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Notebook: Checkers Get Long Break

Charlotte Checkers practice
After setting a positive tone by sweeping their first two road games in Oklahoma City, the Checkers will now have a chance to continue that momentum. In two weeks.

In a highly unusual scheduling quirk, there are 14 days between Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Barons and the home opener against the Iowa Wild on Oct. 19. It’s the longest break in the team’s four AHL seasons, surpassing time off around the holidays from Dec. 20-30, 2011.

For a team that thought it had already finished training camp, that’s more or less what the next several days will feel like.

“It’s going to be tough,” said coach Jeff Daniels of managing the time off and finding the balance between keeping players rested yet sharp. “We’ll have a little bit of everything. We’ll have some fun, take some days off and then get some work in. You hate the schedule, but it is what it is.”

Charlotte Checkers practice
It only took two days for the team to alter its routine, putting in an unusual session on Tuesday that involved pull ups on the crossbar, dragging teammates across the ice using sticks as handles and other conditioning drills more commonly seen in the weight room.

“It’s harder physically, but at the same time you’re not getting hit, so it’s a different kind of hard,” said center Brody Sutter. “It’s good to do something different just so we don’t get bored.”

Though very happy to get four out of four points to sit in first place, at least until the rest of the league surpasses Charlotte in games played this weekend, it’s also an opportunity to improve in certain areas.

“We’ll take the time to look at the video to see what we need to work on, because we’re going to have a lot of time to do it,” said Daniels. “We need to be smarter with the puck at the offensive blue line and know when to skate it in and when to chip it, because we had a lot of turnovers that way.”

Those areas aside, there certainly seemed to be more positives than negatives, given that the team jumped out to 2-0 leads in each game and has yet to trail this season.

“Our neutral zone was good, and even though we didn’t score a lot (1-for-9) I thought the puck movement on our power play was really good,” said Daniels. “We were also better in the second game than in the first.”

Some other quick hits and updates from the season’s opening weekend:

Floodgates Open

Mark Flood
After making an impression on the score sheet in the preseason (three assists in two games to tie for the team’s scoring lead), defenseman Mark Flood is the team’s surprising goal scoring leader after finding the back of the net once in each game against the Barons.

Of course, that’s not entirely surprising to Daniels, who coached Flood in Albany during the 2008-09 season.

“He likes to shoot the puck on the power play,” said Daniels of the 29-year-old defenseman, who is on the first man-advantage unit and leads the team with eight shots through two games. “He plays against the other team’s top line and we expect him to shut them down, but offense is really his asset.”

Flood also had success in his last full AHL season, racking up 40 points (11g, 29a) in 63 games with the since-relocated Manitoba Moose in 2010-11. He also scored a respectable seven points, including three goals, in 33 NHL games with the Winnipeg Jets the following season.

When I was with Geordie (Checkers assistant coach Geordie Kinnear, who runs the defense in Charlotte and also did so during Flood's previous tenure in Albany) before, he’s a defensive guy and is really good at what he does, and when I left it gave me a chance to work on other parts of my game," said Flood. "Now coming back it’s great because I’m getting some refreshers and I need that. You can always get better, and that’s what I’m trying to do."

Flood has already surpassed his goal total from all of last season, having scored just one in 52 games with the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl last season.

I was in more of a defensive role and not getting much power play time, but that’s OK," he said. "Whatever my role happens to be, I’m fine with."

The Captaincy

With Brett Sutter, who has led the team in each of the last two seasons, in the NHL with Carolina, the Checkers have yet to name a full-time replacement as team captain. Against the Barons, forwards Nicolas Blanchard and Chris Terry served as alternates just as they did last season.

Though the current break allows ample time for new developments, there’s a chance that the situation may not change before the home opener.

“I’m in no hurry,” said Daniels. “We have enough guys on this team that are leaders, even the ones that don’t wear letters.”

Sutter is one of two captains in the Checkers’ AHL history, with Bryan Rodney having filled that role during the team’s inaugural 2010-11 campaign. In previous years, the Checkers did not give the “C” to another player whenever Rodney or Sutter was out of the lineup.

If Daniels does name a full-time captain from the current roster at some point, one could assume that it would be Blanchard or Terry. However, to Daniels’ point, there are a number of experienced players despite the recent youth movement, including defensemen Flood, Matt Corrente, Michal Jordan and Rasmus Rissanen and forward Zach Boychuk. While the length of his stay in Charlotte is indefinite, center Manny Malhotra has already made an impression in the leadership department.

Roster Cuts

With a clean bill of health and the addition of Malhotra, the Checkers were able to trim two forwards from their roster on Monday. Kyle Bonis and Stefan Della Rovere, a pair of new AHL signings who were with the team but did not play on opening weekend, have joined the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.

Bonis, 24, joined the Norfolk Admirals at the conclusion of his college career last season, scoring two points (1g, 1a) in six games. He had previously found his scoring touch in his junior and senior seasons with Ferris State University, racking up 58 points (38g, 20a) in 80 games.

Della Rovere, 23, is looking to re-establish himself as an AHL player after splitting last season between Peoria and Evansville of the ECHL. A two-time member of Canadian World Junior Championship teams known for his ability to stir things up, Della Rovere has 28 points (13g, 15a) and 269 penalty minutes in 168 AHL games. He has also played seven NHL games with the St. Louis Blues, recording 11 penalty minutes.

Even after those assignments, the Checkers will still have one extra forward, with rookies Adam Brace and Brendan Woods each playing one game in Oklahoma City. They also have one more defenseman than required, having scratched Beau Schmitz for both games.

The Checkers have now assigned a total of five players to Florida, with goalie Jesse Deckert, defenseman Austin Levi and forward Kellan Tochkin also participating in Everblades’ training camp. Florida’s season opens on Oct. 18 with the first of back-to-back games against Orlando.
Paul Branecky
Author: Paul BraneckyEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Checkers' vice president of communications, Paul Branecky has been covering hockey in North Carolina since 2006, including five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.