As a sign at the arena last night said, “We adore Rob Madore”

On Tuesday after the Checkers win over Norfolk, Rob Madore walked out into the group of waiting media members, still wearing his pads and skates, asked us if we had a box for him to stand on.  Though he’s only 5’9”, you’d never guess it from his play on the ice.  In his five appearances during the past week, Madore has quite a record.  He’s 3-1, with a 1.50 GAA and .960 sv%.  He’s faced 173 shots, and only allowed 7 of them.

Madore sat on the sidelines for nearly a month before getting to start a game for the Checkers.  He backed up John Muse, watching the ups and downs of the Checkers.  During that time, Charlotte went 3-5, including two games which took overtime and a shootout to win.  After watching for seven games, Madore got a bit of ice time when he relieved Muse during a March 21 game at Houston.  He held his own, and didn’t allow a single goal, and was rewarded with a start two days later against Texas, which gave him his first AHL win in a 43 save performance.

Madore works hard. He’s spent four years at the University of Vermont, and practices hard.

Jeff Daniels “He competes so hard. If you watch him in practice he doesn’t quit on any shot and gets upset when any puck gets by him.  He’s prepared every game and really stepped up.”

Daniels recognized that Madore’s performance last night was definitely that of a first-star goaltender.

As far as last night’s game was concerned, Daniels had positive things to say about the goaltender.

“Rob Madore was the first star,” Daniels continued, “And the chances we did have, not that there were a lot of them, we were able to capitalize on them.”

After a couple of his games this past week, I had the opportunity to speak to Madore after his wins. And oh my, is he a funny and intelligent guy.

Last night, he faced 44 shots in his first AHL shutout.  He had a huge smile on his face, and had been awarded the well-deserved first-star honors.

“At this point in the year it’s not about personal stuff. We need wins, we need to get in the playoffs, so you know, however we get it, I’ll take it,” With a bit of a gleam in his eye, Madore continued, “Obviously, not letting any goals is fun though.”

When I asked him what his personal record was in regards to shots faced, and he said 77.

So I guess 44 is easy, right Rob?

“Yeah, 44 is an easy night,” With a huge grin on his face, Madore continued, “I actually had to have the guys spray me down with water in between breaks so it looked like I was doing something”

He also alluded to feeling like it wasn’t his best night. He knows what he needs to work on, such as giving up fewer rebounds, and plans to concentrate on that in practice. (And if that wasn’t his best night, can you imagine what awesomeness there is to come from our netminder??!?!??!?)

It’s a great feeling to have a confident, skilled goaltender between the pipes in Charlotte, and another waiting patiently in the wings if he’s needed.  The Charlotte Checkers are lucky to have such a great roster of goaltenders, and I can’t wait to see more of Rob Madore on the ice.  The sign I saw in the stands on Saturday in Charlotte says it all, “WE ADORE ROB MADORE.”

 

Let’s Go Checkers

 

 

With Muse to Raleigh, who’s the Checkers next goalie?

While having lunch with my best friend and discussing the goaltending situation in Raleigh and Charlotte, we began reminiscing about some of the interesting characters who have played goal in the Hurricanes organization, and since the Checkers are now in need of another goalie, which of those past players could be invited back?  Fortunately, Dan Ellis isn’t expected to be out of work for long. Right now, there’s a critical need in Raleigh right now for help between the pipes, which is why John Muse was recalled today by the Hurricanes, and leaves the Checkers one short for tomorrow’s game against Norfolk.

 

Warning in advance: Please take most of this with the grain of salt that its intended to be taken with. 

 

In alphabetical order, so it doesn’t appear that I’m playing favorites, here are some goalie possibilities for the Checkers and/or Hurricanes:

 

Nathan Beasley – I’m not sure if he’s ever played goal, but I feel like he’s a pretty quick learner and a hard worker, plus he works out and eats healthy and doesn’t binge on ice cream at Harris Teeter in the middle of the night, so that’s good, right?

 

Bobby Goepfert – Alex, I’ll take “Fan favorite Checkers goaltenders for $800″.  Goepfert spent a season in the Checkers organization, including a stretch in Charlotte. His use of twitter is brilliant, and I’m not sure if any professional athlete has made me laugh more between his Twogs about his fear of flying, and amazing iPhone filmed movie trailers starring himself and his Checkers teammates, I can assure you that Goepfert would add a lot of personality to a team bench.  And the good news is he is back in the U.S. for the summer after spending the past two years in Germany.

 

John Grahame had an epicly awesome mask when he played for the Hurricanes... you know, if you are into fast cars and bikinis!

John Grahame had an epicly awesome mask when he played for the Hurricanes… you know, if you are into fast cars and bikinis!

