Given their first chance to shine, Jeremy Welsh and the rest of the Checkers’ projected top line did not disappoint.
Welsh potted two goals and last-year’s leading scorer Chris Terry added another as Team Red took a 3-1 victory in the first red/white scrimmage of training camp. Captain Brett Sutter opened the scoring for Team White in the first period prior to Red’s rally at Extreme Ice Center on Tuesday.
For Welsh, the 24-year-old rookie in the midst of his first professional camp, the scrimmage was the first opportunity to showcase why the Carolina Hurricanes were set to give him a shot at an NHL roster spot prior to the lockout. Other than his size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), the center doesn’t necessarily possess the kind of raw skills that might set him apart in drills, but game action is a different story, particularly after seeing his partnership with Terry and Zac Dalpe.
“I’m more of a get-to-the-net guy, so I’ll just report there and try to cause a jam,” said Welsh.
That was where he scored both of this goals, the first when a Brett Bellmore shot from the point deflected through traffic and popped up to Welsh, who then batted it in out of mid-air and past Justin Peters. The second came when Terry found him on a stationary two-on-one with Dalpe in front of John Muse, with Welsh choosing to hang on to the puck and lift a backhand deke for his team’s third goal.
In between, Terry had scored the winner when he stole the puck in the neutral zone and raced in on a breakaway against Muse, scoring on a high glove-side wrist shot.
“Those guys are awesome to play with,” said Welsh of his new linemates. “They’re both really talented.”
The performance turned out to be good timing, with virtually the entire Hurricanes’ front office in attendance. Jim Rutherford, Jason Karmanos, Ron Francis, Kirk Muller and Rod Brind’Amour, among others, were all perched in a high corner during the proceedings, with most expected to return for a second scrimmage on Thursday.
That may have had something to do with what Jeff Daniels considered to be a high pace for the first scrimmage of the preseason.
“I’m sure it did,” said the Checkers coach, who watched the first two periods from up above before heading to the bench for the third period. “Everyone in this group is trying to make our team better, but if you think you can make the Carolina Hurricanes better, now’s the time to show it.”
“It’s a little more intimidating seeing Jim Rutherford and Kirk Muller up there,” said Zach Boychuk, who was held scoreless for team red despite a few good chances against Muse. “There are probably 15 guys that can be call-ups this year, and you definitely want to be that guy.”
In terms of players considered to be closer to the fringes of the team’s eventual opening-night roster, it’s likely that none did himself a bigger favor than goalie Rob Madore, who signed an AHL contract with the Checkers this past summer after finishing his collegiate career at Vermont. After relieving Dan Ellis for Team Read at the game’s midway point, Madore made several quick stops to ensure his team’s victory and his status as the only goaltender to not allow a goal.
“Rob came in and did well,” said Daniels. “He was kind of the unknown coming in, but all four (goalies) played well out there.”
Madore and Muse saw the bulk of the work as the game opened up in the second half after a conservative start on either side of Sutter’s opener about five minutes in, which was a conversion of a Jerome Samson pass from behind Ellis. Part of that may have been due to the players learning to play a system closer to what Muller, the Hurricanes’ new coach, implemented upon joining the organization last November.
“For the most part,” said Daniels when asked if he saw the kind of progress he needed to see within that framework. “We made a few small tweaks and also some pretty drastic ones, and so far we’ve seen some good things.”
With just two preseason games on the schedule in Norfolk this weekend, Daniels said these scrimmages will be an important tool in preparing his players.
“You’ve got to evaluate some guys but you also have to get the other guys that have been here into some game action,” he said. “Usually most players would have already had two or three games (in the NHL preseason) by now and we have to consider that, but we also have to be fair to the guys that are trying to make our team.”
That three of his key offensive players so far look up to the task should come as a good sign.
“This early on it’s more about just getting your timing back,” said Welsh. “I’m definitely getting more comfortable out there.”