Veteran center Aaron Slattengren
signed with the Charlotte Checkers last summer hoping to find a little bit of a routine after a career in transition.
The deal paid off for both sides. Slattengren was a reliable contributor with 40 points and the only thing he packed was his suitcase for road trips.
At the same time, though, he's found some enjoyment in more change.
The Checkers' opening-series win against Toledo advanced Slattengren to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his five-year pro career. His teams lost in the first round three times and he missed the postseason all together last year.
"It's something special right now," said Slattengren, 28. "I've had some long off-seasons. I'm ready to play some more hockey."
Slattengren is contributing more to that cause than just crossed fingers. He posted 6 assists in the four games against the Walleye, highlighting another career curve that's worked out for him.
Slattengren has refined a playmaker's touch this season. Coming into 2009-10, he had 40 goals in his last 50 ECHL games. This season, he remained dangerous with 17 goals but also handed out 23 helpers.
"Maybe I don't feel the pressure to (score) as much as in the past," Slattengren said. "Every line on the team is clicking. I think I'm still getting the attempts at net. They just haven't been going in all year. It's just one of those things where one year you're scoring on everything you shoot in the net, the next year you're not."
Slattengren has tested that law of averages across the hockey landscape. Since turning pro in 2005-06, he's skated for five AHL teams and four in the ECHL.
Now, the only person more settled into Charlotte is Jack Slattengren, Aaron's 3-year-old-son who makes himself at home in the Checkers' dressing room.
"He eats it up," Slattengren said. "The guys love it, obviously. He is the unofficial mascot."
Hold the pepperoni
-- Somewhere out there are a whole bunch of pizzas with Steven Oleksy's name on them.
They will have to wait, though, which makes him very happy these days. It's not that he prefers cold pizza. It's just that putting them on the back burner has allowed him to tend to the more pressing matter of playing defense for the Idaho Steelheads.
Just a few months ago, Oleksy, in his rookie season, was pondering whether to quit hockey and take a job in the corporate office of a large Michigan pizza chain. He had been released from Toledo after three games there, and was struggling with Port Huron of the IHL.
"I've been playing hockey since I was 3-years-old," said Oleksy, 24. "To be debating whether you're going to continue playing or not, it's a tough decision. It (the pizza business) is a good opportunity for me. Hockey is what I want. Obviously, I kept plugging away. A lot of times I kept telling myself, it's the first year, things will get better, things will get better."
The real topper was that the persistence paid off with a chance in Idaho. Oleksy is friends with Steelheads forward Kevin DeVergilio
, and that connection led to Idaho coach Derek Laxdal
taking a chance on Oleksy in January.
"To be a part of the playoff roster, to be here this long, is a great experience," Oleksy said. "It's one of those things where it's a rollercoaster ride. You're at the bottom, you come to Idaho, and you're at the top."
In the spotlight
-- Cincinnati center Barret Ehgoetz
picked the most dramatic time possible to make history in the decisive Game 5 vs. South Carolina on April 11.
The only thing that would have made it even richer was if Ehgoetz had realized he was doing it at the time. Of course, he had more important things on his mind, like not collapsing from exhaustion.
Ehgoetz's power-play goal at the 16:15 mark of overtime was the series winner. It was also the 34th playoff point of his four-year Cincinnati career, a franchise record. That mark is a bookend to the team career regular-season points record he set earlier in the season.
"Maybe I don't feel the pressure to (score) as much as in the past. Every line on the team is clicking. I think I'm still getting the attempts at net. They just haven't been going in all year. It's just one of those things where one year you're scoring on everything you shoot in the net, the next year you're not."
-- Aaron Slattengren
"Oh yeah? I didn't even know that," Ehgoetz said when asked about the playoff mark. "It's kind of like the regular-season one. I probably played more games than anybody. I should get close to the points record. It's definitely something I'll appreciate more when all is said and done."
Ehgoetz's goal ended a marathon run of three playoff games in three days, all of which went to overtime. Ehgoetz was the team's workhorse, with 4 goals and 2 assists in the series.
"That was probably the toughest week of hockey we've ever had to go through," said Ehgoetz, 29. "It was almost like a baseball schedule. I think you get to Game 5, adrenaline pulls you through. We were sitting there in the dressing room saying how exhausted we were, saying how much it would have (stunk) if we had lost."
Around the ECHL
-- Ehgoetz's man-up goal against South Carolina in Game 5 snapped an 0-for-19 Cyclones slump on the power play in North Charleston Coliseum. ... Stockton and Alaska combined to score 38 goals in their first-round matchup, the third-highest total in a four-game series in ECHL history. ... Florida has reached the second round for the fifth time in the last six seasons. ... Second-round foes Idaho and Utah met 14 times in the regular season, but neither of Utah’s current goaltenders -- Mike Morrison
and Mikko Koskinen
-- have faced Idaho yet. ... Bakersfield center MacGregor Sharp
, center Adam Naglich, forward Dan Kissel, defenseman Evan Stoflet and forward Mark Voakes each scored their first career playoff goals in the Condors opening-round series against Victoria. Goalies Timo Pielmeier
and J.P. Levasseur also recorded their first playoff victories. ... Through the first four games of its American Conference quarterfinals against Reading, Kalamazoo’s earliest goal was recorded 4:35 into the second period of Game 4. ... The ECHL has 35 former players and 14 former coaches on 15 of the 16 teams competing in the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs. ... The ECHL has been represented on the last nine NHL champions and there are 14 former players who have their name engraved on the Cup.