John Grahame – Though he hasn’t played professionally since he was with the Lake Erie Monsters in the spring of 2011, John Grahame is a former goaltender and fan favorite for the Hurricanes. Last March, he was briefly signed by the New York Islanders to serve as a backup when they were particularly injured, though he never played in a game.  He was my favorite in Raleigh because he had surgically enhanced bikini clad girls on his helmet, and an awesome NASCAR theme. I can’t recall how he was in net, but he sure was fun! I believe he’s half of the only mother/son pair to both have their names on the Stanley Cup.  His mom is a member of the front office for the Colorado Avalanche, and he won the cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay.

Brian Helms – I know nothing about his resume, but on twitter, he volunteered, so I feel like I’ve got to give him a shot, eh?

Chris Jablonski – Jason Shaya loves to refer to him as a “former goaltender of the Portland Pirates,” and while this is certainly true, the full story is that he was a last minute addition to the team, who when in Charlotte, needed a backup for their backup, who was starting that night after a recall of their number one goalie.  Jablonski, at the time, was an intern for the Checkers, and suited up for the visiting team, which is a pretty amazing story for a guy who was getting college credit for working for the team!  Regardless, the fact he has actually knows how to play the position and has in fact dressed for an AHL team probably makes him a more viable candidate than Beasley (Sorry buddy, personally you’d be my first choice!)

Mike Murphy skated with the Checkers last week before the team left on their two-game roadtrip. (Photo - J. Propst)

Mike Murphy skated with the Checkers last week before the team left on their two-game roadtrip. (Photo – J. Propst)

Mike Murphy – The good news is, he’s practiced with the team a couple of times in the past week.  He’s also the winningest goaltender in the history of the Checkers, the reason the Checkers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, and one of my favorite people on the planet.  He had a tough season in the KHL, but I have more confidence in Murph than just about any professional athlete I’ve met, and if he and the team feel he’s ready to be back, then I say #PutMurphIn

Justin Pogge, during his modeling days.  He's got a lot more facial hair and permanent ink these days.

Justin Pogge, during his modeling days. He’s got a lot more facial hair and permanent ink these days.

 

 

 

 

Justin Pogge – I never thought they day would come that I campaigned to bring him back, but here it is.  Hands down, Pogge was one of the most entertaining characters during his season in Charlotte, from the “Justin Pogge has lost his mind” game in Hershey, to the charisma he exhibited on and off the ice, I’d love to have him back in Charlotte just because he makes me smile. Also, good news on the Pogge front, his season in Italy finished in January.  For what it’s worth, Pogge’s numbers this season in Italy were the best of his professional career.

Jason Shaya – Many years ago, I saw him dress in a game for the Checkers, so I know it’s a possibility, especially with the posse of interns and color guys he has accumulated that could cover for him. I’d bid on his jersey at the end of the year!

Tripp Tracy – He likes to bill himself as a former professional goaltender, but his statistics are limited to two seasons in the ECHL and six games in the AHL, however six starts is better than nothing, even if they were 15 years ago. I’m sure he could keep the bus rides entertaining with his stories about texting Jared Staal’s parents and all of the other celeb hockey players he texts regularly.  The good news is Tracy is close by in Raleigh, and just a phone call away!

Bits and pieces:

  • Though I will miss seeing him in Chalotte, congrats to Riley Nash for another call up to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, especially since he’s one of 15 healthy forwards on the roster there.
  • It will be great to see Zach Boychuk back in a Checkers sweater. Though I’m sure he’d rather be playing in the NHL I’m confident that with the right grit and determination, he’ll get there.
  • My whole family is coming into town for the game tomorrow night! My niece and nephews are huge Checkers fans, and can’t wait. This is an especially exciting game because my brother and sister in law who live in Madagascar, Africa are here and seeing their first hockey game in well over a year.

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.

Knitting and Hockey – how Jacques Plante’s legacy goes far beyond the goalie mask

Jacques Plante knitting. (Photo credit unknown)

Jacques Plante knitting. (Photo credit unknown)

It’s probably safe to say that for most hockey fans, when the name “Jacques Plante” is mentioned, can tell you that his biggest claim to fame is he was the first goalie to wear a mask during play.  By 1963 (only about half way through his playing career which ended in 1975, he’d already received over 150 stitches on his face.  He was criticized for wearing that mask, and was taunted by coaches, players and fans for first using it during games. In a 1963 article, Plante said, “People said I was afraid when I started to use the mask in 1959, but I ask them, ‘Would you call it brave if you jumped out of a plane and didn’t wear a parachute?’  I call it stupid.”

