At the 24-game mark, the Checkers are honing their game in an effort to climb back up the standings. And while they’re putting in plenty of work on the ice, that’s only half the battle. The other half comes in the locker room.
“It’s important that our leaders step up,” said head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “They know what it takes when you go through a bit of a rut and your backs are against the wall. They know how to dig yourself out of it.”
While the coaching staff continues to harp on key areas of improvement, sometimes it helps to have familiar voices in the room hammering those ideas home as well.
“We just want them preaching what we’re saying as coaches, making sure the message is coming from both angles,” said Warsofsky. “We’re all part of it.”
One aspect in which this Checkers team varies from previous iterations is that the roster skews a bit older and more seasoned. Having that experience in their corner can be a big benefit as the team navigates the challenges of a full AHL season.
“There’s a lot of guys who have played in the American Hockey League, there’s a lot of guys who have played in the National Hockey League,” said Warsofsky. “With that experience it comes down to understanding that we have to bring this group together and play the right way.”
At the helm of that leadership group is Roland McKeown, selected as team captain prior to the start of the season. While it’s his first year wearing the C on his chest, he has plenty of influences to draw from.
“I’ve been a captain before, so I’m leaning on a lot of that experience,” said McKeown. “And then as you go through the pro ranks you pick up on some things that other guys do.”
At the end of the day, though, McKeown is forging his own path as Charlotte’s leader.
“You don’t want to try to be someone else,” he said. “Leadership is a personal thing, it’s how you do it. It can’t be forced, you have to be yourself and I think that’s what I’m doing.”
While there have certainly been challenges early on this season, the leadership group isn’t ready to roll over.
“We’re hanging around and fighting,” said McKeown. “We just have to stick with it and trust the process. We got through for the first 20 games or so and now we’re getting into the meat of the season. We really have to turn it on now.”
The coaching staff will continue to lean on those voices in the room, confident things can turn around.
“We believe we have the character in the room to do that,” said Warsofsky. “We just have to approach every day trying to get a little bit better and understand that the way we have to play can’t vary in any way.”