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

Hurricanes assign 28, bringing Charlotte Checkers roster possibilities to a total of 33 eligible players.

After placing 11 players on waivers yesterday, the Hurricanes announced today that 28 players had been assigned to the Charlotte Checkers.  The only player on the Hurricanes roster who spent a significant amount of time in Charlotte last year that was not assigned is Drayson Bowman.  It seems the Hurricanes didn’t want to risk him to waivers, though no NHL players were claimed during the waiver process from any team yesterday.

Included in the group of 28 from Carolina are 2010-11 Rookie of the Year winner and former NHL All Star Jeff Skinner, and one-time Charlotte Checker and NCAA Champion Justin Faulk.  While their assignment doesn’t guarantee either will play in the AHL as Eric Staal did during the 2004-05 lockout, there is a very good possibility both will suit up in Charlotte.

The list of players now eligible to play in Charlotte include 28 under contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, and five players who signed AHL contracts directly with the Checkers, bringing the total to 33.  The typical AHL playing roster usually hovers between 21-23 players during the season.

I’m grateful to not be a coach, because choosing which of the 33 outstanding players to send to the Florida Everblades will be a challenge.

For a bit of NHL lockout reading as it pertains to the AHL, here are a few articles worth reading:

After the jump, you can see a list of all eligible players.  It is important to note that the checkers have only four players who qualify as AHL Veterans (Nicolas Blanchard, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Brett Sutter and Jerome Samson.  Since the AHL allows six (five regular vets and one exempt who have played over 260 games), Charlotte is not at risk for having to bench any veterans, and could even sign additional veterans should they so desire.

Players shown in italics are on AHL contracts with the Checkers, and the asterisks represent veterans.  It’s quite a roster!

Continue reading

Gameday: Houston at Charlotte

Tonight’s matchup against Houston should be a great contest of two evenly-matched teams.  Both Houston and Charlotte have one big thing in common…. they were each swept during the Calder Cup Playoffs by the Binghamton Senators, which is not a stat either team is particularly proud of.
This weekend marks the first and only appearance by Houston in Charlotte this season.
Charlotte Notes:
  • Justin Faulk will make his debut with the Checkers tonight having been returned from the Hurricanes on Wednesday.  According to Faulk, it may just be the weekend that he spends in Charlotte, but every Checkers fan I know hopes he stays longer.  The Hurricanes wanted Faulk to get some ice time, and a three game stretch in Charlotte is the perfect opportunity for that.  Faulk was paired with Bobby Sanguinetti and spent time on the Power Play during practice Thursday.
  • Tonight’s game marks the first of eight “3 in 3″ weekends of games.  Charlotte faces the Houston Aeros in the first two contests of the weekend, and the Norfolk Admirals on Sunday.
  • With Brett Sutter still on-duty with the Hurricanes, Jared Staal is expected to make his first start of the season.  At practice, he was on a line with Cedric McNicoll and Justin Soryal.
  • This evening also marks the first time the Checkers black third jersey’s make an appearance.  Let’s hope they have a better winning record than last year!
Houston Notes:
  • The Aeros won their first two games of the year, then lost in an 11-round shootout last weekend to San Antonio, and then lost again on Tuesday in Oklahoma City.  They have a record of 2-1-0-1, and like Charlotte, five points in the standings.
  • Center Carson McMillan will not be playing for the Aeros this weekend.  He was “awarded” a four-game suspension by the AHL for an illegal hit to the head of a member of the San Antonio Rampage.  In his first four games with the Aeros, he had three points (0G, 3A).
  • Casey Wellman leads the Aeros with four goals, and leads the team with two Game winning goals.
  • Goaltender Matt Hackett has three starts this season.  He’s a second-year professional in the Minnesota organization. Hackett spent two and a half seasons with the OHL Plymouth Whalers where he was a teammate of Checkers Michal Jordan, Brett Bellemore and Chris Terry.

