Springing into game action after two weeks off – the longest break in team history – ended up being as challenging as initially feared when that reality first appeared on the schedule. That it happened so early in the season, before the team really had a chance to come together, only made things more difficult.
The team wasn’t using the scheduling as an excuse for a pair of home losses against the Iowa Wild, including a 7-2 defeat on Sunday, but it’s certainly glad to be moving on.
“We’re going to play, and I think it’s going to be huge for us just to get in that rhythm and get more video,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Games show you what your weaknesses are, and we’ll have a chance to see what we’re all about.”
“As an athlete, being in a routine is a good thing,” said defenseman Mark Flood, whose third goal of the season on Sunday tied him with Chris Terry for the team lead. “Not having another long layoff is the best thing for us.”
Though not nearly as strange as how the season began, calling the next two weeks “routine” may still be a bit of a stretch. The team departs Thursday for a nine-day, six-game road trip that will mark the longest in its history in terms of consecutive days away from home. That kicks off with three games in three nights in three different cities this weekend and includes plenty of backtracking, as the team will twice have to make the four-hour, overnight bus ride from Grand Rapids to Rockford rather than the much more convenient alternative knocking out two games in the same city on consecutive nights.
After chasing their own tail through the Midwest for a week, the Checkers then head down to play a single game in San Antonio, their third in four nights, just for good measure.
Despite all that, Daniels said that he was looking forward to the trip as a way to better measure his team’s capabilities and character.
“We play some of the best teams in the league in a short amount of time,” said Daniels, referring especially to Grand Rapids, the reigning Calder Cup champion. “It will be a really good test.
“(Last weekend) was disappointing, but I think we have a good leadership group and a lot of character guys.”
With some solid special teams play the only positive to emerge from an otherwise forgettable weekend, the Checkers are already preparing to put their best foot forward during the upcoming stretch.
“We’ve got to have a good week of practice and I think we have to be on the same page a bit more,” said Flood, who, at 29 years of age, is the second-most-experienced player on the team behind Manny Malhotra. “It’s not like we’re not trying, we all want to win. It’s just a matter of putting it together for 60 minutes and gelling as a team.”
Spirits remained relatively high at Monday afternoon’s practice, just one day after the lopsided defeat to the Wild, though most admitted that the overall mentality has changed from when the Checkers had a prolonged period of time to enjoy their perfect 2-0-0 start in Oklahoma City.
“It probably wasn’t ideal for us,” said Flood. “We were feeling good about ourselves for two weeks, and then you have a weekend like that.”
It looked as though the Checkers could be without Brendan Woods for at least part of their road trip as the rookie forward suffered an injury when Iowa’s Raphael Bussieres hit him from behind on Sunday. However, Daniels said that Woods, who left the game after the incident that occurred late in the third period, was feeling good despite missing Monday’s practice and hoped to resume skating later in the week.
In Woods’ stead, fellow first-year forward Adam Brace, the only extra forward on the team’s roster who had sat out each of the last three games, was skating on the team’s fourth line alongside Matt Marquardt and Brody Sutter on Monday. The team’s first line, which had remained unchanged heading into Sunday’s game, also had a new look with Justin Shugg manning the right wing with Victor Rask and Zach Boychuk, switching places with Aaron Palushaj. The Checkers' full lines as of Monday can be found here.