So while Plante’s goalie mask may be the one bit of information that he is best known for, as an artist and knitter myself, I will forever associate Jacques Plante with knitting, and though it wasn’t spoken of as frequently, he was also a painter and created great landscapes, and wrote a hockey column for a newspaper in Quebec.  He even had an off-season job working for a brewery.  As a child, grew up in a large family with 11 children, and his mother taught him how to knit, sew, cook and clean, but it seems that knitting was the skill he took with him the farthest in life.  He would knit his own toques to wear under his goalie mask, and even knit socks, undershirts, scarves and gloves for himself, and shared his creations with others, such as a ¾ length coat that he knit for his wife.

When his team traveled on buses and teammates played card games together, Plante was knitting.  Can you imagine one of those smoke and booze filled busses, traveling from city to city with a team of hockey players engaging in poker while they smoked cigars, drank out of flasks, but sitting quietly on his own, the team goaltender sitting by himself, happily knitting a new toque for himself or a coat for his wife.  Like many professional hockey players, it took a few years for Plante to make the NHL.  He underwent surgery on his hand, and eventually became a full time goaltender as a member of the Canadiens.  After a few years in the minors, Plante was excited that the hockey season in Montreal would allow him to catch up on his knitting. “A fellow’s got to have something to do when he’s not tending the nets.”

If I ever get the chance to visit Switzerland where Mr. Plante is buried, I’ll leave a knitted gift on his grave.  I think he would appreciate that.

The very beginnings of my Old Time Hockey sweater

The very beginnings of my Old Time Hockey sweater

An note from the author:  Sometimes I get sucked into a research project, and it ends up so far beyond what the initial plan was, but I can’t stop reading.  In a few weeks, the Charlotte Knitting Guild is going to be attending a Checkers game, and they’ve asked me to speak to their group beforehand, so I wanted to come up with some fun facts that tie hockey and knitting together.  I also cast on a new project that I doubt will be done in time for the Checkers “Old Time Hockey Weekend” next month, but when my own, hand knit retro Checkers sweater is done, it will be epic!

So as I worked on my own hockey knitting, and researched other’s hockey knitting, I became more and more fascinated by a hall of famer I previously knew very little about. Thanks for reading, and indulging in a bit of very random hockey trivial!

Other Hockey Knitting Links: 

Red/White Scrimmage #2, and Case For/Against Part One

A few thoughts off the top of my head:

  • Justin Faulk and Leigh Salters battle during the second Red/White scrimmage of Charlotte Checkers Training Camp (Photo – J. Propst)

    It’s great to have Drayson Bowman back with the Checkers.  As always, he will be a huge asset to the team.

  • So many impressed me during the scrimmage today. Chris Terry was absolutely on fire, skating with this incredible level of energy.
  • Jared Staal’s offseason training with his big brothers seems to have paid off.  This is a make or break year for him, and it seems he’s really making the effort for it to be a successful season.  His skating has improved, and he seems much more alert and physical, which is something he seemed to lack at times.
  • Chris Terry deserved the first star honors during today’s Charlotte Checkers red/white scrimmage. (Photo – J. Propst)

    I enjoyed watching camp invite Leigh Salters today.  He did an outstanding job keeping up with guys like Justin Faulk, which is definitely a chore in a fast paces scrimmage like the one they had today.

  • Dan Ellis is probably the best decision the organization made as a PTO signing.  He’s been stellar in camp, and doesn’t look at all phased by the two major surgeries he had last season.  He’s in top form, and will be a huge asset to the team.
  • And last but not least, the Checkers made what I think is a significant and AWESOME announcement yesterday.  They have partnered with ESPN 730, and EVERY game this season will be available online and on a mobile app through TuneIn Radio.  Why is this good news?  Now, I can guarantee that I can hear games on my iPhone and iPad, something that previously wasn’t always a guarantee, and it cements my decision to cancel AHL Live this year.  The AHL Live product is hands down, the biggest waste of money I have ever spent on a hockey related product or service (this coming from the owner of a lot of dumb  hockey jerseys and a closet full of tshirts for teams I don’t even follow.)  Even the ECHL decided it wasn’t a worthwhile partner this year and switched to a provider called America One.  The problem with AHL live is it’s overpriced and inconsistent.  More often than not, the feed looks like someone is using a dial-up connection to stream it with, the audio crapped out all the time, and I usually ended up giving up on following the games visually.  So the fact my iPad can not help me follow the Checkers is a huge bonus, because AHL Live doesn’t support anything but a flash.  So after two years with AHL Live/Neulion, I’m going all audio all the time with ESPN 730!
  • For a few more photos from today’s Red/White scrimmage, they are posted on the Chasing Checkers facebook page.

