This weekend’s games against the Abbotsford Heat mark the second consecutive season in which the Checkers will play at PNC Arena. In their debut last season, they defeated Norfolk 3-1 in front of 10,000 fans on a day that also happened to coincide with the end of that season’s NHL work stoppage.
Tickets for this season’s games (Saturday at 5:00 and Sunday at 1:30), which coincide with the NHL’s Olympic break, start at just $15. Originally, the first game was slated for Friday, Feb. 14 at 7:30, but inclement weather and travel concerns forced its postponement to Saturday, Feb. 15 at 5:00. Sunday’s game will feature a giveaway of player trading card posters to the first 2,000 fans, courtesy of ImageMark, and a post-game Skate with the Checkers event, presented by the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
Admission to the Skate with the Checkers event is $20 and includes skate rental. A game ticket is required to attend the skate and all proceeds will benefit the Charlotte Checkers Charitable Foundation.
The Checkers’ campaign has been defined by highs and lows. After a solid start despite a tough early schedule, the team set a franchise record with seven consecutive regulation losses in November. They then began to steadily bounce back, leading into a stretch in which they won eight of 10 in January only to enter this weekend’s game on a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) that included an overtime loss in their most recent game on Sunday.
This weekend’s games are the Checkers’ first since coming out of the AHL All-Star break. They hope to make a push for the playoffs in the second half, as they currently find themselves ranked 12th in the Western Conference.
THE CAROLINA CONNECTION
Of the 24 players on Charlotte’s roster, nine have played at least one game for Carolina. They are: goalie Mike Murphy, defensemen Michal Jordan and Ryan Murphy, and forwards Nicolas Blanchard, Zach Boychuk, Aaron Palushaj, Jared Staal, Brett Sutter and Chris Terry. Of that group, five (Ryan Murphy, Boychuk, Palushaj, Sutter and Terry) have played for Carolina this season.
Four additional players – defensemen Matt Corrente and Mark Flood and forwards Philippe Cornet and Greg Nemisz – have played in the NHL for other organizations. A total of 13 Checkers players are Carolina draft picks, a group that includes 2011 second-round choice Victor Rask (42nd overall) and 2010 third-round choice Danny Biega (67th overall).
Charlotte head coach Jeff Daniels, who won a Stanley Cup as a player for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992, played for the Hurricanes from 1999-2003 and was a member of the 2002 team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Now in his sixth season as head coach of Carolina’s AHL affiliate, he began his coaching career as an assistant with Carolina, helping it earn the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship.
THE TOP PERFORMERS
Boychuk, Carolina’s first-round pick in 2008 who has played 94 total NHL games with Carolina, Pittsburgh and Nashville, ranks fourth in the AHL with 22 goals, just one shy of his career high. He is also tied for first in the league and for the Checkers’ single-season franchise record with 12 power-play goals.
In his first season within the Carolina organization, Palushaj leads the Checkers with 42 points, 28 of which have come in his last 24 games. Two of his 68 NHL games have come with the Hurricanes this season, with the others spent with Montreal and Colorado.
Terry, the Checkers’ all-time scoring leader, has resumed his typical near-point-per-game pace with 37 (14g, 23a) in 41 this season. Since netting the game-winning goal in his NHL debut with Carolina last season, Terry has played an additional nine games, including seven this season that saw him go a perfect two-for-two on shootout attempts. He still leads the Hurricanes in shootout goals this season.
Mark Flood, who played one previous stint with the Hurricanes organization from 2006-2009, has already tied the Checkers’ franchise record for goals by a defenseman in a single season with 11, a record previously held by former Hurricane Bobby Sanguinetti. He ranks tied for second in the AHL in goals by defensemen.
Of the 23 players on Carolina’s roster, 10 have played at least one game for the Checkers, including five this season (goaltenders Anton Khudobin, Justin Peters and Cam Ward and forwards Elias Lindholm and Manny Malhotra).
Drayson Bowman, Riley Nash, Brett Bellemore and Peters were all key Checkers players in recent years before graduating to the NHL full-time this season, with Jiri Tlusty playing five games on a conditioning stint during the 2010-11 campaign. Prior to being named to the U.S. Olympic team, defenseman Justin Faulk made his professional debut and recorded his first professional goal and point while playing a total of 56 Checkers games starting with the 2011 playoffs.
Other Hurricanes who have played in the AHL include Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Nathan Gerbe, Ron Hainsey, Andrej Sekera, Patrick Dwyer, Jay Harrison and Mike Komisarek. Roughly 87 percent of current NHL players are AHL alumni. In the Checkers’ four AHL seasons, the Hurricanes have recalled 27 different players from Charlotte.