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Talkin' hockey is winning hockey in Charlotte

by Lindsay Kramer /

"The reason why I stayed in those places (Peoria and Johnstown) was it was a good organization. I made friends outside of hockey. It made it easy to come back every year. I just like to be in a situation where it's good on the ice and off the ice. I could see myself being here as long as possible." -- Randy Rowe

The first thing that Charlotte Checkers forward Randy Rowe craved when he got his jaw unwired a couple of weeks ago was a cheeseburger.

That was a perfectly reasonable request since he'd been limited to a liquid diet while it was clamped shut for six or seven weeks.
The next thing he sought was a little conversation. Rowe hadn't been able to do more than strain out a few words at a time during his healing process, and he had a lot to say.

That's where linemates Daniel Tkaczuk and Matt Schepke came in. Rowe wanted to talk hockey, and he found that his new buddies loved to both chat and listen when it came to Xs and Os of the sport.

"You can talk all you want to talk. Some people listen. Some people don't," said Rowe, 29. "Right now, everyone (on the team) wants to listen. Sometimes you're in a place, you talk, it goes in one ear, out the other."

The important stuff is sticking in the minds of those three. That's a main reason why Rowe began his season with 3 goals and 4 assists in his first three games back from his injury.

Of course, the way Charlotte has been scoring newcomers should pick up points almost by osmosis. The Checkers pace the ECHL with an average of 4.47 goals per game, an offensive circus that Rowe observed while recovering from the broken jaw he suffered while practicing with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters.

"We have a good offensive team," he said. "Sitting in the stands, you realize how much time you have on the ice. On the ice, everything happens so fast. You never expect to jump back in and get a lot of points. It just ended up happening that way."

It's not as much of a surprise as Rowe paints. In four seasons with Peoria of the ECHL and then four more with Johnstown, he's been roughly a point-per-game player. His bigger challenge lately has been just staying on the ice.

Rowe's broken jaw was the latest in a string of scary injuries. In his first year with Johnstown, 2005-06, he took a hit in a game and suffered three herniated discs. The next season, a cross-check fractured a bone in his lower back. He said his neck still bothers him and it's tough finding a good sleeping position, but at least now Rowe has a chance to get comfy in Charlotte, where he landed as a free agent.

"The reason why I stayed in those places (Peoria and Johnstown) was it was a good organization," he said. "I made friends outside of hockey. It made it easy to come back every year. I just like to be in a situation where it's good on the ice and off the ice. I could see myself being here as long as possible."
Only business -- Whether the history in question is ancient or recent, Kalamazoo forward Tommy Lange is gaining a new appreciation for exactly how little currency the past can carry.

Lange started this season with Toledo and accounted himself quite well, with four goals and four assists in 10 games. But when that team was overrun with forwards on AHL deals, Lange, on an ECHL pact, was released.

"I was surprised, but I saw it coming. We were having a new guy sent down every night," said Lange, 22. "I understand the business side of the game. You can't take things too serious. You can't get down on yourself."

Lange had a great fallback option with the K-Wings, who quickly snapped him up. Lange played for that team as a rookie last season, when it was in the IHL. He went 25-24 and was named to the league's all-rookie team.

But Lange wanted to give the ECHL a go, and right before the K-Wings announced they were joining that league in 2009-10 he signed with Toledo. Now, Lange has a new start with his old team, although since he was brought in because of K-Wings injuries he's not sure how long he'll get to stick around. He made a strong opening argument for himself with a goal in his Kalamazoo debut, Nov. 29 vs. Florida.

"Last week or last year, (what he did) yesterday doesn't matter," he said. "If it's a good day, I'm here. If not, I'm looking for a new team. I know I can be a top-6 forward in this league. I just need to be given the chance."

Three for the books -- Three historic penalty shots went into the ECHL record books last week.

The first two might be unprecedented in the annals of pro hockey because they were awarded on the same play, in the Alaska-Utah game on Nov. 27.

The Grizzlies' Vlady Nikiforov was coming in on a first-period breakaway against Alaska goalie Scott Reid when he was tripped by Aces defenseman Derick Martin. That was one penalty shot.
Before play was stopped, Alaska defenseman Ryan Turek knocked the net off its moorings. Referee J.M. McNulty ruled that called for another.

"There's nothing you can really do. You can't change the official's mind," Reid said. "I was trying to focus."

McNulty explained to the goalie that Nikiforov would get a second penalty shot only if he missed the first. Reid turned aside the first bid with his blocker. Nikiforov then tried to solve Reid glove side, but Reid deflected the shot.

"There wasn't much time to think about it," Reid said. "When you look back a few years later, you say, 'Wait a minute, that was an interesting thing that just happened.' It's something that you may never see happen again."

On Nov. 29, Tyler Doig scored the game-winner on an overtime penalty shot to give Charlotte a 5-4 win against Gwinnett. Since statistical records of penalty shots began being tracked in 1995-96 there had never been an ECHL game-winning goal scored on a penalty shot in overtime.

"I haven't had too much success in shootouts and penalty shots in my career. I was really just hoping for a penalty," said Doig, who was hauled down on a breakaway. "But the referee (Nick Suhy) pointed to center ice. I was definitely a little nervous. The pressure is on me to finish the game. My mind was kind of racing. It wasn't the end of the world if I missed, but I definitely wanted to score."
Around the ECHL -- Elmira set a league record on Nov. 29 by holding Trenton to eight shots, the fewest by a team in a regular-season game. The previous low was nine, registered by Bakersfield in 2004 and Arkansas in 2000. … Wheeling and Johnstown have met four times this season. The first three games required overtime while the fourth, Dec. 2, resulted in a Nailers shootout victory. … Idaho's record of 16-3-0-1 is the best 20-game start in franchise history. The Steelheads have won a team record seven road games in a row. …The Elmira-Trenton game on Nov. 28 was delayed 30 minutes because the Jackals team bus was stuck in traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. … Stockton is 0-8-1 vs. Idaho this season and 5-3-2 against the rest of its schedule. … With two losses at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena last week, Reading's winless streak in Johnstown has been stretched to 10 games (0-8-2) dating back to a 3-1 win on Jan. 27, 2008. … Marty Raymond recorded his 200th win as Bakersfield head coach with a victory over Las Vegas on Nov. 28, the most in team history. … Charlotte has scored 41 goals in its last seven games for an average of 5.85 goals per contest. … Gwinnett's Tom Zanoski lit the lamp just 10 seconds after the opening faceoff against Charlotte on Nov. 28 to set a Gladiators' franchise record. … Gwinnett forward Brad Schell, who has 246 assists as a Gladiator, is just four helpers shy of becoming only the second player in Gwinnett/Mobile history to reach 250 and is seven behind the Gladiators/Mobile all-time record of 253 held by Jason Elders, who played with Mobile from 1995-2002. … On Nov. 28, Kalamazoo surrendered a season-high tying 49 shots in a 7-6 shootout victory over Florida. Oddly enough, Kalamazoo is a perfect 3-0-0-0 this season when allowing 49 shots in a game. … Bakersfield enjoyed a record-setting night for Teddy Bear Toss against Las Vegas on Nov. 28, with a staggering 8,075 stuffed animals thrown onto the ice by 8,825 fans.

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