And then there were 11 – A tale of the ever-changing Charlotte Checkers roster

When the AHL season began in October, the NHL lockout was in full swing, and there were more than enough Hurricanes prospects to fill the playing roster in Charlotte and still have a few to spare for ECHL teams all across the USA (Joe Sova was assigned to the San Francisco Bulls, where he is still playing, and Rob Madore spent the first part of the season in Evansville before being assigned to the Everblades.

Since the NHL resumed a month ago, one by one, Checkers players have been called up to play for the Hurricanes.  Some made the team right out of camp, and others have been emergency recalls as the result of what appears to be a compounding injury problem with the team in Raleigh.

Today, Michal Jordan and Andreas Nodl were returned to the Checkers, while Marc-Andre Gragnani and Zac Dalpe were recalled by the Hurricanes. I must say, as an aside, that there is no player more deserving of an NHL recall than Dalpe. This weekend in Abbotsford, he had four points on one game, including two shorthanded goals. In the past seven games since his last NHL recall, Dalpe has eight points (5g, 3a). If that’s not sheer skill and determination, I don’t know what is.

Only 11 players remain on the Charlotte roster that began the season with the Checkers, and two of those 11 are injured (Jerome Samson and AJ Jenks).  The other nine are: Justin Peters, Brett Sutter, Nic Blanchard, Chris Terry, Brett Bellemore, Rasmus Rissanen, Justin Krueger, Michal Jordan and Justin Soryal.

Departed from Charlotte are Gragnani, Dalpe, Dan Ellis, Riley Nash, Jeremy Welsh, Justin Faulk, Drayson Bowman, Tim Wallace, and Bobby Sanguinetti.  Zach Boychuk now resides in a press box in Pittsburgh after the Penguins claimed him off of waivers.

To supplement the flood of former Checkers in Raleigh, the Checkers have added a number of new players.  Since there were only two home games this month, it feels like I haven’t seen enough Checkers hockey in person to even know who is who on the ice!  So as a refresher course for everyone (myself included!), here’s a list of the newest additions:

Bobby Raymond – Signed to a PTO at the end of December, and then an AHL contract in mid-January.  Raymond has six points (2g, 4a) and a +3 +/- rating in 22 games played with Charlotte. These numbers have him on track to double his AHL career highs this season. (Previously, he had 4 assists in 38 games with Binghamton last year).

Matt Beca – Though he’s not a new face to the Checkers organization, this is the first time he’s played regularly for Charlotte.  Beca is a third-year veteran of the AHL Checkers, though had only dressed for the Checkers during seven games last year.  This year, he’s already played in 11 games and has four points (1g, 3a).

David Rutherford – Like Beca, Rutherford was signed to an AHL two-way contract by the Checkers over the summer.  He is also a veteran of the Checkers organization, having played most of the 2008-09 ECHL season with the Checkers.  After many years in the pros, Rutherford finally made his AHL debut this year, and has appeared in nine games so far, and has two assists.  He’s got a resume full of championships (ECHL Kelly Cup, CHL Championship and the Memorial Cup).  I’d love to see “Calder Cup” with Charlotte added to the list.

Matt Marquardt – Marquardt is the newest addition to the Checkers, having signed a PTO with the team earlier this month.  He’s played in seven games so far, and has a +1 rating.  This is his fifth full season in the pros, and his fourth playing in the AHL, so I’d expect good things to come from him.

Brody Sutter – Though Checkers fans saw him briefly last spring after his junior season ended (he had one goal in four appearances), he was recently recalled by Charlotte just in time to make the trip to Western Canada over the weekend, where from what I hear, half of the arena shared the last name Sutter.  Hopefully he’ll play a few more games so we can continue to enjoy reading “Bro Sutter” and “Bre Sutter” on the box score, and hear Officer Brian Stickley get flustered on the PA system when one of the Sutter’s scores a goal and he can’t remember which one deserves the credit.

Luke Pither – Pither joined the Checkers as a result of the trade that sent Hurricanes goaltender Brian Bouher to Philadelphia, and as soon as he arrived in Charlotte, he made an impression.  In 15 games with Charlotte, Pither has 14 points (6g, 8a).  I’d have to say those stats are #PitherPerfect.

 

So Chasing Checkers readers, who has been your favorite addition to the Checkers lineup this season?

 

New faces shine – Goal by Luke Pither lead the Charlotte Checkers to a 1-0 victory.

Grand Rapids Griffins goaltender Petr Mrazek reacts to a goal by Luke Pither. (Photo - J. Propst)

Grand Rapids Griffins goaltender Petr Mrazek reacts to a goal by Luke Pither. (Photo – J. Propst)

Considering there were nine players in the lineup that didn’t start the season with the Charlotte Checkers, the outcome of the game against the Grand Rapids Griffins was anything but predictable .  I knew there was more than enough skill to win the game, but it’s a tough situation when you have new players in the mix, a huge chunk of players who had been keys to the team for the first half of the season now residing in Raleigh, a number of lingering injuries and guys like Captain Brett Sutter sitting out due to waiver rules.

At times, the play on the ice was a bit sloppy.  Many of the new Checkers had played together in Florida, and others, like Matt Pistilli, had experience with the organization, but not since last season.  Goaltender Justin Peters had a couple of near misses during the first period of the game, with pucks ringing off the goalposts, but thanks to stellar play by himself and the team in front of him, kept the Griffins scoreless during all three periods.  The shutout was the third in Peter’s last three starts.

New center Luke Pither definitely made a name for himself in his first appearance.  In his first game in a Checkers sweater, he scored the only goal of the night at the midway point of the first period.  It was Pither’s first AHL goal in over a year, and made a great first impression for his new teammates and the fans in Charlotte.

Luke Pither makes his debut as a member of the  Charlotte Checkers. (Photo - J. Propst)

Luke Pither makes his debut as a member of the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo – J. Propst)

Leading up to his first appearance with the Checkers, Pither had already had a very busy week.  Prior to arriving in Charlotte, he’d been playing for the Wheeling Nailers.  On Sunday, the team was about to have their third game in three days.  Pither’s dad was visiting, and the two were having breakfast when he received the news he’d been traded to the Hurricanes.  Before hearing from either the Flyers or Hurricanes organizations, social media helped him learn he would be moving to North Carolina.

 

“I actually checked Twitter and Bob McKenzie said I got traded to Carolina’s system and that’s the way I found out.”

The timeline leading to Pither’s arrival in Charlotte was pretty short.

“The next day I drove seven hours down here, a then practice and a pre-game skate today and now I’m playing.”

In the end, all the Checkers needed was Pither’s one goal, as they defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins by a score of 1-0, extending their winning streak to a season and franchise-long six games.