Charlotte Checkers Training Camp in photos: Day 1

Just a few shots from the first day of AHL training camp at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail:

Danny Biega and Kyle Bonis participate in a drill at Charlotte Checkers training camp. (Photo - J. Propst)

Danny Biega and Kyle Bonis participate in a drill at Charlotte Checkers training camp. (Photo – J. Propst)

Victor Rask at Charlotte Checkers training camp.  (Photo credit - J. Propst)

Victor Rask at Charlotte Checkers training camp. (Photo credit – J. Propst)

Rookie forward Kyle Bonis. (Photo - J. Propst)

 

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Defenseman Austin Levi (Photo credit: J. Propst)

Charlotte Checkers coach Jeff McDaniels looks on during training camp. (Photo - J. Propst)

Charlotte Checkers coach Jeff McDaniels looks on during training camp. (Photo – J. Propst)

 

Sean Dolan returns for his third season with the Checkers. (Photo - J. Propst)

Sean Dolan returns for his third season with the Checkers. (Photo – J. Propst)

 

Stefan Della Rovere joins the Checkers after a stint with the Blues organization. (Photo - J. Propst)

Stefan Della Rovere joins the Checkers after a stint with the Blues organization. (Photo – J. Propst)

 

 

The Frozen Four – Fun facts and which Charlotte Checkers have had NCAA success

I love the Frozen Four tournament.  When all of my friends are talking about “March Madness” my mind instantly goes to the Division I hockey teams hoping to make the post season.

On Thursday (while the Checkers take on the Texas Stars), the semi-finals will be underway in Pittsburgh, with St. Cloud State taking on top-ranked Quinnipiac, and UMass-Lowell will face Yale.  The final is on Saturday.

Half of the tournament is over already, and my NCAA team lost in the second round unfortunately, so I’m without a team to cheer for in the Frozen Four this weekend.

Sean Dolan captained the Wisconsin Badgers during his senior year of college.

Sean Dolan captained the Wisconsin Badgers during his senior year of college.

This year, the Frozen Four consists of three teams who’ve never made it to the Frozen Four, and a fourth team who has only made it once.   When my team gets eliminated early in the tournament, I like to cheer for the underdog, but that’s a hard choice this year, because none of the teams have a lot of post-season success.  I can’t tell you the last time the Frozen Four didn’t include one of the NCAA powerhouses such as Sean Dolan’s Wisconsin or John Muse’s Boston College.

A few fun facts about this year’s Frozen Four:

  • The mascots of the four teams include pretty regular creatures.  Two types of dogs, a cat, and a bird.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a Golden Gopher, A Fighting Sioux, or a mythical creature like a Golden Knight or Buckeye. This makes me sad.
  • Yale and Quinnipiac are located on the same street in Connecticut, only eight miles away.
  • St. Cloud State University has never been to a Frozen Four before this year, though the state of Minnesota has 20 players in the Frozen Four this year.
  • University of Massachusetts – Lowell is also making their first-ever Frozen Four appearance. They have the fewest Canadians on their team with three, and are the only team to not have a player from the state of Minnesota.
  • David Marshall as a member of the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

    David Marshall as a member of the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

    Quinnipiac has the most Canadians on their team with six.  This is their first Frozen Four, and only their second appearance in the post season.  In 2002, they lost in the first round to Cornell.  Charlotte Checkers forward David Marshall spent four years playing for the Quinnipiac Bobcats Connecticut.

  • Yale is set to make their second Frozen Four appearance in their history.  They last made it to the Frozen Four in 1952.  Former Hurricanes player Mike Commodore was recruited by Yale, but they wanted him to re-take the SAT to be accepted.  He instead chose to attend the University of North Dakota, where he won the Frozen Four tournament in 2000.

NCAA Alumni on the Charlotte Checkers

  • John Muse is one of the greatest goaltender's to ever play for Boston College.

    John Muse is one of the greatest goaltender’s to ever play for Boston College.

    John Muse is undoubtedly the most successful member of the Checkers when it comes to his NCAA experience.  He won two Frozen Fours in 2008 and 2010, and appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2011 (the year, by the way, former Checker Justin Faulk’s Duluth team won the championship).  His record in the NCAA tournament was 13-1.

