Charlotte lost a pair of key forwards in Brian Gibbons and Colin Markison to injuries that head coach Ryan Warsofsky described as long term. That left the team with a bare-bones stable of 12 healthy options up front, including a PTO signee Terry Broadhurst and two players who have bounced between the AHL and ECHL in Cedric Lacroix and Jacob Pritchard.
In the three games since Markison’s injury, the Checkers have opted to go with either 11 forwards and seven defensemen or, as was the case in Saturday’s win, drawing defenseman Derek Sheppard in as a fourth-line winger.
But that doesn’t seem like the long-term plan going forward.
“We’re looking for someone to come in,” said Warsofsky. “Whether or not that’s in the next 24 hours, we’re not really sure yet.”
The hunt for reinforcements covers a wide range of players across the hockey landscape.
“We’ll talk to [Checkers VP of Hockey Ops] Derek Wilkinson and [Hurricanes VP of Hockey Ops] Paul Krepelka up in Carolina,” said Warsofsky. “Us three talk twice or three times a day. Whether it’s guys that we may have seen in the ECHL that we like or whether it’s a trade opportunity, we’re always searching for a player who can come in and help us.”
Compounding that need for bodies is some question marks in the already-thin forward corps.
“We’ve got a couple guys that are banged up,” said Warsofsky. “McCormick is out but we may see him by the weekend, we’re not sure.”
The Checkers have seen firsthand how quickly things can change when it comes to the Atlantic Division standings this year. Adding the right players to the mix could make all the difference for a squad looking to solidify its playoff position.
“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot to make a push to the playoffs,” said Warsofsky. “We have to make sure that we have a team that can compete every night. It’s up to myself, Derek and Paul to make sure we’re prepared and can put a team on the ice that the fans are proud of. We’re going to search high and low for bodies that can help us.”
INJURY UPDATEOne internal addition that could be on the horizon is Stelio Mattheos, who has been skating with the team for a while but shed the no-contact jersey at today’s practice for the first time.
“He’s probably out for the weekend but he’s a guy that is really close,” said Warsofsky. “I’d say like 10 days. He’s getting better every day, he’s getting better on the ice and we’re looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.”
On the flip side, it doesn’t appear that the Checkers will be receiving aid from Kerby Rychel anytime soon. The forward, who signed an AHL deal with Charlotte earlier this season, has been sidelined with an injury since late November.
“He’s still out long term,” said Warsofsky.
GEEKIE'S STREAKMorgan Geekie has strung together an extraordinary stretch of games over the last month. Since Jan. 8, the forward has found the scoresheet in each of Charlotte’s contests, giving him an 11-game point streak. That stands as the longest active such streak in the AHL, the fourth-longest by any AHL player this season and one shy of tying the Checkers record of 12 games set by Ryan Murphy and Greg McKegg.
“Sometimes it’s kind of hard to ignore,” said Geekie on whether his historic streak has been on his mind. “But it’s helped that I’ve been playing with some great players lately.”
Geekie was caught in a bit of a slump – as far as his standards go – prior to this run, registering eight points over a 23-game stretch.
Things have come a long way since then.
“Geeks is playing his best hockey,” said Warsofsky. “He kind of found his game from where he was at the beginning of the year.”
“I think my defensive game has grown leaps and bounds from the start of the year,” said Geekie. “That’s what I’m trying to take care of first. That’s taken care of the other end of the ice.”
That crediting of his defensive improvement for boosting his offense echoes something that Warsofsky has been saying throughout the season. Geekie is also quick to praise how his coach worked with him throughout that drought.
“He’s been right there alongside me,” said Geekie. “He’s pushing me along and giving it to me when I need it. It’s nice to have him in your corner and I can’t thank him enough for how it’s gone so far.”
RIGHTING THE SHIPAfter a run as the hottest team in the AHL, the Checkers were brought back to earth over the last few weeks.
First were back-to-back frustrating home losses to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, then came a lopsided defeat in Toronto to come out of the All-Star break. Things looked bleak for the Checkers, but they were able to rally and claim a win over the Marlies in the rematch. That not only ended Charlotte’s unfortunate skid, it gave the team some confidence as they returned to the Queen City.
“It was huge,” said Geekie. “Four is a lot worse than three. I’m glad that we came out and corrected the ship. It’s good to get back on the right foot.”
Saturday’s win saw the Checkers refuse to roll over, gutting out a win in what is notoriously a tough place to play.
“It probably wasn’t our best game of the season,” said Warsofksy. “But anytime you can find a way to win, especially in Toronto with their crowd and their skill, it’s big. We had a bunch of PKs, there were a lot of things that had our backs against the wall. We faced adversity and we showed the character of our group.”
Getting through that series and carrying some momentum into the weekend should prove beneficial for the Checkers, who are facing down an immensely important six-game home stand over the next two weeks.
“Now we come home and we can catch our breath,” said Warsofsky. “We had a great week so far of practice. It’s important that we get better, I’ve talked about it all year long.”