After finishing strong last night in a losing effort, the Checkers kept their momentum going into tonight’s rematch, stomping the Hershey Bears 6-0 with NFL quarterback Cam Newton in attendance for Carolina Football Night.

The Charlotte attack, which scored 10 unanswered goals over the last five periods against the Bears, was spearheaded by Aleksi Saarela. The Finnish forward notched his first two tallies off rocket shots from the left circle, then completed his first hat trick as a North American pro in the waning minutes of regulation to put the final nail in Hershey’s coffin.

While the Checkers kept the pressure on Hershey for most of the contest, Alex Nedeljkovic’s play between the pipes kept the Bears completely at bay. The potent Bears attack, one that hung four goals on the young netminder over one period last night, fired 20 shots on goal over the course of tonight’s contest and Nedeljkovic turned aside each one, notching his first shutout of the season and the second of his AHL career.


Coach Mike Vellucci on the difference from yesterday’s start
We were engaged mentally and physically a lot more from the start. We were ready for faceoffs, we won more draws, we had the puck more and just played a better, solid game.

Vellucci on Alex Nedeljkovic getting the shutout after he was pulled the night before
Huge bounce back. He made some huge saves early on when they could have one one or two up on us. We made some monstrous mistakes there and he made some huge saves. His mental fortitude is very good and I was confident he was going to bounce back.

Nedeljkovic on moving on from yesterday’s short outing
It’s easy. Yesterday is over with and today’s a new day. Being a professional athlete is about forgetting the past and worrying about what’s coming next.

Nedeljkovic on staying sharp when not facing a lot of shots
It’s just all mental at that point. You’ve got to make sure you’re staying in the game, because every time the puck is in your zone you never know what’s going to happen. You’ve got to be ready for anything.

Aleksi Saarela on his hat trick
We played a really good game as a line and Brownie made a couple of good passes there. It’s easy for me to shoot the puck and find the empty hole from there. On our power play we move the puck quick so it opens up a little easier for me to make that shot. I usually try to shoot up high, and it worked out today.

Saarela on the difference between yesterday and today
I don’t think we played that bad yesterday, it was just that they had five shots and five goals. That was unlucky for us, but we played a really good game from the get go today so I’m really proud of the guys.


The Checkers wore jerseys designed by NFL quarterback Cam Newton that were auctioned off after the game, raising $15,725 in the process … The Checkers improved to 8-2-0 in December … Saarela’s hat trick was the second by a Checker this season (Warren Foegele on Dec. 1). He also had a goal and an assist on Wednesday, giving him five points (4g. 1a) in two games … Nedeljkovic’s shutout was the second of his career (Feb. 8 of last season). He is now 13-3-0 on the season … Zykov leads the leage with 18 goals on the season … This was the sixth time that the Checkers scored at least six goals in a game this season. They have scored at least three in each of their last seven games … Gauthier has seven goals in his last 12 games. He had just one in his previous 13 … Tolchinsky had goals in back to-back games after sitting the previous two as a healthy extra … Forwards Mike Ferrantino and Nick Schilkey and defenseman Josiah Didier were healthy extras.


The Checkers will enjoy a bit of a break for the holidays before returning to the ice for a visit to Binghamton on Dec. 27.
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.