Wilkinson started to explain how his AHL contract would work. Carroll stopped him short.
"He said there's no need to pay me. I just want to go," Wilkinson said. "'Just give me a jersey. He's got no sense of entitlement whatsoever. He's a kid you want to root for."
Carroll's latest sidelight is learning how to stand up for himself. At a modest 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and coming from a college style that prohibits fighting, that part of his game is maturing painfully slow. But Carroll understands that to keep playing as hard as he does, it's a skill that must remain on call.
"I don't know if I can really fight," he said. "I just show I'm going to give it everything I can. When I finish hits, guys don't like that all the time."
Even though Carroll has shown a great offensive value to the Checkers, Wilkinson knows better than to suggest he limit his aggressiveness in this area.
"He's a kid who says, why not?"' Wilkinson said. "There's not another way to have him play. There's not another way to coach him. You just let him go."
There will likely come a time when Carroll has at least a passing interest in some financial motivation to keep going, though he can't imagine when that will be.
"Money is not an issue with me," he said. "Going to the rink every day, wanting to be there, I want to be on the ice. I want to play as long as I can, until they tell me I can't."

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