Case For/ Case Against: The Checkers Blue Line

First of all, good luck to the Checkers today in Norfolk.  They face a brand new Admirals squad full of Anaheim Ducks prospects.  (Side note: As one who works in the theater with dancers and actors, I always feel like I should tell the team to “Break a leg” or in ballet terms, say “merde” but alas, I will stick to “Good Luck!” in terms of hockey!

Part two of the case for/case against is here!  A quick analysis of all of the defenseman on the Checkers roster, and what their overall pros and cons are in regards to making the AHL squad out of  camp.

There are a lot of forwards… it might take me years to sift through them all, so don’t expect that post for a couple more days!

So… which defensemen do you think will make the Checkers squad?  I’d say at a minimum, the team will keep seven players, but with such a deep talent pool, eight is a definite possibility as well.  I think it’s going to boil down to four or five guys fighting for the last two spots!

 

DEFENSEMEN

Brett Bellemore

The Case For:

  • Bellemore has completed three full seasons in the Hurricanes AHL organization.  Prior to that, he was a member of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers.
  • A stay-at-home defenseman, he has been paired primarily with Michal Jordan for the past two season, and spends a great deal of time on the penalty kill, and leads all Checkers defensemen in short-handed assists.
  • He’s reliable and consistent, both of which are incredibly valuable traits to the Checkers.
The Case Against:

  • Bellemore has been a consistent, reliable defensive e force in the organization since his first full pro year.  He doesn’t have the flash and scoring of some prospects, but his consistency will continue to benefit him.

 

Justin Faulk

The Case For:

  • Faulk’s resume includes an NCAA title his rookie year at the University of Minnesota – Duluth, a trip to the AHL Eastern Conference Finals the same year with the Charlotte Checkers, and most recently, being named to the NHL All-Rookie team in 2012.
  • Faulk is still incredibly young at only 20 years old.  As the youngest Hurricane during the 2011-12 season, he led the team in ice time.
The Case Against:

  • The only reason that would prevent Faulk from playing for the Checkers this season is if the lockout ends and he ends up in the NHL. Since the NHL schedule has been cancelled until October 24, I’d expect Faulk in a Checkers sweater until at least then.

Marc-Andre Gragnani

The Case For:

  • Gragnani is a four-year veteran of the AHL, and completed his first full season in the NHL last year with Vancouver and Buffalo.
  • An offensive defenseman, during the Sabres playoff run in 2011, he led all skaters with seven points.
  • During much of Checkers training camp, he’s been paired with Justin Faulk, a duo that I would expect to do great things together.
The Case Against:

  • Along with Hurricanes prospects Ryan Murphy and Bobby Sanguinetti, Gragnani was expected to fight for a spot on the NHL roster in Raleigh.  With the NHL lockout continuing, Gragnani’s immediate future seems to be locked in Charlotte.

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Gameday – Milwaukee at Charlotte

Milwaukee Admirals (34-28-2-4) at Charlotte Checkers (35-24-3-6)

  • This is game number 69 for both Milwaukee and Charlotte, and tonight is the first of three times they will face each other in the final two weeks of the regular season.
  • Charlotte is 4-1 against Milwaukee this season.  The last time the Admirals were in Charlotte, the Ads were near the top of the standings and being coached by a guy named Kirk Muller.  Muller, of course, is now the coach of the Hurricanes, and after a rather abysmal month of January (not unlike the Checkers stretch between February and mid-March), the Admirals are just outside of a playoff spot.
  • I kept checking the AHL news archives yesterday, but it appears there were no suspensions or further discipline following a bench-clearing incident on Sunday between the Admirals and IceHogs that resulted in the second intermission starting almost 10 minutes early so the two teams could have time to cool off.  Both coaches and goalies received game misconducts, among others.  For a better account, check out the Admirals Roundtable piece.
  • According to the team, AJ Jenks and Bobby Sanguinetti are both day-to-day.  If Jenks can’t play, amateur tryout (and 2011 Hurricanes draft pick, and first-cousin to Brett and Brandon),  Brody Sutter could make his professional debut tonight.
  • The Admirals have lost their last two games, while the Checkers are on their first two-game Winning streak since February 10, which was also the last time they faced Milwaukee.
The Playoff Picture:
  • According to the AHL, the Checkers “magic number” is 12, meaning they need to win six games in regulation, or pick up a 2-4 OT losses in addition to 4-5 wins in their final eight games to guarantee them a spot in the post season.  Knowing the magic number is nice, but since almost everyone in the West has a similar number, it’s still tough to tell how it’s all going to play out.  But Charlotte’s chances are very good, and they might not need all 12 points to make it in, especially since every point up for grabs in the next two weeks is against a team fighting just as hard to guarantee them a spot for the playoffs.
  • Milwaukee’s “magic number” is 17, which with only eight games left, is impossible, however, just like with the Checkers, they face the same pool of teams that Charlotte is, and each game will be crucial.  The playoffs are still a possibility, however they’ll need to sweep the games in Charlotte to really have a chance.
  • If the playoffs started today (and fortunately, they don’t), the Checkers would face Abbotsford, without home-ice advantage.  Let’s hope this does not become a reality on April 15.
Other notes worth mentioning:
  • Congratulations to Bobby Sanguinetti for being named as the Checkers Man of the Year. 
  • The LA Kings did a great piece on Darryl Sutter,  Brett Sutter’s dad.  It’s about Brett’s younger brother Chris, who was born with Down’s Syndrome.  It’s a great read, and a true testament to the power of a strong family.

