There’s no replicating game action, but the Checkers feel as though they’ve done as well as they possibly could under some strange, strange circumstances.
A 14-day break between games, one that began after they got off to a franchise-best, 2-0-0 start with wins over Oklahoma City on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5, mercifully comes to an end when the team hosts the Iowa Wild for two games this weekend, including its home opener on Saturday.
Though the Checkers would have liked a chance to build on their early success and momentum in a more traditional sense, it seems as though much of it carried over into the nine full practice days they had in the interim.
“I’ve been extremely happy,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “This is an extremely hard-working group. It’s been a long two weeks, but they put in the work nearly every day.”
Whether it’s a byproduct of the enthusiasm that comes with a younger team, a returning group of veterans with something to prove or a mixture of the two, a consistently high effort level is something Daniels has mentioned since training camp began, making recent sessions part of a larger trend.
“For this early in a season, this is without a doubt the hardest-working group I’ve had,” said Daniels, in his fifth season as a head coach. “If you show up to work every day, you’re already going to be a step ahead.”
It’s a good thing, because no one was entirely sure what to expect during an in-season hiatus of unprecedented length.
“We had some fun early on, but since then it’s been all business,” said forward Zach Boychuk. “I think we’ve done a really good job of staying in the mindset of being focused.”
Iowa, making its first trip to Charlotte since it relocated from Houston this summer, has also only played two games. However, those came last weekend, when it split a pair of games against the same Barons club that Charlotte swept one week earlier.
Having played more recently could, in theory, make the Minnesota affiliate just a tad sharper, something the Checkers are at least a little wary of heading into Saturday’s game.
“There’s been some time off, but we’ve been doing enough game situations and battles so that we should be able to get right into it, and that’s what we want,” said Daniels. “We can’t wait and have that feeling-out process.”
“The important thing is going to be to get involved early, make a few hits and get into game shape,” said Boychuk. “(The younger players) are probably a little bit nervous for the home opener, but hopefully they can get those jitters out quickly.”
Aside from Justin Peters, recalled to Carolina earlier in the week, the Checkers should be able to use all of the same players as it did during its two wins in Oklahoma City. Lines should also be similar, with the exception of Manny Malhotra having moved up to the second line in between Chris Terry and Justin Shugg, replacing Sean Dolan.
In contrast to Charlotte, the Wild added a goalie from the NHL this week, with Darcy Kuemper coming back from Minnesota on Friday. Kuemper has played two games this season, one for Minnesota and one for Iowa, but has yet to pick up his first victory.