Checkers goaltending, more Canes call ups, and random thoughts

Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo - J. Propst)

Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo – J. Propst)

I spent the morning at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail watching the Checkers morning practice.  For the second day in a row, Mike Murphy skated with the team as a third goalie, and spent a great deal of time working with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso.  For a guy who hasn’t played a pro game in over four months, I was impressed with Murphy’s on-ice work.  I think he’d be a huge asset to the Checkers, especially during this playoff push, but at the same time, I hope he isn’t rushed before he is ready.  He still needs time, but as all Checkers fans who are familiar with Murphy’s experience and work ethic, I know he can do it.

 

Yesterday, in his Ten Thoughts, Jason Shaya mentioned that the Hurricanes are

Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse  both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo - J. Propst)

Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo – J. Propst)

reportedly looking for reinforcements for the Checkers, which is reassuring considering until this point, it seems they have left Derek Wilkinson and the Checkers to find their own reinforcements, most of whom are ECHLers with little or no AHL or NHL experience.  While many have already contributed in great ways (Matt Marquadt comes to mind, in particular) what Charlotte really needs is some NHL caliber talent, either in the form of an up-and-coming prospect, or an NHL veteran trying to get back into the majors.  The Checkers currently have 11 injuries, if you include Zac Dalpe and Justin Soryal, though the former is on the verge of returning.   They have 5 healthy defensemen, and 11-12 healthy forwards, depending on how you count them.

As I was watching the Checkers skate this morning, I got the official word that the Texas Stars had signed an NHL veteran to a PTO by the name of Mike Commodore.  With a Stanley Cup ring, NCAA Championship, and IIHF Gold Medal, he brings a lot of experience to an already brutal Stars team.  I’d be kidding if I said I didn’t wish the Hurricanes organization hadn’t jumped on that veteran first, but kudos for the Stars for getting a great veteran blueliner.  This is the kind of player I hope the Checkers can get, and I firmly believe it’s what they need right now.  They need grit and experience to fill out their roster.

 

Odds and ends:

  • Former Checkers goaltenders continue to shine in Raleigh.  Justin Peters recently had a shutout, and Dan Ellis made 40 saves in a loss last night against Florida, with a shortened Canes bench in front of him.  Justin Faulk left the game in the second period and didn’t return, Bobby Sanguinetti took a skate to the face and received 13 stitches, and Tim Gleason missed a portion of the game as well to receive 16 stitches after a high stick to the face by Panther Scottie Upshall.
  • This morning, the Hurricanes announced that Justin Faulk will be out for 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain.  Brett Bellemore was recalled from the Checkers, which will require recall TO the Checkers as well.  Currently, from what I can tell, the only defenseman under contract with the Hurricanes and not currently with the Canes or Checkers is Joe Sova, who played with the Reading Royals and San Francisco Bulls this season.  Keegan Lowe, Ryan Murphy and Austin Levi are all Canes prospects under contract, but are all but still playing in Major Junior.
  • Zac Dalpe took part in a full practice this morning with the Checkers.  They leave later today for a short road trip to Texas.
  • AJ Jenks, who suffered a wrist fracture in January, was still wearing a yellow no-contact jersey, but looks extremely close to returning, and was skating at full speed throughout the practice.

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.

Continue reading

The one about Brett Bellemore, and the Checkers need for more veteran defensemen

The Carolina Hurricanes announced that defenseman Brett Bellemore has signed a two-year two-way contract, beginning with the 2011/2012 season.  Bellemore, 23, spent the past two full seasons in the Hurricanes organization at the AHL level with Albany, and most recently the Checkers.  Prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.

Bellemore will be another welcome addition to the Checkers line up.  Last season, he was Michal Jordan’s defense partner.  Assuming the two stay together, I’d expect more great things out of that combination.

Bellemore’s two years of AHL experience make him our most experienced defenseman.

The Chasing Checkers contract spreadsheets have been updated to reflect this signing.

 

Hurricanes and Defense:

Currently, the Hurricanes have seven defenseman under contract who will probably begin the season with them in Raleigh.  For their minor league squad, including Bellemore, seven defenseman are under contract, two of whom (Justin Kruegar and Tommi Kivisto) have European transfer agreements and contracts and can choose not to play in North America.

Other defenseman include Michal Jordan, who spent the entire season in Charlotte last year, Kyle Lawson who played all but 18 games in Florida, Rasmus Rissanen who played one game for Charlotte, and Justin Faulk who played two rounds of the playoffs with Charlotte.  Needless to say, it’s a very young squad that still lacks veteran leadership.  Hopefully the Hurricanes will complete contract negotiations with Bobby Sanguinetti, and either re-sign Casey Borer or find another skilled veteran defenseman.

If I had my choice, that veteran would be two-time Calder Cup Champion Andre Benoit.  He had 55 points last year (11G, 44A) and served as an Alternate Captain with the Binghamton Senators.  Benoit’s fast, offensive style of play would be a huge benefit to the Checkers, especially with the loss of Bryan Rodney on defense.  Of course, I’m hearing rumors of Benoit going back to Europe, but if he ended up in Charlotte, I’d be incredibly happy.

 

Schedule rumors and realignment:

Many feared that realignment might mean the end of interconference play.  Thanks to a buddy (@MarkRAndrews) on Twitter, I got a glimpse at what teams the still-unnamed St. John’s team is going to play.  They will face two western teams (Toronto and Hamilton) eight times each, and won’t play all 14 Eastern opponents.  I think this leaves hope for us Checkers fans who still want to see some of the Eastern teams we faced during our inaugural season.  Hopefully, we find out sooner than later what the verdict is going to be!

 

Thoughts to ponder:

  • I have a blank, black Checkers third jersey in my closet.  I hate blank jerseys.  But I have no idea who’s name or number to put on it.  Suggestions?
  • Has everyone bought their tickets to the Hurricanes/Jets preseason game?  I’m excited about where I’m sitting… in the GOOD seats at center ice, as opposed to the cheap-os I usually sit in (though I did upgrade from the five hole section this year!)!
  • Coming in a few days, a Q&A with the guys over at Admiral’s Roundtable.  They’ve got some great insight on their city, team and division.  Look for it mid-week!