Gametime: 7:00 p.m. EST

Charlotte RadioWBCN 1660 AM


Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
Milwaukee Twitter: @mkeadmirals@DaveBoehler,
Milwaukee Blog: The Admirals Roundtable
Officials
Referee:  Francis Charron (#46)
Linesmen: Joe DeMizio (#3), Jean Menard (#12)

Quick Hits & Gameday: Checkers at Stars

Checkers news and notes:

  • Jerome Samson battles for the puck in Charlotte's 4-3 win over Lake Erie on Sunday. (Photo - N. Huffstickler)

    Mike Murphy is still with the Hurricanes who face the Jets tonight in Winnipeg.  He was recalled on Tuesday morning in relief of Brian Boucher, who was injured in practice.  If by chance he gets the chance to start (and he deserves it!) I’m pretty sure people in Winnipeg will be able to hear the cheers from Charlotte.

  • Bad news for Charlotte, but great news for Mike McKenzie.  McKenzie was released from his contract with the Checkers in order for him to play in the AHL with the Houston Aeros.  The depth that the Checkers have at Forward had left McKenzie playing in Florida, and an opportunity to get playing time in the AHL was too good to pass up, and signing with Houston is a great opportunity.  The Aeros made it to the Calder Cup finals last season, and are one of only three teams in the AHL with a better record than Charlotte.  In two games played, McKenzie has one assist, and a +1 rating.  I wish him all the best in Houston!
  • Mathieu Roy. (Photo - N. Huffstickler)

    The Shuggernaut, Justin Shugg, who played the past two games while Matt Pistilli sat out, was sent back to the Florida Everblades.  In his 12 games with Charlotte, he had three points.

  • John Muse was recalled from the Everblades and traveled with the Checkers to Texas this weekend.
  • Thanks to Nicola Huffstickler for allowing me to use her great game photos from Sunday.  To see more of her work, check out her flickr album!

Charlotte Checkers (15-8-1-1) at Texas Stars (9-11-0-1)

  • Justin Peters should get the start in net against Texas.  He has lost his past two games, including the 4-2 loss against Texas on Saturday.  I have great confidence he will bounce back and end the losing streak.
  • Bobby Sanguinetti is expected to make his return this weekend after being sidelined for the past nine games due to a fracture in his foot.  With seven D, no word on who will sit.  In his previous 16 games, Sanguinetti had four assists, all on the power play. The power play has been struggling a great deal lately, so it will be a huge boost to have Sanguinetti back on that unit.
  • The Stars haven’t played since last Saturday when they faced the Checkers in Charlotte.  They currently sit in last place in the toughest division in the AHL with 19 points.
  • Tyler Beskorowany continues to fill in for starting goaltender Richard Bachman, who is with the Dallas Stars while Kari Lehtonen recovers from injury.  He played both games against Charlotte last week.  In eight games played this season, he’s 2-5-0 with a 3.02 GAA and a .894 SV%.
  • Travis Morin leads the Stars with 20 points (4G, 16A).
  • Rookie Matt Fraser has the most goals with 10, plus 5 assists.
  • Jerome Samson and Jon Matsumoto lead the Checkers with 10 goals each.
  • Texas has the third-best power play in the league.  Charlotte’s special teams have struggled lately, and will need to overcome this tonight
  • For the first time this season, the Checkers will have a day off between two different road cities.  Previously, they had to travel on game days, making for a very hectic schedule.  Charlotte will face the San Antonio Rampage on Sunday.

Gametime:  8:15 p.m. EST

Charlotte Radio:  WFNZ 610

Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
@MikeLappan@Jason_Shaya@ChasingCheckers

 

Texas Twitter: @TexasStars@100degreehockey
Texas Blog: 100 Degree Hockey

 

Officials
Referee: Ryan Hersey (#46)
Linesmen: Randy Sappo (#78), Brad Duncan (#92)

Game one wrap-up, Game two preview

Official gamesheet can be found here.

Thoughts about the game:

  • Tampa Bay Lightning 2 – Carolina Hurricanes 0.  The Hurricanes lost badly in Raleigh 5-1, and the Checkers lost in OT 6-5 in Norfolk to Tampa Bay’s AHL club.  It was not a good opening night for Carolina hockey, but at least my hometown team came away with a point!
  • The Checkers lost no time renewing the rivalry with the Admirals.  After meeting them 12 times last year, there is a lot of built-up angst between these two teams, and it was apparent during the penalty-filled match.
  • This is not a photo of the Checkers bench. It's the penalty box. Multiple occasions during the game resulted in 3 or more players in each box.