Gametime:  7:00 p.m. EST
Charlotte Radio:  WFNZ 610

Charlotte Twitter: @CheckersHockey@PaulBranecky,
Houston Twitter: @Houston_Aeros@3rdIntermission
Houston Blog:  The Third Intermission
Officials
Referee: Steve Patafie (#85)
Linesmen: Joe DeMizio (#0), Jean Menard (#12)

Four Justin’s in Charlotte again! Faulk returns from Hurricanes

Justin Faulk skated with the Carolina Hurricanes for the first three games of the season. (Photo: J. Propst)

Justin Faulk is returning to Charlotte from the Hurricanes.  After playing in the first three games of the season (and registering about 18 minutes a game!), but being a -6, the Hurricanes chose to play other Defenseman instead.

Ryan Murphy, the Hurricanes 2011 first-round draft pick, and the ninth defenseman, was returned to his Kitchener Junior team last week.

Faulk’s return to Charlotte leaves the Hurricanes with seven healthy defenseman, and the Checkers have eight healthy defensemen

 

Other random thoughts and observations

  • I have said it before, but will say it again, that when it comes to hockey in North Carolina, I’m a Checkers fan first.  With that in mind, I still follow the Hurricanes, especially since they are so closely linked to Charlotte (and with the exception of the occasional game on Versus, the only NHL team I can see on TV at home!)  Last night, I watched the Bruins-Hurricanes game with a special interest since it was Brett Sutter’s first appearance with the team this year.  If you missed the game, wow, you missed a very intense third period.  Captain Sutter was a goal away from a Gordie Howe hat trick after he had an assist on the first goal of the night, and then dropped the gloves with Chris Kelly.  Aside from the obvious fight and point on the score sheet, he had an incredible game.  He was consistently going into the corners, making room in front of the net, and playing a physical, intense kind of hockey.  While Brett Sutter might never score as many goals as his cousin Brandon, or win the Rocket Richard trophy, but he could definitely make his way into a third or fourth line grinder role in the NHL.
  • Speaking of the Boston game…. I kind of wish I could have heard their announcers.  Mostly I think the guys at NESN are tools (I was debating between calling them D-bags, but thought tool was more PC) so I’m sure they said a lot of asinine things.  Close friend to Chasing Checkers observed that the organ played Cee Lo Green’s “F* You” after one of the (many) Boston Penalties.  It is a bit amusing, but also maybe slightly classless.
  • This weekend brings another Western Conference team to Charlotte for the first time, with two games against the Houston Aeros, and one against our foes to the north, the Norfolk Admirals. Should be a fun weekend to be a hockey fan!

 

Quick Hits: Sutter named Captain, and the Defense numbers game in Raleigh

A few quick hits:

  • Justin Shugg and Mike McKenzie were sent to Florida today.  McKenzie is on an AHL contract with the Checkers, and Shugg is in his first year of an Entry Level deal with the Hurricanes.  After his stellar performance in the preseason games this weekend, I’d hoped Shugg would make the cut.
  • Brett Sutter will wear the C for the Checkers this year. (Photo - J. Propst)

    Brett Sutter will be wearing the C this year.  Newcomer (to the Checkers) Chris Durno and Nicolas Blanchard will each serve as Alternates.  Watching Sutter in camp this year makes me VERY confident in Coach Daniel’s decision.  I firmly believe Sutter is going to be the guy to watch on the team this year.  He might not score as many goals as Zach Boychuk or Chris Terry, but there is a whole lot more to being a superstar than goals!

