The 2017-18 season is finally here! The Checkers are in Hartford to begin the season with a matchup against the Wolf Pack, here are eight things to know before puck drop.

1. STARTING OFF

The Checkers are kicking off their eighth season in the AHL on the road, as they have each year before. Overall, they are 3-3-1 in season openers but have dropped two of their last three in regulation. The good news for Charlotte is that the two previous times they have returned to the ice after making a playoff run the year before they have earned at least a point in the standings, picking up an overtime loss to Norfolk in 2011-12 and a 3-2 win over Oklahoma City in 2013-14.

2. HEADING EAST

Tonight’s game marks the return of the Checkers to the Eastern Conference for the first time since the team’s inaugural 2010-11 season. That campaign marked not only Charlotte’s most successful regular season, but also its deepest playoff run as the team powered through to the conference final.

The Checkers’ last game against an Eastern Conference opponent came on Jan. 16, 2015 in the form of a 4-1 loss to Toronto.

3. HUNTING DOWN THE WOLF PACK

Game Information

Season Series

  • Oct. 6
    at Hartford
  • Jan. 26
    at Hartford
  • Jan. 27
    at Hartford
  • Feb. 13
    at Charlotte
  • Feb. 14
    at Charlotte
  • March 4
    at Hartford
  • March 9
    at Charlotte
  • March 10
    at Charlotte
The Checkers have faced off against the Hartford Wolf Pack four times over their history. The two teams played four times in 2010-11 when the franchise was known as the Connecticut Whale, with the Checkers picking up a pair of wins and another point via overtime loss, though the Whale earned both of their victories on home ice.

The Wolf Pack had a tough go last season, finishing in the basement of the league by a significant margin and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Losing their top three scorers from a year ago isn’t an ideal place to start, but the Wolf Pack have some interesting weapons added to their arsenal. In addition to the return of 35-point scorer Adam Tambellini, Hartford brought on veteran Joe Whitney, who chipped in 30 points in each of his last two seasons after compiling three straight 50-point seasons in Albany prior to that. That, along with intriguing rookies like junior standouts Ryan Gropp and Gabriel Fontaine, have the Wolf Pack attack looking like it could have a much bigger bite this season.

Between the pipes the Wolf Pack are opting to go with the rookie duo of Russian Alexandar Georgiev and Bowling Green product Chris Nell. The former has spent much of the last three seasons playing amongst men in Sweden’s top league, while the latter wrapped up a three-year career at Bowling Green last season and got a taste of the pro game with a four game stint in Hartford.

4. NEW BLOOD

The Checkers will lean heavily on some young faces heading into the season opener. Julien Gauthier and Warren Foegele are both slated to make their pro debuts tonight, as would Nick Schilkey should he be placed into the lineup. Nicolas Roy has dipped his toe into the pro game with a two-game stint in 2015-16 but is still looking for his first points as a pro.

He has been skating with what looks to be the odd forwards out, but if Zack Stortini hits the lineup tonight would be his Checkers debut, as would it be for the similarly slated Mike Ferrantino, who would be making his AHL debut.

5. LOOKING FOR OFFENSE

Charlotte’s offense sprung to life in the preseason as the team launched 13 goals during the two-game series in Lehigh Valley. They’ll aim to keep that ball rolling now when the games count, as the Checkers’ offensive attack ranked in the bottom half of the AHL last season in terms of goals per game.

There’s no telling what this year’s club is capable of offensively, as Charlotte is returning each of its top seven scorers from 2016-17. On the flip side, Hartford surrendered the most goals per game in the AHL last season.

6. BETWEEN THE PIPES

The coaching staff have whittled a crowded crease down to their final tandem of Alex Nedeljkovic and Jeremy Smith. The former had some struggles as a rookie last season but finished the year 5-2-1 in his last nine AHL appearances and appears to have gained a lot of confidence from the coaching staff. Smith hasn’t played in the AHL since early February of last season, but went 4-1-0 over his last five appearances with the San Antonio Rampage. He’s also coming off the high of finally making his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche.

Whoever gets the start tonight in Hartford, expect the other to man the crease on Saturday in Wilkes-Barre, as head coach Mike Vellucci expressed an interest in rotating the two netminders through before seeing who took charge of the crease.

7. ROAD REBOUND

The Checkers are starting the season on the road, a place that was not kind to them a year ago. A stark contrast to their 27-10-1 record on home ice, the Checkers went 12-19-7 while away, prompting a last minute push for the playoffs.

Hartford, on the other hand, had the fewest home victories (13) last season.

8. GET THE APP

The Checkers app got a fresh new set of paint during the offseason but functions just the same. Follow along with scoring updates as well as play the Top Line interactive game in order to win exclusive prizes.

You will also be able to listen to the radio broadcast via the app or this link. Jason Shaya’s pregame show starts 15 minutes prior to puck drop, tune in and tweet Jason to let him know you’re listening.
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.

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