Charlotte Checkers vs. Iowa Wild
The Checkers have been cognizant of the fact that scoring goals may not come as easily as in years past. That was at least true of their home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Chris Terry finally broke through Iowa goalie Johan Gustafsson with a blast from the right circle with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, but it wasn’t enough to defeat the visiting Iowa Wild in a 3-1 loss on Saturday. Gustafsson, a 21-year-old playing just his second-ever AHL game, made 33 saves to drop Charlotte’s all-time record in home openers to 2-2-0.

At the other end, Mike Murphy stopped 24 of 27 as Charlotte, playing for the first time since Oct. 5, fell to 2-1-0 on the season.

After scoring three goals in each of their first two games, road wins over the Oklahoma City Barons, the Checkers had trouble generating consistent pressure but also saw several of their best attempts blocked by Wild players.

“We didn’t score enough, but I thought the effort was there,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “You also have to give them credit. They played a real solid road game, not giving up a lot of shots and limiting those opportunities.”

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Gustafsson, a sixth-round draft pick in the Minnesota system who spent the last two seasons in his native Sweden, did make saves when needed, particularly when Nicolas Blanchard intercepted an ill-advised clearing attempt in the Iowa zone and got a quick scoring chance in the second period.

However, in a few cases, most notably when Zach Boychuk and Aaron Palushaj, two of the team’s top offensive threats, came up without a shot in a third-period, two-on-one break, the Checkers were more upset with themselves.

“There were a couple of times where guys could have shot, especially that two-on-one,” said Boychuk. "We had our chances, we just weren't getting to the net for those rebounds and bearing down."

Though some high scorers like Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash, Jerome Samson and Brett Sutter that the team has had in recent years have moved on, some of the Checkers’ most skilled players still had their chances. Rookie center Victor Rask had a few good looks from in close that Gustafsson saved, while Terry and Palushaj were guilty of missing the net in the third period.

“I think (struggling to score) was more on us,” said Terry, who also scored the Checkers’ first road goal of the season on Oct. 4.

The Checkers also finished 0-for-4 on the power play, giving them just one goal in 13 chances for the season.

“We’ve got a lot of new guys on the team, though Terry and myself are still there on the half wall and (Mark) Flood has been good for us,” said Boychuk of what he described as the team’s “hot and cold” power play. “Teams have also been doing some homework on us and are prepared for some things we do on breakouts, so we may have to make a few adjustments there.”

Iowa, which scored just three total goals in its first two games of the season, was much more opportunistic with its chances, having received the lead it would never relinquish on a first-period power play when Tyler Graovac perfectly tipped a shot from the point down through Murphy’s legs.

The contrast of fortunes between the two clubs was at its sharpest early in the third period the Checkers came up empty on a few good chances during a strong start only to see the Wild go up 2-0 when Taylor Matson came down the left wing and tucked one just inside the far post.

Terry, who has led the Checkers in scoring for each of the past two seasons, seemed as though he may have given the team the confidence it needed when he teed up a pass from Justin Shugg and rifled a shot into the upper corner of the net well before Gustafsson could slide over.

“The fans were just waiting for something to cheer about,” said Terry, whose two goals are tied with Flood for the team lead. “When I came back to the bench the boys were fired up and were all positive through everything. It gave the guys hope that he was beatable and we could score.”

The comeback attempt would be relatively short-lived, however, as Zack Phillips, a 2011 first-round draft choice, out-waited a sprawling Checkers defender and fired a shot past Murphy for the insurance goal with just under three minutes remaining.

A positive for the Checkers is that the wait until their next game, a Sunday afternoon rematch with the Wild, will be much, much shorter than the franchise-record, 14-day hiatus they just endured.

“I think everyone was fired up to play and the intro was great, but there might have been some rust,” said Terry, citing what he called a slow start to the game.

With that potentially knocked off, the Checkers could have an easier time accomplishing the all-important feat that they were unable to on Saturday.

“Score more goals,” said Daniels.


The Checkers had won each of their last two home openers prior to Saturday … Manny Malhotra, one of the top face-off men in the NHL during his 800-plus game career in that league, won 14 of 22 draws … Center Victor Rask and defenseman Michal Jordan led the Checkers with four shots apiece … Forward Adam Brace and defenseman Beau Schmitz were healthy scratches for Charlotte … Fans named Terry the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.

North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars

1. Tyler Graovac
2. Johan Gustafsson
3. Zack Phillips
Paul Branecky
Author: Paul BraneckyEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Checkers' vice president of communications, Paul Branecky has been covering hockey in North Carolina since 2006, including five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.

June 2018
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