  • Checkers center Jeremy Welsh spent three seasons at Union College.  Welsh played in two NCAA tournaments in 2011 and 2012.  Last year, Welsh was a member of the Union Dutchmen team that made the Division I Frozen Four for the first time in the team’s history.
  • Justin Krueger spent four years as a member of the Cornell Big Red hockey team.

    Justin Krueger spent four years as a member of the Cornell Big Red hockey team.

    Justin Krueger and Riley Nash both played college hockey at Cornell.  The mascot of Cornell is “Big Red.”  Krueger and Nash made two NCAA hockey tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010.

  • Sean Dolan was the captain of the Wisconsin Badgers during his senior season in 2010-11.  He made two NCAA tournament appearances during his college career, in 2008 and 2010.  His junior year, in 2010, his team lost to the goaltending of John Muse and Boston College for the championship.
  • Rob Madore played college hockey at the University of Vermont.

    Rob Madore played college hockey at the University of Vermont.

    Rob Madore played four seasons at the University of Vermont.  He appeared in two NCAA tournaments in 2009 and 2010.  His name is on the school’s record books alongside Tim Thomas in pretty much every stat category.

  • Matt Beca played for the Clarkson University Golden Knights for four seasons.  He appeared in two NCAA tournaments in 2007 and 2008.
  • Danny Biega, Checkers defenseman, played three years at Harvard.  The mascot of Harvard is “Crimson” which is VERY different from the “Big Red” of Cornell.  Harvard and Cornell are fierce rivals. I hope the Checkers players who skated for different shades of red in College can put aside those rivalries now that they are professionals!
  • Eric Baier played four years for the Providence Friars. During his time there, they didn’t make the post season.
  • Zac Dalpe played for the the Ohio State Buckeyes for two years before turning pro.

    Zac Dalpe played for the the Ohio State Buckeyes for two years before turning pro.

    Zac Dalpe spent two years at Ohio State. During his freshman year, his team appeared in the NCAA tournament.

  • Bobby Raymond spent four years at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  It was a Division III school his freshman year, but joined the Division I ranks his second year.  While he didn’t play in an NCAA tournament as a student, his teammates made it the year after he graduated.

Case For/Against: The Checkers Forwards

Right now, the Checkers have 24 players on their roster, not including Jeff Skinner, who is still eligible to play in Charlotte if he decides to join the team.

Of the 24, two are goaltenders and seven are defensemen.  The remaining 15 are forwards.  While there aren’t limits to the number of players an AHL team can carry on its active roster (unlike the NHL, where teams are limited to 23 players), I would find it highly unlikely for the team to have three extra forwards beyond the playing needs of 12.

With that in mind, I would expect one or two more forwards to be cut prior to the first game in Houston this weekend.  I had begun a “Case For/Case Against” that included all of the Checkers forwards, but in the interest in time, decided to only expand upon the players who are still on the fence.  Let’s be real… there are a number of forwards (eight, in my mind) who are locks to make the AHL squad so I did not write them up individually.

The “Locks” are:

Nicolas Blanchard

Drayson Bowman

Zach Boychuk

Zac Dalpe

Riley Nash

Jerome Samson

Brett Sutter

Chris Terry

So that leaves seven guys who are “on the fence” and competing for five or six spots on the final roster.  Who do you think is going to make the final cut?

Sean Dolan

The Case For:

  • Dolan is an undrafted center and a four-year veteran of the University of Wisconsin where he was captain his senior year, was signed by the Checkers last season to a PTO contract which soon led to a full contract for this season.
  • As a member of the Checkers last season, Dolan was quickly integrated into a squad that was constantly changing due to injuries and call ups, and showed he had an incredible ability to adjust his game and fit in where needed, even spending time on the top lines down the stretch.
The Case Against:

  • Experience.  With a number of forwards essentially locked into the AHL lineup, the competition to make the last spot on the squad is incredibly tough.  Even if Dolan starts the season in Florida, he  will certainly be one of the first called up when needed.