  • Drayson Bowman has already been called up and sent back to Charlotte once, and Riley Nash was assigned to the Checkers yesterday by the Hurricanes.  Both Nash and Bowman will be travelling with the Checkers to Norfolk this weekend.
  • Justin Faulk remains in Raleigh with the Hurricanes.  He is currently defenseman number nine on their roster.  (Not in playing time/ranking, simply in the numbers game).  Considering the Hurricanes typically dress only six defensemen each game, they are clearly overstaffed at that position.  Ryan Murphy could be sent to his OHL team after no more than nine games, leaving them at eight, but that is still a high number.  The Hurricanes can do a number of things to alleviate the number crunch at this position.  They can bury one of their contracts in Charlotte (assuming the player clears waivers and remains unclaimed), but they would be paying a full contract price on an expensive blueliner.  (Four of the current Hurricanes D are making over 2.5 million this season, and two are making over 4 million).  The Hurricanes have always said they will not keep players in Raleigh who aren’t getting playing time, and with this in mind, I am not convinced they will carry eight or nine defenseman.
  • The Hockey News printed their yearly preview of the AHL rankings.  They listed the Checkers as number one in the West.  While I don’t disagree completely with this assessment, their rationale was Justin Faulk, and the forwards of Jerome Samson, Zach Boychuk and Jon Matsumoto.  Fellow Midwest division Peoria and Chicago were ranked 2-3, respectively, while Rockford and Milwaukee fall to 11 and 15.  Milwaukee has a roster full of NHL caliber players, and finished in the West last year with the most points, so it’s a bit absurd to think they are going to fall from first to last.  My friends at The Admirals Roundtable have a much better rant about it all.
  • The Checkers are on a bus to Norfolk as I type this.  My work schedule changed last minute, and I’m pondering a VERY last minute roadtrip to the Virginia coast.  Anyone else headed to see the team play opening weekend?  Games are on Friday and Saturday night at varying times between 7 and 7:30 p.m.

Long overdue game notes and quotes from Friday’s game in Raleigh

Long overdue game notes from Friday.  The Canes lost to the Nashville Predators 3-2 in their second preseason game:

  • Crappy cellphone pic, but if there were 6000 fans at the game, there would be about one fan for every three seats...

    The attendance for the game is listed as 6375, but if there were actually more than 2000 people in the stands, it would be shocking.  Preseason games are usually poorly attended, but the small turnout was still surprising.

  • The following players were all competing for roster spots on Friday night, or will otherwise join the Checkers in Charlotte this season:  Brett Sutter, Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Chris Terry, Justin Faulk, Riley Nash, Justin Peters
  • Chris Terry

    Chris Terry makes his first NHL preseason start against the Nashville Predators. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

    Friday marked Terry’s first NHL game (preseason or otherwise) since he was drafted by the Hurricanes in 2007.  He had no problems getting in front of the net and going after rebounds, and played a very physical game.  After the game, he said, “It was pretty good.  I was excited, a little nervous headed in, but overall thought it was pretty good for my first one.”  He also shared that his off-season training with Gary Roberts in Toronto gave him a huge improvement in his fitness and intensity.

  • Brett Sutter was incredibly physical, and had a lot of grit, characteristics that he displayed during his season with Charlotte.  He was going into the corners and playing with a lot of determination.  He seemed to really fit in with the Hurricanes, and had a very impressive performance.  He had over a minute of penalty kill TOI, in a game which only saw one minor penalty by the Hurricanes. 
  • Zach Boychuk seemed quiet and rather subdued.  In Charlotte, he was known for being one of the louder, chirpier players, but he seemed quiet Friday, at least at the morning skate and warmups when I was close enough to hear him.  Almost six of his 12 minutes of ice time came during the third period, when he played predominantly with Riley Nash and Brett Sutter.
  • Justin Faulk

    Justin Faulk makes his second NHL preseason start. He played the majority of the game with fellow rookie and D standout Ryan Murphy. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

    Drayson Bowman had a very strong game.  He had a lot of finesse, which is not surprising having skated with the Hurricanes for the last month of the season last year.

  • Justin Peters played the final period, and stopped eight of the 10 shots he faced.  His performance did not leave me with a lot of confidence for the upcoming Checkers season.  He appeared in only 12 games last season, with a record of 3-5-1 (.875 SV%, 3.98 GAA).  This year, I would expect him to see much more ice time between the pipes, but with the strong end to Mike Murphy’s season last year and his undisputed number one goalie status, it will be interesting to see how the Checkers handle the goaltending situation this year.

The Posse Report: Round One, Game Five

The Posse Report:

By Posse Members: Pete & Blaine Hurdle

Friday, April 22 2011

Charlotte Checkers vs. Hershey Bears in game five of the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Game 5, Round 1

The Posse is here in a guest blogger role to cover one of the greatest games in the history of Charlotte Checkers Hockey. The hockey gods only saw it fit that Charlotte would be without number four tonight, that’s right- Zack FitzGerald the namesake of the Posse did not skate with the team in their morning practice and was a no go on the ice as well. Taking his place in the line up was Bobby Sanguinetti, turns out FitzGerald missed the game with a broken thumb. The buzz in Time Warner Cable Arena is that he should be back in the lineup for game six on Sunday in Hershey.

