It’s been a long nine months since the last professional hockey was played at PNC Arena in Raleigh on April 5, 2011. Fortunately, those 276 days are over as the Charlotte Checkers take the ice for the first time in their history tomorrow, a game fans from across North Carolina have been looking forward to all season. I’ve got a carload of Checkers fans ready to head to Raleigh first thing in the morning, and I can’t wait!
Despite a rough patch at home, the Checkers have gotten at least a point in six of the last seven home games. Their last five games were on the road, and they had a record of 1-3-1 over that stretch, including a win in their most recent game in Cleveland on Friday night.
The Checkers have always been dominant over the Admirals, and have a lifetime record of 11-7-1-2 against Norfolk, though as with everything this season, the Checkers fare better on the road, and their home record vs. Norfolk is 3-6-0-1
The Charlotte Checkers currently sit atop the South division with a 19-11-2-3 record, and are in second in the Western Conference with 43 points. At home, they aren’t quite as dominant with a record of 8-7-0-1
The Norfolk Admirals have 29 points (14-16-1-0, and are 6-9 on the road), and are last in the East Division, and 14th in the Eastern Conference. The Admirals the Checkers will face tomorrow in Raleigh are a very different squad than the one that won the Calder Cup last season, as the their NHL affiliation changed, and the Admirals are now the AHL team of the Anaheim Ducks.
The Admirals are an incredibly young team, with six rookies. (The Checkers, on the other hand, have two rookies, Tommi Kivisto and Jeremy Welsh. With four years of NCAA hockey under his belt, Welsh has a lot more experience then the young 20 year olds in Norfolk!)
I figured I’d highlight a handful of the Admirals players, who Checkers and Hurricanes fans may be less familiar with as compared with the outstanding team of prospects and NHL hopefuls in Charlotte.
- Goaltender Jeff Delauriers who was recently signed to a PTO by the organization, but has not played a game yet for Norfolk. Delauriers has split time during the past three seasons between the NHL and AHL teams of Edmonton and Anaheim, and is in his eight season in the AHL. The Admirals had a pair of rookie goaltenders the first half of the season (including former Hurricanes prospect Frederik Andersen who refused to sign with Carolina and re-entered the NHL draft last summer and was chosen by Anaheim) and both have struggled, so a veteran presence should make a big impact.
- Carolina fans will recognize Troy Bodie, who spent 2010-11 with the Hurricanes, and has a number of NHL seasons under his belt.
- Ryan Parent, who was originally signed to the team under a PTO, is a former first-round pick, and has played for Philadelphia and Vancouver at the NHL level.
- Peter Holland is the offensive leader on the Admirals with 29 points (12g, 17a). He’s a 2009 first round pick of the Ducks, and is in his second full professional season.
- Also in the 2009 first round, the Ducks drafted Kyle Palmieri. He’s having a great season in Norfolk with 21 points (10g, 11a) and has split the past two full seasons between the NHL and AHL.
- Sami Vatanen is a first year pro in their organization, and as a defenseman, is fourth in points on the team. He’s got 4g and 14 assists.
- Long Beach, California born (woo! SoCal natives represent!) Emersen Etem is a first year pro on the Admirals, and another former first-round pick by the Ducks. I can’t wait to see him make his NHL debut in his home town!
And for some brief Checkers notes:
- Dan Ellis is expected to get the start in goal, and will hopefully debut his new red and black mask (I, for one, will not miss the Ducks one he wore during the first half of the season!) Should the lockout end, Ellis is the most likely candidate to become Cam Ward’s backup, so this could be the first of many starts for him at PNC Arena.
- Defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani and Rasmus Rissanen remain out of the lineup. Gragnani has missed the past seven games, and Rissanen has missed four.
- Bobby Raymond, who was signed to a PTO by the Checkers, is expected to play his fourth game for Charlotte tomorrow.
- Nicolas Blanchard was injured in a fight in Cleveland this week, and will not play. If Justin Soryal is also unable to play (due to a fighting injury on Friday in Cleveland), Jared Staal will play in only his second game since December 11.
- Since the NHL has been locked out since the Hurricanes acquired Jordan Staal over the summer, Jared will become the second Staal brother to play for the home team at PNC Arena.
I hope to see lots of you in Raleigh tomorrow! Puck drop is at 1:30 p.m.
Let’s Go Checkers!