Now… the Case For/Case Against

With well over 30 players in camp, analyzing all of them is going to take some time, and I’m still not sure I’m going to write about each player, because let’s be honest, there are a number of guys who are pretty much locks to make the AHL squad out of camp.  I’ve broken my analysis into three sections, and started with the easiest one (because there are only four), and that’s the goaltenders.

So of the four Checkers goalies (two under contract with Carolina, one on a PTO with Charlotte, and the third on a two-way AHL deal with Charlotte), who stays with the Checkers, and who goes to Florida?

Dan Ellis

The Case For:

  • Experience.  Ellis has spent the past five years of his career in the NHL, spending time as a starter and back-up.  Prior to that, he spent four years in the AHL and three years in the NCAA with the University of Nebraska – Omaha.
  • As a rookie with Nashville, Ellis led all goaltenders with a .924 SV% and helped lead the team to the playoffs.
The Case Against:

  • Ellis is on a PTO with the Checkers, so his spot is not guaranteed.
  • Ellis had two surgeries last season and missed 42 games as a result.  He seems fully recovered from these, however groin tears (and sports hernias) are more significant for goaltenders.

 

Rob Madore

The Case For:

  • Madore is a young goaltender with a bright future, who shares the record books from his University with NHL Stanley Cup winner Tim Thomas.
  • He has four years of NCAA hockey experience at a great Division I school, and the end of a season in the ECHL, including a brief playoff run with the South Carolina Stingrays.
The Case Against:

  • Experience.  It’s hard to compare a dozen or so ECHL games at the professional level with guys like Ellis and Peters who have extensive experience at the NHL and AHL levels.  Regardless, Madore is a great asset to have in the Checkers arsenal should the need arise!

 

 

John Muse

The Case For:

  • TWO NCAA Championships
  • One 2012  Kelly Cup Championship with the Florida Everblades
  • In 15 games with Charlotte last season, Muse posted a 10-3-2-2 record.  He had a 1.81 GAA and .941 SV%.
  • Muse is an incredible goaltender, and all of the above is exactly why the Hurricanes signed an undrafted player to a one-year NHL contract.
The Case Against:

  • Experience.  Plain and simple, Muse is still inexperienced at the AHL level, especially when put up against two  (Ellis and Peters) who each have extensive NHL experience­e.
  • Despite having a stellar rookie year, the Checkers signed Dan Ellis to a PTO, which potentially moved Muse down the rankings to the number three netminder at the AHL level.

 

Justin Peters

The Case For:

  • Peters has been in the Hurricanes system his entire professional career.  He was drafted early in the second round in 2004.
  • This summer, the Hurricanes signed Peters to a two-year contract extension as a UFA.  As the only Hurricanes netminder under contract beyond this season (other than Cam Ward, of course) many believe that Peters can return to Raleigh as the backup.
  • The Hurricanes have invested a lot of development time in Peters, and clearly see him as a goalie with a bright future in the organization.
The Case Against:

  • In six professional seasons with the Hurricanes, he still hasn’t really “stuck” at the NHL level.  In 2010-11, he spent the entire season as Cam Ward’s backup with in Raleigh, but struggled in this role.
  • Last season, Peters returned to Charlotte and was ultimately the number one goaltender, but had a losing record between the pipes (10-13-2-2).

 

Goalies Gone Wild and Recent Signings

Tess, here again and this time I’m talking goalies… y’know, that position that the Checkers currently have NO ONE in. That is the one position I care most about, so I’m going to try and write this a logically and thorough as I can without getting emotional.

Today it was reported that G prospect Frederik Andersen (drafted 187 overall in 2010) has declined his contract offer with the Hurricanes, particularly on the basis that he won’t get time in the NHL. He could be stuck in the AHL for two years with no guarantee of even a single game in the NHL. Andersen has thrived in the SEL, boasting a .941 SV% and a 1.67 GAA this past season. He’s progressing nicely in Europe, plays as the number one goaltender, and really has no reason to come to the States. Unless he changes his mind, Andersen will end up back in the draft.

