The Checkers got their first taste of game action this past weekend, traveling to Lehigh Valley for a pair of preseason tilts.

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While the final scores didn’t fall their way, the contests against the Phantoms had plenty for the coaching staff to draw from, specifically with those players fighting for a job.

“We played nine or 10 guys that are on American League or east coast deals,” said head coach Mike Vellucci. “We wanted to get a good look at them.”

After carrying such a big group through the first week of training camp and into the preseason, the addition of more players from the NHL over the weekend forced the team to make some tough cuts. As of Monday morning AHL-signees Zach Nastasiuk, Kyle Platzer, Patrick McCarron and Jamie Phillips were assigned to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, while Travis Howe, Akim Aliu, Joe Cox and Matt Finn were all released from their tryouts.

“It was difficult to judge anything other than their talent level,” said Vellucci about making those cuts. “Some guys impressed us, some guys who just got sent down had really good camps and probably shouldn’t have been sent down, but it’s a numbers thing.”

One point that Vellucci has hammered home throughout training camp has been that heading to the ECHL isn’t the end all be all for some of those depth players.

“What they did was prove to me that they can play in this league and if we need to call them up they’ll be good players for us,” he said. “And if they did go down they could be like [Josiah] Didier, go down for a few games and then get called up and stay here.”


The Hurricanes were handed some bad news over the weekend as netminder Scott Darling left Sunday’s preseason finale with an injury. While the final prognosis has yet to be determined, the immediate comment from Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour was that the injury was “a concern.”

How Darling’s injury ultimately shakes out could have repercussions throughout the organization and down to Charlotte.

After sending Phillips to Florida, the Checkers are currently holding a trio of goaltenders on their roster – Alex Nedeljkovic, Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig. The plan in Charlotte has been to have Nedeljkovic return as the starter with the two younger netminders battling for the number two spot. But if Darling is unable to suit up to start the season and the Hurricanes turn to Nedeljkovic as their backup option, things would change for the Checkers.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the goalie situation,” said Vellucci. “But we’ll watch this week and see who’s playing well in practice and doing what they need to and we’ll make a decision then. That’s why we have three goalies, right? And then we have Phillips who just got sent down, so we’ll make an adjustment once we find out what’s wrong with Darls.”


This second week of camp features a group of players that more closely resembles what the Checkers will look like opening night, and with the influx of top tier players to Charlotte, the younger skaters will be looked upon to take another step forward.

“I just talked to all the first-year pros – Helvig, Bean, Pu and Geekie – and told them all that they have the talent, now they need to work on the work ethic,” said Vellucci. “That practice with a purpose mentality that every time you get on the ice you’re going to improve on something.”

With more seasoned skaters on the ice, the coaching staff hopes the rookies will follow in their footsteps.

“All four of those guys need to continue to get better,” said Vellucci. “Take every drill serious, look for examples of guys who do it every day like Patrick Brown. Don’t just do the things you’re good at, work on the things you need to work on.”
Nicholas Niedzielski
Author: Nicholas NiedzielskiEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Communications Nicholas Niedzielski joined the Checkers in the summer of 2014. A Texas native, he previously worked for the AHL's Texas Stars.