Aside from the obvious goal of getting the win, with the lockout over, the Checkers wanted to make an impression during their first-ever game in Raleigh.
As it turned out, they were able to accomplish both.
Zac Dalpe, Chris Terry and Jerome Samson scored goals, Tim Wallace had two assists and Dan Ellis turned in a strong performance in goal as the Checkers defeated Norfolk by a 3-1 score in front of a capacity crowd of 10,256 fans at PNC Arena, home of the parent Carolina Hurricanes. The win was the second in a row for the Checkers, who broke a four-game winless streak on Friday, and the second in as many meetings with Norfolk.
With news that the NHL’s labor stoppage had ended earlier in the day and that training camps were set to start in a matter of days, the game had the elevated importance of being the last chance to impress before decisions were made.
The effect on the game’s pace was obvious right from the start.
“Guys had a little extra jump in their step,” said Ellis, who finished with 28 saves to earn his first win since Dec. 14.
“The guys wanted to make a good impression early, and it was just a matter of keeping it up for a full 60 minutes,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “I thought we did that.”
With all eyes on them – not that Hurricanes management and coaches hadn’t been paying more attention than usual throughout the lockout – the usual band of top prospects on the Checkers did nothing to hurt their chances. In fact, the likes of Dalpe and Zach Boychuk, familiar names to Hurricanes fans, were among the game’s standout players.
Dalpe’s shorthanded goal in the second period drew first blood for the Checkers, who trailed 1-0 after giving up a power-play goal in the first. With Bobby Sanguinetti in the box for hooking, Dalpe beat a Norfolk defender at the blue line, raced in on a two-on-one break with Wallace and beat goalie Frederik Andersen, a former Hurricanes prospect, between the legs.
“I’d be lying if I said I was trying to go five-hole,” admitted Dalpe, who finished with a game-high, plus-3 rating. “I was trying to go wide but I think it went off their defenseman’s leg.”
For Daniels, the goal was just reward for a strong start that saw the Checkers pepper Andersen with a handful of scoring chances, most of which came off the stick of Boychuk.
“I was just telling them to stick with it, because I could tell the building was ready to get rocking,” said Daniels.
“We just kept pushing and pushing, and once Dalps got that shorthanded goal we just went from there,” said Faulk.
The goal was the Checkers’ fifth shorthanded goal of the season and second in as many games.
Terry, who had four assists in his previous three games coming in, scored the eventual winner early in the third period when he corralled a puck that had been knocked loose by Wallace behind the Norfolk net, brought it to the front and out-waited a sprawled Andersen for his 10th of the season. Samson then iced the game with 2:44 remaining when he one-timed a perfect pass from Dalpe as the center-turned-winger began to curl behind the net.
Prior to those goals, the Checkers had faced a deficit when captain Brett Sutter earned a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding less than five minutes into the first period. Norfolk’s Patrick Maroon tipped in a Kyle Palmieri shot past Ellis just over a minute into the power play, but the Checkers were able to kill the remainder without allowing any additional grade-A chances.
Ellis would hold the fort for the rest of the way, increasing his odds of making it back to the NHL after playing the first part of the season on a tryout contract with Charlotte.
“It was important for me to come back from the injury,” said Ellis, who missed the second half of the Anaheim Ducks’ recent season with a groin problem. “It’s been a good start to the year, and I’m happy that Charlotte gave me the chance.”
The Checkers will now wait to see who gets the call to Carolina’s training camp, which could reportedly start as soon as Wednesday. Following the game, Daniels said that he had not yet received definitive word on which players he would lose and for how long, aside from the obvious in Faulk, who will get a chance to build on his outstanding rookie season with the Hurricanes.
“It’s still all up in the air, to be honest,” said Daniels. “They’re still waiting to see how it all plays out and decide what kind of camp they want to have.”
No matter what happens, Sunday’s game was a fitting sendoff for those who may have played their last game in a Checkers sweater and an exciting beginning to the long-awaited hockey season in Raleigh.
“You could see the passion they have here, and it was great,” said forward Jeremy Welsh.
“To play a game after the lockout news in an NHL building with NHL fans is a great start,” said Ellis.
The Checkers now have a four-point lead in the standings for the GEICO Challenge Cup, which is awarded to the team with the most points in the eight-game season series between Charlotte and Norfolk … Ellis is now 2-0-0 against Norfolk, which is the top affiliate of his former team in Anaheim … Terry extended his point streak to four games (1g, 4a) … Dalpe is the Checkers’ all-time leader with five shorthanded goals … Norfolk, which was playing for the third time in three days, is now winless in its last four games … Forwards Nicolas Blanchard and Justin Soryal and defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani and Rasmus Rissanen missed the game due to injury … Defenseman Tommi Kivisto was a healthy scratch.