AJ Jenks

The Case For:

  • Jenks was a mid-season addition to the Checkers last year, the result of a trade that sent Jon Matsumoto to the Panthers organization.
  • Jenks, though new to the Checkers, is not a stranger to playing with other members of the team.  As a junior player in Plymouth, Jenks was teammates with Brett Bellemore, Chris Terry, Michal Jordan and a number of other current Checkers.
  • Jenks was a bit of an underachiever as a member of the Rampage last season.  He bounced between the AHL and ECHL before coming to Charlotte.  Things turned around quickly, and he finished the season in Charlotte as a valuable member of the team.
The Case Against:

  • Jenks was a bit of an underachiever as a member of the Rampage last season.  He bounced between the AHL and ECHL before coming to Charlotte.  Things turned around quickly, and he finished the season in Charlotte as a valuable member of the team.
  • Experience.  Jenks is still quite young, and though full of potential, he’s battling for a spot on the AHL squad.  With so many players who would probably have started the season in Raleigh with the Hurricanes, there is less room in Charlotte for guys who legitimately deserve to be here.

Victor Rask

The Case For:

  • Rask, a second round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2011, has already shown the offensive abilities he has after only one season in the CHL.  As a first year player with the Calgary Hitman, he had 63 points (33g, 30a).
  • Rask has the potential to be a top-six forward at the NHL level.  He’s had a great AHL training camp, and had no problem keeping up with the pace of the game at this level.  He’s a physical and exciting player to watch.
  • Rask’s draft profiles all list his stick handling and ability to protect the puck to be some of his greatest assets.
The Case Against:

  • At 19 years old, Rask is young enough to play in the CHL, and has a spot waiting for him in Calgary with the Hitman should the Hurricanes feel that is a better place for his development.  Talent wise, he can and should be playing at the AHL (or NHL) level.

Justin Soryal

The Case For:

  • Soryal, a gritty, tough-guy undrafted forward, signed a one-year deal with the Hurricanes last season, and spent the year in Charlotte as an enforcer until a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.  Upon his medical clearance, he was signed by the Checkers to a one-year AHL deal.
  • While Soryal frequently served as the team’s enforcer, he had a more well-rounded game than many in his position.  He finished the season with 10 points (4g, 6a).
  • As the only player on the roster who can be clearly defined as an “enforcer” in a league that seems to require them, Soryal has an outstanding chance at making the final AHL roster.
The Case Against:

  • As a player who is under contract with the AHL team and not the NHL Hurricanes, his chances to make the final roster are slightly less than those of the guys signed to NHL contracts, however this should not be a big concern as Soryal has a unique role as an enforcer on the team, and only he can fill it.

Jared Staal

The Case For:

  • Staal spent the offseason training with his big brothers, and it seems to have paid off.  He lost some weight, and has seemed much more physical during training camp this year.
  • Staal knows this is a make-or-break year for him.  It’s the third and final year in his entry-level contract, and  he has to make a great impression to get resigned as a RFA next summer.  This should light a fire under him (as it already appears to have) and great things could come out of one of the most talented hockey families of the modern era.
The Case Against:

  • Staal is not the strongest skater, and has had limited success at the AHL level.  He spent much of his first professional season in the ECHL, and was loaned to the Providence Bruins last season for the final month after being a healthy scratch for much of the Checkers season.
  • In less than three years as a pro, Staal has already been bounced around between NHL organizations, and has appeared on three different AHL teams plus the ECHL Everblades.

Tim Wallace

The Case For:

  • Wallace is an undrafted forward who spent four years at Notre Dame and five seasons with the Penguins organization, splitting time between the NHL and AHL teams.  Last year, he split the year between Bridgeport in the AHL and the NHL teams of the NY Islanders and Tampa Bay.  This summer,   Wallace signed with the Hurricanes as a free agent this summer.
  • Wallace is a gritty, physical player, and his pro experience will serve to be a great example to younger Checkers players.
The Case Against:

  • Wallace was expected to compete for a spot in Raleigh at the start of the season.  He is a great depth player for the Hurricanes.

Jeremy Welsh

The Case For:

  • Welsh was a highly sought-after free agent last spring.  He helped lead Union college to their first-ever NCAA Frozen Four appearance.  Welsh was never drafted, and chose to sign with Carolina following his college career (Other teams known to have been recruiting Welsh include the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks).
  • He has one game of NHL experience under his belt.
  • Welsh holds the Union College record for most goals scored in a season (27 in 2011-12).  He’s got the potential to be a great offensive player at the pro level, and his size (6’3) and hard shot make him incredibly valuable.
The Case Against:

  • His lack of pro games under his belt makes it a tougher battle, but Welsh’s immense potential should overcome this easily.