Mike Murphy started for the third game in the row for the Checkers. The first period was filled with action coming mostly from the Hershey players. There was a definite presence of the fans who came down from Raleigh but the building seemed a little lack luster at the start of the game. While I don’t have the official attendance numbers it looked to me like the building was not quite as full as it normally is on a Friday night.

As the game got underway the Checkers fell victim to a Hershey goal early on, just their forth shot on. The team seemed to be missing each other on their passes, shots were not hitting the net and guys were getting knocked around. Brad Herauf took a stand and started laying some heavy hits and the team slowly started to rally off his lead. Mike Murphy found himself out of position and made an awkward leap towards the post for his first huge save of the game. Despite this the crowd was still very quiet for the most part.

8:34 into the first Jonathan Matsumoto pushed the net off from the side of Murphy. At first glance it did not seem like he was preventing a goal but I am sure he had his reason. TWC Arena showed the replay from an angle that did not give any other explanation. While in the box for delay of game Murphy came back with two more huge saves.

As the first period comes to an end it is easy to see that Hershey is dominating the Checkers physically. Without having Fitzgerald on the ice Brad Herauf took his physicality up a notch from hardcore to insane. Herauf is (generously) listed on the Checkers site as being 5’11 and 195 lbs, he was taking and giving giant hits. The Bear on the other end of much of that play was Sheldon Souray who is listed at 6’4, 233 lbs and played an NHL career including three NHL All-Star games. In my opinion Souray got away with an obvious boarding call with about four minutes left in the first, the refs went out of their way all game to keep the players from breaking into fights.

The second period starts up with the crowd finally starting to get vocal. I personally felt like the fans were not as loud as they have been in recent games, that was until the end of the third period. A few fans who made the trip up from Raleigh made it known that they were impressed with the cheering of the Checkers fans.

18:11 into the second Hershey gets their second goal in a defensive break down from the Checkers. Soon after Riley Nash gets tossed in the box for a very weak hooking call. It seemed that the refs call the second period much tighter than the rest of the game.

Boyd Kane from the Bears gets mowed down by Nicolas Blanchard into the far side boards at 15:36 in the second. Blanchard gets two minutes for boarding, TWC again does not show a replay.

Hershey goaltender, Braden Holtby starts to play much more aggressive in net. Holtby plays the body a few times against the Checkers leaving the puck to fall where it may. In short he created the chance of chance but kept making the saves when needed.

Jacob Micflicker had been quiet most of the game but towards the end of the second period he started to step it up offensively and physically. Micflicker and Herauf have been playing high energy hockey from the end of the regular season and well through the first round. Casey Borer also made his presence known on D by breaking up a huge play from the Bears.

Hershey gets their third goal from former ECHL Checker, Andrew Carroll. It seems that the Bears figured out how to beat the fast paced skating of the Checkers, mainly in the form of brute physicality. The Bears are leading in shots 28-16 with 16:27 left in the third. Oskar Osala who had been realitivly quiet thus far in the game starts to play noticeably better.

At a stoppage in play Wilson takes to the microphone and really gets the crowd on their collective feet. Shortly after this during a failure of communication between the Bear’s defense and Holtby the Checkers get their first goal of the game from Brett Sutter. Hershey get’s a boarding minor for a huge hit against Herauf who was quick to get up but slow to get to the bench. The Checkers ended the last 20 seconds on the power play with Bryan Rodney quarterbacking the movement with help from his defensive partner and 19 year old rookie, Justin Faulk. They have a great passing game and came close to grabbing a goal at the close of the second.

Riley Nash continues to impress as we jump to the third, this rookie skates the ice with confidence of a seasoned veteran which is good news for such a young team. One minute into the third Drayson Bowman slaps one into the net for the Checkers 2nd goal. Later in the period they change the credit of the goal to Zach Boychuck in what might have been a tip in or deflection. Rodney and Faulk continue to play great together on the point and created the play that fed Bowman the puck.

