It’s no secret that the Charlotte Checkers have had a slow start to their season, as they find themselves with just one win in their first five games.
However, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been anything good to emerge from the team's 1-4-0 start to the American Hockey League campaign.
Jon Matsumoto and Zach Boychuk are two players that have seen strong starts. Jason Karmanos, vice president and assistant general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, is impressed with their play early on in the season.
“Matsumoto has been their best and most consistent player,” he said. “He competes hard, he has played a pretty solid two-way game, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s put up some points and been involved offensively.”
Matsumoto, who was acquired by the Canes from the Philadelphia Flyers this summer, leads Charlotte with 6 points (2 g, 4 a).
“It’s good to see a new guy coming in and having an impact,” Karmanos said. “He’s a guy that, if called upon, could play a role here [in Raleigh].”
Coming off a tough training camp, Boychuk has shown resolve and a high effort level, according to Karmanos. Boychuk currently has 4 points, including 2 goals in the Checkers’ loss on Sunday.
“It’s a good sign of his character and determination that he has started the season well,” Karmanos said.
As a whole, head coach Jeff Daniels has a young squad on his hands, but there is a core group that has some NHL experience. This group includes Boychuk, Brett Carson, Bryan Rodney and Jiri Tlusty, who is currently in the middle of a conditioning stint. Karmanos said that this experience can only help the team.
“The guys that have some experience at the highest level know what it takes,” he said. “That’s probably one of the biggest differences between an AHL player and an NHL player – their ability to play consistently from start to finish.”
Finishing strong was clearly a problem in the Checkers’ 4-3 loss on Sunday, in which they gave up a 3-2 lead halfway through the third period. Karmanos said that tough games like this are a part of the learning experience.
Moving forward, Daniels and assistant coach Geordie Kinnear will be looking for more consistent play from shift-to-shift.
“They will be focused on getting the guys to play a full 60 minutes and get the job done,” Karmanos said. “These players are learning, and this is all a part of that process.”
In addition to being excited about the young players in Charlotte, a group that Karmanos said they expect quite a bit out of, the organization is also excited about the fact that the Canes’ AHL affiliate is just a couple of hours down the road.
Compared to affiliate clubs in the past, the proximity of Charlotte makes player movement exponentially easier, according to Karmanos. As opposed to flying a player up north, players can pack their belongings in their car and drive to Charlotte.
“Even though it’s a disappointing ride for the guys, it’s easier mentally to be able to know that you’re only a two-and-a-half hour drive from the NHL,” he said. “I think there is a better connection to the parent club in the players’ minds. It keeps them focused on getting back down the road.”
Having the AHL affiliate in Charlotte also helps the Canes in growing interest and participation in hockey throughout the state, something that Karmanos said is great for both the organization and the sport of hockey. On opening night at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers brought 12,512 through the gates, the largest crowd in Charlotte hockey history.
This crowd included both Charlotte hockey fans and Caniacs who made the trip from Raleigh to see the top prospects in action.
Player Spotlight: Brian Dumoulin
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin is currently in his sophomore year at Boston College. Last season, as a true freshman, the then-17-year-old Dumoulin led the nation in plus/minus (+40) and tallied 22 points (1 g, 21 a), as he played in all 42 games for the team.
He was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team and the NCAA All-Tournament Team at the Frozen Four last season in Detroit.
Dumoulin was drafted 51st overall (2nd round) by the Hurricanes in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. According to Karmanos, he is a player that the organization is very excited about.
“This is a guy we are keeping a very close eye on this year,” he said. “He accomplished a lot in just one year last year, and he should have another good year.”
As a 19-year-old sophomore, Dumoulin has two years of NCAA eligibility remaining. However, Karmanos said there is a chance he could join the team before his four years are complete.
“He is a very coachable, eager kid,” he said. “He’s a fast-developing prospect for us and a player we consider to be one of our top prospects.”