This situation brings up a lot of things. The most concerning to me is the imminent demise of the Carolina goalie system. The problem has been there for quite some time. Cam Ward plays too much, the backups don’t play that well, and the prospects get no chance. Since he won the cup, Cam Ward has been a workhorse (when he’s not injured anyway) and for some reason it seems there is always a failure to sign a suitable backup. The lack of a suitable backup means that Cam plays more than he should and there is no trust in the backup. No trust and no time, only makes a goalie worse. Ward’s contract ends with the 2016-’17 season and current backup, Brian Boucher’s ends with the ’13-’14 season. Pending trade, retirement, or disaster, things are kind of set at the NHL level regardless of who actually deserves to be there. The issues most certainly extend to the AHL as well. The tandem has not been working well. Is there a single person who doesn’t think Mike Murphy earned to start the majority of the games the past two years? Then this past season when it came to calling up a goalie, Justin Peters gets called? Undoubtedly he didn’t deserve it. I know I’m going to catch a lot of flack from those of you who weren’t there watching him play all season, but that’s just it, you weren’t watching him throw away games. Fans in Charlotte were covering their faces and cursing at the sky the majority of the time he was in net. I’m not trying to attack Peters, but he simply wasn’t up to par and certainly was handed what he did not earn. Meanwhile Murphy had proved himself time and time again, only to get shafted over and over. Can you blame the guy for signing with the KHL? Because I can’t. I want to be angry, I want to be upset, I want to feel betrayed… but I can’t. He was treated like the red headed step-child. He finally gets called up to the NHL and he records the first ever loss without letting in a goal. The Charlotte D constantly left him high and dry, trusting him to take the game in his hands far too much. The list really goes on with what he earned far outweighing what he was awarded. So yeah, we deserve to be in the situation we’re in. No doubt that that with a little more focus on Murphy and some consistent coaching from Tom Barrasso, Mike could be backing up Cam Ward (as a legitimate backup) only to become an elite goaltender in the future.

Instead we have no one. I’m not going to even begin to entertain the idea of signing Justin Peters again. Our only other goalie prospect is Matt Mahalak who is not only too young to play in the AHL, but he has yet to prove himself in the OHL. John Muse is everyone’s favorite to start for the Checkers, but he’s not on contract either. Surely he’ll be getting many offers, and several he can’t refuse. I’m just hoping that Carolina can lock him in. Then we need to find another free agent to sign or trade for a goalie. Here is a list of current UFA goalies, 4 of them have played in our system. I honestly don’t know who I’d like us to nab, there are too many variables to consider and it has my brain in knots. More power to Jim Rutherford and his pimphand, that is if we haven’t seen its demise too with the inability to sign Murph or Andersen.

This brings me to the draft. If we don’t draft Malcom Subban I will lose my mind. I’ve been eyeing him for a while and he has so much promise. Plus the organization is big on collecting family members whose last name starts with “S”, perfect fit. Joking aside, obviously you can’t really draft for the future on what we need now, but I don’t think we could really go wrong with Malcolm.

Overall, I’m hoping for a goalie system overhaul in the organization. With Tom Barrasso most likely leaving for a goalie coach who can spend more time in the AHL I’d think the front office has realized the trouble they’ve put themselves in. Fingers crossed that when Murphy’s stint with the KHL has ended he’ll still be on the Carolina radar and come back. I pray that we let someone else have Justin Peters, the team has put far too much faith into him. That’s not to say I hope he doesn’t get signed or that he fails to strive with another team, I just don’t like him with this team plain and simple.

I’m going to end this with good news though. Two players did get signed today, Brody Sutter and Justin Kueger. Brody’s contract is a 3-year, entry level deal and Justin’s in a 1-year, 2-way. For more on Brody Sutter’s contract go here, and more on Krueger’s is here.
Also of interest is Paul Branecky’s Checkers contract breakdown with information on all of last season’s Checkers and where they stand.

Introducing Brandon Gentile, Welcoming Back Justin Peters, and Saying Farewell to John Muse

Haley and I are back with another Checkers update, we bear no rap this time around but we do have big news.

This season the Checkers have acquired some amazing flow. Not to be outdone in the hair department by any other team, the Checkers have signed defenseman, and keeper of the sickest Checker flow yet, Brandon Gentile to a PTO. Gentile turns 25 in April, and is a left-shot, defensive defenseman, from Clarkston, Michigan. He began his career with the U.S. National Under-18 Team then took the college route attending Michigan State for four years. From college he then played for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, IHL’s Flint Generals, ECHL Alaska Ace’s, and then comes to us fresh off of a PTO with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. We can’t be absolutely positive, but he may also be Thor in is free time.

Now, for the goalie situation. We all know being a Checkers tendy has been pretty wild as of late, but now it seems the waters have gone still. Both Justin Peters and John Muse have been reassigned to their respective teams. Everyone is finally healthy and moves had to be made. We first of all want to thank Muse, for his tremendous work while in Charlotte that earned him the nickname “Muses”. We don’t think anyone could have expected how phenomenal he’d be between the pipes for the Checkers. On the flip side, we’re happy to see the original CLT goalie tandem reunited for the first time in three months. It’s been so long in fact some have almost forgotten Justin Peters started the season with us. Hopefully he’ll step right back in and be in his November state that earned him the AHL goalie of the month. The reassignment of Peters also means a couple more things. 1) The Hurricanes are no longer entertaining the idea of sending Brian Boucher down for a conditioning stint, and 2) the Checkers no longer run the risk of Justin Peters not making their Clear Day roster.