The crowd is now going crazy, the Checkers have two unanswered goals. Chris Terry takes a hard hit from Hershey’s Patrick Wellar and Charlotte gets another chance on the power play and more of the Rodney/Faulk action.

Oscar Osala on a second wind steals a goal by taking the puck away from Holtby and forcing it into the net. In the replay it seems like Holtby was looking for some defensive backup but nobody was there. The frustrated Bears rack up another penalty as Charlotte’s Michal Jordan takes a hit from Steve Pinizzotto. To be honest I did not really see the hit too well but it shook up Michal as he stayed on the ground for a while.

It seems that Holtby is starting to play a little more nervous but he come through with some big saves, at one point right after the halfway mark of the third he leaned backwards against the goal, it popped up for a second and then fell back into place, the play was called dead. Seemed a little fishy to me.

The Hershey penalties gave Charlotte a good number of scoring chances as the shot count has jumped to 28 each. Murphy has seen very little action in the third. At 8:36 to go in the game Nick Dodge gets the eventual game winning goal with assists from Bowman and Osala. The goal is reviewed by the refs who keep it as a good goal.

Soon after Chris Terry runs into Holtby on a one-on-one chance and is given a goaltender interference call. Most of the Bears players that are on the ice tackle him to the ground and into the bottom of net. The fans were not happy with the call but it got everyone making noise and the booing of the refs which turned into harder cheering for the Checkers.

Nicolas Blanchard keeps the Bears from getting the puck on goal with a huge defensive play followed by a clear. It’s not long before the Bears are back on full attack in the Checkers defensive zone. An very aggressive game was played by both teams, there are three broken sticks on the ice at one time. The Checkers are in desperate need of a line change and the refs are looking to get the broken pieces of sticks of the ice. After a stoppage Bowman gets a great play off where he missed the inside of the goal by inches, he was skating in a way that showed you how tired he was but how capable and strong he was at the same time.

Holtby makes some more big saves as the Bears are within one goal of the Checkers. They pull Holtby, last time they tried this on Thursday it worked. With the extra attacker Hershey makes their play against the Checkers. Murphy comes up big with little over a minute left in the game, Bowman shoots the puck into the empty net for the insurance goal with one minute left in the game.

The crowd is going wild as the clock ticks down, the Checkers have scored five goals in a row after being down by three. It seems like the game is over but the refs call a penalty with 00.1 left in the game and Michal Jordan steps into the box for the final face-off.

Game over, the fans are all celebrating in the stands, you can tell the team really wanted the win as they leave the ice. The overall end of game atmosphere is out of this world, the fans are celebrating as if the Checkers were just named the world champions of hockey- that is one of the great things about the fans! When leaving TWC Arena there were multiple “we want the cup” and “let’s go Checkers” chants from the crowd as well as a sea of “Whoooooos” that started at the end of the game and might still be going.

Other notes:

During the intermission in the “though the eyes of the Checkers” interview most of the team picks Zac Dalpe as having the worst playoff beard.

I think Braden Holtby wins the award for most taunted player of the year by the Charlotte fans. There was rarely a second in the game where you would not hear the anti- Holtby chants. Holtby always gets some words from the Charlotte crowd but tonight took it to a new level.

The Raleigh crowd defiantly brought their cowbells, there was a noticeable increase in cowbell noise.

It was interesting to see the way that some of the fans who came down from Raleigh interacted at the Checkers game. I could tell many of them were not used to how up close and personal the game can be, the divide between the players and fans is totally different while the skill level is still very high.

Faulk is off to a great start, can’t wait to see what he does either in Charlotte or Raleigh.

It seems like Dalpe and Boychuck are getting caught up in more physical play than they are used to.

If Zack FitzGerald does come back Sunday who will sit? I don’t see Faulk sitting out and I think the team could really use FitzGerald’s physical presence and veteran know how on the ice.

I have total confidence in both Mike Murphy and Justin Pogge but would be surprised if Murphy does not start Sunday’s game.

Family takes pictures with Posse members

You can join the Zack FitzGerald has a Posse group on Facebook.

