Now 23 games into their campaign, the Checkers’ identity is becoming clearer.
“We’re resilient,” said head coach Mike Vellucci. “I’ve gotten a good feel for that.”
That main takeaway comes in a few different varieties. The first is the Checkers’ ability to climb their way back into games. They have won seven games this season when trailing at either the first or second intermission, tied for the highest such total in the league. Already prolific overall, Charlotte’s offensive attack has really shined as games have worn on. The Checkers have scored 32 goals in third periods alone, the second-highest single-period total in the AHL, while their 63 goals in second and third periods lead the league, further exemplifying the team’s resiliency.
“Whether we’re down or not, we always feel like we’re in the game,” said Vellucci.
Another area which the coaching staff points to is the team’s response to losing big-name players. Among others, the Checkers have seen two of their top forwards – Lucas Wallmark and Valentin Zykov – and two of their top blue liners – Jake Chelios and Brenden Kichton – miss time due to injury, while also losing various others to call ups and minor health issues. But despite those holes, the team has been able to persevere thanks to an influx of capable players who have stepped up in the meantime.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries and replacements, so we have good depth,” said Vellucci. “A lot of guys, when they’ve been called upon they’ve done very well. Especially [Zack] Stortini, [Mike] Ferrantino and [Nick] Schilkey and all the D we’ve been rotating through. So we’re a very resilient team.”
It may only be 23 games in, but the Checkers have shown that their resiliency can be a big weapon moving forward.
#EastIsBestIt should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to last season, but the Atlantic Division has quickly become one of the most tightly contested in the AHL.
Heading into Wednesday night’s games, just four points separate the top six teams in the division. In fact, Bridgeport’s .591 winning percentage – which places them in fifth place in the Atlantic – would put them second in the North Division and third in the Central.
The highly competitive nature of the division has created a logjam near the top of the standings, meaning a single win or loss can move teams around easily.
“It’s a tough division, there’s no doubt about it,” said Vellucci. “We’ve been on the road a lot too, we still haven’t caught up with our home games yet. We will this month so hopefully that helps some.”
While the Atlantic has become one of the strongest divisions, the Eastern Conference as a whole has proven to be tough test in and of itself. Eastern teams claim four of the top six spots in the AHL league standings, while three of the league’s top five scorers hail from the conference as well.
The Checkers have held their own in their new home, however, and the coaching staff hasn’t found the need to adjust much of their playing style.
“I think the guys are older,” said Vellucci on the biggest difference between the East and West. “Some of the teams have older players. I don’t think the style is that much different. Some of the buildings are smaller and the fans are more on top of you. But it’s not that big of a difference.”
While stylistically the coaches haven’t felt the need to mix much up being in the Eastern Conference, things have gotten noticeably more physical as of late, and the Checkers have adapted.
“I think when you’re playing in the Eastern Conference it’s a little more of a hard-working game,” said defenseman Philip Samuelsson. “You definitely need to be able to step up and answer that.”
“It’s a tough league with some big boys,” said Vellucci. “Dids [Josiah Didier] has been physical in front of the net, he’s been knocking people down and he’s been tough to play against. We want team toughness. When he’s in there he brings it along with him and makes guys play the same way.”
Despite being caught up in the Atlantic’s flurry of points, the Checkers’ coaching staff isn’t too enthralled with the wins and losses just yet.
“I’m not paying attention to the standings,” said Vellucci. “Winning’s great but we’re a developmental league. I want to make sure we’re doing the right and proper things to develop our guys to get to the next level. Sometimes you’re going to put people in situations that probably aren’t the best, but it gives them an opportunity to prove what they can do and learn.”
MAKING MOVESThe Checkers made a pair of moves Wednesday, assigning Josh Wesley to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades and signing Mike Ferrantino to an AHL contract.
Wesley has spent the entirety of his season thus far in Charlotte, logging one assist and 10 penalty minutes in 17 games. The second-year pro appeared in 17 of the team’s first 19 games, when the Checkers were struggling through injuries on the blue line. But as players have reentered the lineup, Wesley has found himself one of the odd men out, serving as a healthy scratch in each of the last four games. With Jake Chelios – who was out of the yellow no-contact jersey at Wednesday’s practice – appearing to be close to returning, moving Wesley to the ECHL gives him a chance to play as opposed to being the eighth healthy defensemen on the Charlotte roster.
Ferrantino has been on a PTO with the Checkers since making the team out of training camp, notching three points (2g, 1a) in five games this season. Now with the 25-game limit approaching, the Checkers have signed the second-year forward to an AHL contract. Ferrantino signed his first AHL contract with Charlotte prior to last season, but spent the entirety of that campaign with the Everblades, where he led team rookies in scoring.