Don’t forget to check out the Checkers’ article on the situation as well here.

The one about the Senators/Checkers series preview

Last night, I had dinner with my parents and a friend. I was telling her that I had become so involved with the Checkers and their playoff run that I’d been neglecting most other facets of my life, and focusing only on hockey.  My mom chimed in that she was glad I was dropping everything for something constructive and great, and not just a man.  I promptly responded “No, mom, it’s not just one man.  It’s 20 men, and I’m very much involved with every one of them.”

Like the Checkers, the Binghamton Senators have defeated teams that many felt were unbeatable in the first two rounds of their playoff run.  Also similar to the Checkers, the Senators started the playoffs with a more veteran, experienced netminder (Barry Brust for the Sens, and Justin Pogge for the Checkers) but midway through the first round switched netminders to bring in a rookie instead.  For both the Checkers and Senators, this decision has paid off.  Binghamton is a team that barely made the playoffs, and has been playing in the Atlantic division in the transfer spot, having finished in fifth in our own East division, but higher than the fourth place team in the Atlantic.

During the first round, Binghamton defeated the Manchester Monarchs in a seven-game series that included five contests that went into overtime.  Their second round of the playoffs was against the number one seed in the Atlantic conference, the Portland Pirates.  That series went six games, with no overtime contests, and only two one-goal differential games.  (As compared to the Checkers/Penguins round, which also went six games,  included one overtime contest and saw five of the six games end with a one-goal differential.)

IN THE CREASE

Netminder Barry Brust started all eight games vs. CLT in the regular season this year, but Robin Lehner has started all Bingo games since game six in the first round of the playoffs.

Robin Lehner, 19, is a Swedish goaltender who was drafted in 2009 by the Ottawa Senators.  A rookie this season, he finished the year in the AHL.  He played in 22 games for Binghamton and had a record of 10-8-2-3.  He had a 2.91 GAA, and a .912 SV%.  He played for Sweden at the 2011 World Juniors, and spent some time in Ottawa with the NHL club during January.  In the playoffs, Lehner has started in nine games (he was pulled in one contest during the second round).  He is 7-2 in the playoffs, has one shutout.  He has a 2.59 GAA, and a .926 SV%.  I asked Checkers D-man Michal Jordan about him during the playoff rally on Tuesday, and Jordan was quick to respond that he’d played and beaten him in the OHL, so he wasn’t worried.

For Charlotte, Mike Murphy went 1-1 vs. the Senators during the regular season (Pogge made the other six starts).  In the playoffs, Murphy has a record of 7-3, with one shutout.  He boasts a rather impressive 1.79 GAA, and a .944 SV%.

OFFENSE – the Zac(h)s vs. the Ryans

In 13 playoff games, Senators centerman Ryan Potulny has 19 points, scoring 10 goals and nine assists.  He was a mid-season addition to the Ottawa organization, having been traded from Chicago.

Captain Ryan Keller follows close behind Potulny with 16 points.  He has six goals, and 10 helpers in his 13 playoff games.  Other offensive support comes from Kaspars Daugavins, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler and Andre Benoit.  Benoit, a defenseman, is an AHL veteran having won the Calder cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007, the season he and the rest of his team stole the heart of this Chasing Checkers blogger.  But I’ll save more about him for the defense part of this preview!

For Charlotte, rookie Zac Dalpe, having played in all 12 playoff game, with five goals and seven assists.  Brett Sutter is close behind with 11 points, scoring four goals and seven assists in his 12 games, leads the Checkers in offenses.  Other offensive forces include Zach Boychuck, Drayson Bowman and Jon Matsumoto.

Overall, the Senators have allowed 41 goals during the playoffs, and scored 46.  In contrast to this, the Checkers who many consider to be an offensive force, have scored only 29 goals, and allowed 27, mostly due to the goaltending awesomeness of Mike Murphy.

DEFENSE, and PIMs

Andre Benoit skates for the Senators during a regular-season match-up against the Checkers. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

The Senators defense is led by alternate captain Andre Benoit.  I have admired him for years, having followed him to the Calder Cup in 2007, when he scored 13 points in 22 playoff games.  He’s one of those small, speedy defenseman that you can’t help but like when they play for your team, but I can assure you Checkers fans, that despite my past history with number 61, my allegiance lies firmly with Charlotte now!

On the penalties front, Zack Smith has appeared in all 13 playoff games and leads the Senators in PIMs with 14.  All of these penalties were minors, ranging from interference to boarding.