WHATEVER IT TAKES

The one about WINNING in the playoffs

The team I watched last night, THAT was my Checkers hockey team.  I could probably gush about them forever.  The interesting thing is, even though we won, unlike our previous game, I don’t feel like we played THAT much better than we had on Tuesday.  I’m not sure that came out right… what I mean is, while yes, we won on the scoreboard, and I feel like we earned it, I don’t think we played significantly better on the whole, mostly because the team I saw on Tuesday, albeit a losing one, played phenomenally as well… I think the Checkers have been fantastic this whole season.  I’m going to focus on a very few thoughts about the game.

Justin Faulk made his professional debut in Charlotte on April 20, 2011

Justin Faulk

University of Minnesota-Duluth NCAA  Champion and USA-Hockey phenom Justin Faulk made his professional debut last night for the Checkers.  He was paired with all of our top defensemen at different times during the game, and played a lot of minutes.  He fit in easily with the team, and played the majority of his shifts with Captain Bryan Rodney.

He was a thrill to watch.  He skated well, handled the puck, and tended to be in the right place at all the right times. He is definitely a player I look forward to watching more and more, and I was pretty excited to see him play in his first pro game!

Southern Hockey 

I love hockey in the South. I love the history, and the way we can meld the great southern culture and a fantastic sport together.  I love the hospitality of our fans, and how generous they are.  While hockey is not new to Charlotte (we are the birthplace of professional hockey in the South, after all… and the first Checkers came to be in the 1950′s!), our fanbase is still learning and maturing.

I love it when the passion of the fans come out “southern style,” like the guy sitting a few rows in front of me banging on the glass screaming at the officals, “Way to go, Ref!  Y’all suck!”  I think there should be more “y’all” in Hockey.  (Editor’s Note:  While I love this kind of southern culture though, I do NOT love Ric Flair.  At all.  I hate wooing, and refuse to do it!)

Mike Murphy

This guy has been “my” goalie since day one.  I’ve studied his numbers, and statistics, and I know I side with him a lot.  I’ve tried to be unbiased, but on the whole, I definitely prefer him in net, and after the way he played last night, it just cements the fact that he’s my number one goaltender.  Murphy made some great diving saves, and didn’t allow the first goal until midway through the second.  I’d missed seeing him play during the past month, so it was a treat to see him back in his old form, right where he left off in early March before getting injured.  Here’s hoping he gets the start on Friday.  I’ve known it for a long time, but I think Coach Daniels FINALLY gets that Murphy IS the key to success!  Murphy faced 37 SOG in the game (versus the 24 that Braden Holtby faced for the Hershey Bears).  He’s now 5-1 in six starts verses Hershey this year.  Not too shabby, if you ask me!

Zack Fitzgerald

Ever since I was slightly critical of Fitzgerald in a recent blog, he has impressed me time and time again.  Last night was no exception.  He played a very mature, responsible game and was able to keep it in check and not drop the gloves unnecessarily.   He funneled his energy in a positive way that inspired the team to rally together.  He was defensively responsible, and proved to be a great leader with a new guy like Faulk on the ice.

Sheldon Souray

I’m a huge Oilers fan, as in I’ve traveled to eight different states, and 10 arenas to see them play, and I own a couple of Oiler jerseys.  So when Shelly was an Oiler in the official sense, and not just in the sense he still gets his paycheck from them despite playing for Hershey in the AHL, I tried to like him, and at first I did.  I thought he would be a huge asset to the team, but things went south, and he ended up making a lot of enemies in his home province of Alberta, eventually getting demoted not only to the AHL, but to another team’s AHL team, all so the Oilers could keep his negative influence away from their prospects.  Double the fact that Souray is a skilled defenseman with a lot of grit (when he’s not injured), and the Oilers have finished LAST in the NHL the past two seasons, you’d think the team would want something, anything, to help them out of the hole they are in, but they shipped Souray to Hershey anyway.

Souray is a guy who you never want to face on the ice, and I’m pretty sure the Checkers can attest to that.  He had three minor penalties last night, but the one that frustrated me the most was during the third period.  He was officially given a roughing penalty, but what I saw was a cross check to the face of Nicolas Blanchard.  It was an incredibly dirty hit, and one that in the NHL, would have immediately been sent to Toronto.  I hope the play can in fact be reviewed after the fact, because it was nasty to see in person.