    The theme of the night was PENALTIES.  As I watched the game, I began to wonder if there was a pizza delivery boy near the boxes or something else that made them particularly desirable for all of the players making their way to the box.  There were 50 minutes worth of MINOR penalties “awarded,” with two five-minute fighting majors as well.

  • Jerome Samson picked up right where he left off last season when he was called up to play for the Hurricanes and didn’t return to Charlotte.  He finished the night with two goals, and a +3 rating.
  • Bobby Sanguinetti looked outstanding, and back to his pre-injury form.  I’m looking forward to great things from this blueliner this year.
  • Shots on goal was a big story of the contest.  Justin Peters faced 44 shots, while Dustin Tokarski faced only 30 against an offensively minded Checkers squad.
  • Charlotte’s special teams were not very special.  The Admirals scored three goals on the Power Play, and a fourth was scored shorthanded, against the Checkers PP unit.  Charlotte had one PP goal in the second period.
  • No Justin-Trick last night, though two Justins racked up assists.  Justin is still my favorite player, even though 2/5 of the Justins aren’t currently Checkers.
  • Jared Staal and Ryan Donald were the healthy scratches of the night.
  • Despite the result of the game, I liked the fire and emotion in the game.  I’m anxious to see how the teams respond tonight, and if that same level of intensity will carry thorough 60 minutes.

Game Two – Charlotte at Norfolk

  • Mike Murphy is expected to make his first start of the season in goal.
  • Currently, Charlotte is in first place in the Midwest division with one point.  Of course, the other four teams haven’t played, but with a win tonight, they can maintain the lead!
Gametime:  7:15 p.m. EST
Charlotte RadioWFNZ 610 AM
Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
Norfolk Twitter: @NorfolkAdmirals@BeekerAdmirals
Officials:
Referee: David Banfield (#44)
Linesman: Mark Hamlett (#81) – Tom George (#61)

The one about Bobby Sanguinetti signing, Micflikier moving on, and filling AHL roster holes

Bobby Sanguinetti warms up in Charlotte in 2011. Photo Credit - Jenni Propst

Capgeek has posted that Bobby Sanguinetti has signed a one-year contract that will pay him $600,000 at the NHL level, and $62,500 at the AHL level.

Chasing Checkers AHL contract status roster will be updated shortly.

Sanguinetti played only 31 games this season following what was considered to be season-ending surgery early in the season.  Hopefully in September we will have a fully recovered defenseman.  Sanguinetti is an American from New Jersey who went through the OHL ranks before being drafted in the first round by the New York Rangers.  He spent two seasons in the AHL with Hartford and made two trips to the AHL All Star game before eventually landing in Charlotte after a trade brought him to the Carolina organization.

On the flip side of signing Sanguinetti, Charlotte lost one our best 2010/11 Checkers today when the Washington Capitals signed Jacob Micflikier to a one-year contract.  MicFlikier scored a career-high 29 goals last year in Charlotte.  I hate to see him go, especially to a team that is not one of my favorites, but wish him only the best.  I hope that the NHL contract was worth it, and that he actually gets a shot to play in Washington, (though with as much depth as that team has in Hershey…. well, we’ll see.)

This signing brings the total of non-roster players in Washington to 25, most of whom will play at the minor league level in Hershey this season.  Additionally, Hershey has already announced a number of players who have been signed to AHL/ECHL two-way deals.  This summer alone, we’ve seen the Caps/Bears sign Ryan Potulny, a member of the Calder Cup winning Senators team, AHL veteran Graham Mink who previously played and won two Calder Cups with Hershey before moving, Christian Hanson, and countless others to NHL and AHL contracts.  Just look at this list of press releases.   

Unlike the Capitals/Hershey teams, Charlotte has always had a “develop from within” kind of mentality as it relates to the minor leagues.  While I would love to see Charlotte sign a veteran for our defense, I know it’s unlikely it will happen (though, Andre Benoit and Danny Syvret are still available…).  The Hurricanes use the Checkers to develop their young players in the hopes they will be NHL ready one day.  On last years regular roster, only two Checkers were not under contract with the Hurricanes (Micflikier and Brad Herauf).

Last year, there wasn’t a single player on the Checkers roster who fell into the “veteran” category that prevents more than 12 players with more than 260 AHL or NHL games played to dress for each game.  Teams like Hershey, however, had multiple players who fell into this veteran category, and there were a number of AHL squads that had to bench guys in favor of younger players to be within the rule book.  This upcoming season, Jon Matsumoto, Nicolas Blanchard and Brett Sutter (pending his re-signing) will all fall under the “260 games or more” category, but three is hardly enough for the Checkers to be concerned as to whether they have enough non-veteran players to compete each night.

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