Zack FitzGerald leads the Checkers with 24 PIMs in seven post-season appearances.  He received five roughing minor penalties in game two against Wilkes-Barre.  After that game two loss, FitzGerald was benched for the following three games, finally returning in game six, where he only took one minor penalty for high sticking, and ended the night with a plus two.  It will be interesting to see what defenseman sits against Binghamton, but my guess it it will be Fitzgerald, more often than not, simply because the Senators playing style doesn’t seem to require that of an enforcer like FitzGerald.

 An interesting note in regards to the Senators is that in 13 playoff games, they did not receive any fighting majors, and only one roughing penalty.  By the contrary, Charlotte has 23 roughing penalties, and one fighting major in their 12 playoff games.  While the Checkers have a phenomenal penalty kill, staying out of the box may prove to be a key element to this third-round series.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Binghamton Senators, overall, have a more veteran roster, featuring guys like Corey Locke and Andre Benoit who both won the Calder Cup in 2007 with Hamilton.  The Checkers, while a bit younger, have a very impressive roster, despite inexperience in the playoffs beyond the second round.  (This is the first time in Hurricane’s history that their farm team has gone beyond the second round!).

While it’s not an AHL championship, the Checkers boast guys like Captain Rodney who won the Memorial Cup with the London Knights (and Corey Perry, Danny Syvret, Rob Schremp, and Marc Methot) in 2005, and Justin Faulk, who recently won the 2011 NCAA Championship with UM-Duluth.  Syvret was the captain of the 2005 London Knight squad, and is currently a member of the Philadelphia Flyers (and also a former Calder Cup winner in 2007 with Hamilton).  He tweeted the following yesterday:

I think I’m going to have to aggree on all fronts with Syvret… both on the Rodney fanclub, AND the desire for a final round vs. Hamilton!

PREDICTION TIME

During the last round, I got it wrong when I predicted that the Checkers would beat the Penguins in seven games.  (We did it in six… I’d rather the number of games be wrong more than the final outcome!)  For this round, I’m going to say Charlotte Checkers in six games over Binghamton.  Both on paper and in my heart and soul, Charlotte seems to be the team to beat at this point in the series, but by no means am I discrediting Binghamton’s ability.  They’ve clearly overcome a lot, and have that fierce, determined underdog thing going for them that tends to pay off in the playoffs.

Cut and paste from a post I did last weekend:  I’m sure all of my readers know all of the Checkers twitters worth following, so focusing on Binghamton links.

Binghamton Twitter accounts and Links of Interest:

And with that, I have to finish packing for my flight to Chicago.  Who knew that you could fly direct out of the tiny, two gate Asheville Regional Airport!  I’ll take it, even if my plane may have propellers.  Just a reminder, the awesome @nafsnep at Chirps from Center Ice will be providing tonight’s post-game report.  He’s a Penguins fan, but a really smart guy when it comes to hockey, and a blogging idol of mine.  I wish I could be there with you all in Charlotte, but I’ll be there in spirit! 


Lets Go Checkers

The one about summer jobs

I realize there are many more important things to talk about regarding Checkers hockey than summer jobs, but after watching Justin Pogge fall apart on Saturday night, and Mike Murphy get injured on Sunday, my hockey nerves are a bit shot and I’m having a hard time concentrating on the real life trials and tribulations facing our team.  The light at the end of the tunnel is that goaltender Bobby Goepfert arrived in Charlotte last night from Florida.  Goepfert is especially amusing on twitter, and has made me a lover of Jeopardy (Or, Goepardy, as we call it now) and a hater of the reigning champion Tom.  If you are on twitter, you’ve got to follow @geffman47.  You won’t be disappointed!

As of yet, the AHL hasn’t reported this as an official transaction so I hope that his arrival in Charlotte was more precautionary than anything else, but if he gets to stay for awhile, I hope more Checkers fans will get to experience his unique (and awesome!) personality.

Arriving with Goepfert in Charlotte is another Everblade, Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll.  I assume he is a safety net for ailing forward Oskar Osala.  Since Jared Staal has not played since being assigned to Charlotte by the Hurricanes, I assume he will continue to watch games from the press box as he has been all month.

So I’ve been thinking… what if our own Charlotte Checkers players had to get summer jobs like the ones I had when I was their age.  I, personally, spent my college summers either working at a fantastic summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina, or sweating in the NC humidity on an outdoor stage at Carowinds.  I can assure you, summer camp > theme park employment!

So what if the guys had to get a summer job?  Some are easier to “find” for them than others… so without further adieu, my suggestions for summer employment.

Justin Pogge already has the beginnings of a modeling portfolio, so CLEARLY he should move to NY or LA and get on continuing that journey to being a covergirl… err… I mean coverboy.  Or maybe in Penticton there is a big market for goalies-turned-models.  I was in the vicinity of Penticton last summer, and it didn’t seem to be overrun with models, so it might be a good fit… you know, less competition and all that.