The reviewing of plays is something I will probably get into in a later blog entry… I have a number of thoughts on the issue, but that is for a later time and date!

I love the Checkers

I love that the crowd was on their feet for the last two minutes of play.  I love how passionate they were, and how loud our small crowd got.  I love that the Checkers are hands down the best sports team in Charlotte.  I love the organization from the top to the bottom (except for the Checkmates, of course).

Last night was the final game of the first round I get to see, and it kills me to admit that, but as much as I love my team, I love my best friend more.  Her bachelorette party is going to be super fun, and I have a Blackberry which will give me game updates.  And I feel very strongly that I’ll get to see the team again in the second round.

So win for me on Friday, and win for all of the other awesome fans in Charlotte.

Lets Go Checkers!!!!

The one about Justin Faulk and our current Roster

The Current Checkers roster looks like this:

Goaltenders:

  • G – Justin Pogge
  • G – Bobby Goepfert #
  • G – Mike Murphy *


Defense:

  • D – Rasmus Rissanen #
  • D – Justin Faulk #
  • D – Zack Fitzgerald
  • D - Bobby Sanguinetti
  • D – Ethan Graham
  • D – Casey Borer
  • D – Michal Jordan
  • D – Bryan Rodney
  • D – Brett Bellemore

Forwards

  • C – Nick Dodge
  • C - Jon Matsumoto
  • C – Zach Boychuck
  • C – Zac Dalpe
  • C - Brett Sutter
  • RW - Matthew Pistilli
  • LW – Jacob Micflikier
  • C – Zac Dalpe
  • C – Riley Nash
  • LW – Chris Terry
  • LW - Nicolas Blanchard
  • LW – Drayson Bowman
  • LW – Oscar Osala *
  • C - Brad Herauf

Notes:

# – Rissanen and Faulk are eligible to play despite not being on the AHL Clear Day List.  Both joined the team after their NCAA/Junior seasons were over.  Goepfert is eligible to play for as long as Murphy is not, under the guidelines of the Clear Day list and players being unable to compete due to injury.

* – Murphy and Osala have been injured.  Murphy has been cleared to play, and has been skating with the team this week.  He’s still considered day to day.  Both players traveled with the team to Hershey, and are eligible to play on Sunday.

Cedric McNicoll, Mike McKenzie  and Jared Staal were left off of my roster, because they are not a part of the AHL Clear Day list, and to my knowledge, did not travel with the team to Hershey.  If there is an injury to any of the regular roster, they would be eligible to play.  McKenzie hasn’t played since his injury (he took a nasty elbow) in mid-March.  McNicoll was a beast in his final weeks of the season, scoring all kinds of points, and well, Mr. Staal has spent a great deal of time in the press box observing on-ice action.

With the signing of reigning NCAA Champion Justin Faulk yesterday, it will be interesting to see what kind of playing time he gets, if any.  He and Rissanen have a combined 1 AHL start, (and an NCAA title… I do love NCAA alum!), but pro hockey, especially playoff hockey, is MUCH different than major junior or NCAA.  If one of the Checkers blueline regulars can’t play, the team is going to have to pick between a veteran like Ethan Graham, and two young rookies in Rissanen and Faulk.  I believe the latter two are going to be a huge part of the future of the Checkers and the Canes organization, but to be honest, I like the way our D-corps is playing right now, and hate the idea of being forced into shaking it up some.  I was VERY relieved that Fitzy didn’t take any penalties on Friday.  While I love his passion, and fight, and his huge heart, sometimes I get frustrated when he takes an unnecessary minor penalty due to those positive qualities I just listed.  Of our Defense regulars, he’s the only one I could see being pulled out of the lineup right now in favor of one of our rookies.

Eastern Conference Playoff Notes:

It’s been a series of upsets so far… last night, Norfolk defeated Wilkes-Barre by a score of 2-1, and Binghampton upseat Manchester 4-3 in overtime, and of course our own Checkers beat Hershey on Thursday night.  Let’s keep this underdog streak going!

And now… I must get back to packing for the roadie to Hershey!  Lets Go Checkers!