Netminder Mike Murphy has quite the appreciation for animals, which is obvious to all of us who follow him on twitter.  While initially the focus of his tweets seemed to be on monkeys, he seems to have moved on to other animals as well.  So maybe he should become a zookeeper?  If he wants to stay in North Carolina, maybe the zoo in Ashboro is looking for a summer intern.  Anyone have connections?  Just be careful, Murph… Monkeys are known to throw poo….

Alternate Captain Nicolas Blanchard has a fantastic smile, and one that at first glance, you’d never know he’s missing teeth on the top and bottom (as his teammates have shared in interviews).  While I’m not sure he should become a spokesperson for a dentist, he’d be great for a company that makes denture adhesive… I think it’s unfortunate that all of those poly-grip ads are full of unattractive blue hairs.  Heck, if Blanch was smiling at me from TV talking about the benefits of a product, I might have to buy some myself!

Defenseman Zack Fitzgerald should of course intern as a tattoo artist.   At a recent skate with the Checkers, he was drawing a pretty awesome skull and crossbones tattoo in sharpie on a young boy’s arm.  I figure, he trades in that Sharpie for a needle and ink, and there’s no telling what kind of damage he could do!

Rookie Michal Jordan has quite the career ahead of him as an “As seen on TV” salesman/infomercial actor.  All I know is his believable pitch of the Pasta Boat and Right-Fit Button made me want to go out and get myself a set of them!  I have a few connections in the theater business if he wants to explore some acting classes over the summer…

Who else has some summer job ideas for our Checkers?

Feel free to submit suggestions, and maybe we’ll see a part two of this post!

The one about WBS and a battle of two goaltenders in CLT

Let me preface this by saying I began writing this before last night’s game against Syracuse.  It was an abysmal performance.  Pogge was nothing close to stellar, and got pulled after two periods when the score was 6-1.    Murphy had a perfect third period, stopping all seven shots, but that wasn’t enough for a comeback for the Checkers who were down by five.  This was Pogge’s seventh removal from a game, forcing once again, Murph to come in cold for the final period.  I don’t even want to talk about that game.  It was disgusting!

The Checkers record against the Penguins is less than stellar, at 1-4-1.  After today’s game, the teams meet once more, also in Wilkes-Barre, next month.  Mike Murphy’s lone start came in October in Charlotte, and resulted in a 4-3 loss.  He had ice time in two other games in January.  The first came in Charlotte on January 4 when starter Justin Pogge appeared to just give up in the fourth period and the team pulled him with nine minutes to go.  (I not-so-fondly remember that game.  It was a turning point in my observation of the Charlotte netminders, and the unequal treatment they were getting regarding starts.  Despite Pogge having a terrible game and Murphy being strong in relief, the team played him again the following evening, which resulted in a shoot-out loss).

Later in January on the 26th, Pogge was pulled again while facing the Penguins on the road.  The team didn’t take their time waiting for a meltdown for him, and after allowing four goals on 14 shots, Murphy came into the game in relief during the first period, and allowed only two goals on 29 shots in the remaining 44 minutes.  Despite Murphy’s strong play and a hard rally by the skaters who scored three goals once Murphy was put in net, he took the loss for the team.

The Checkers lone win against Wilkes-Barre came in a rather dramatic 9-5 win on January 23.  The two teams were awarded 74 PIMs, Pogge getting four of his own for roughing.  He seems to play well when he gets riled up.

Strictly by the numbers, Pogge’s record against the Penguins is 1-2-1.  Murphy is 0-2.  But as I often like to point out, these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Murphy only has one actual start, but has 111:20 of ice time, nearly two full games.  Pogge, who has started five times against WBS, has 248:19 on the ice.   And the goals allowed average and save percentage of Pogge is quite abysmal.  So when you think about who has the better record against the Penguins, is there really a definitive answer?  Despite the fact Pogge has helped the team gain three points versus the Penguins, I’m not sure I can give him the stamp of approval as the better record holder.

After last night’s performance (or complete lack there of) in Syracuse, if Pogge gets the start tonight in Wilkes-Barre, yours truly is going to be one irate Checkers fan.  Play like that should NEVER be rewarded with a back to back start.  Tonight’s game is a crucial one.  Charlotte has got to figure out a way to beat the Penguins on a more regular basis, especially since there’s a very good chance they will be our first-round playoff matchup.  I truly believe that Murph is our best shot at a win, if he’s given a fair shot, and by a fair shot, I mean actually getting the start and having the skaters play in front of him the way I know that they can.

Lets go Checkers!