The latest in a series of key injuries across the Carolina organization will result in another Checker making his NHL debut.
The Hurricanes made the call for defenseman Brett Bellemore, the Checkers’ all-time leader in games played by a defenseman (209), on Wednesday. The 24-year-old, fourth-year pro is expected to replace Justin Faulk, who suffered an injury the previous night and will miss two-to-four weeks, for Thursday’s home game against New Jersey.
Much like Chris Terry before him, for Bellemore, the opportunity is a long time coming.
“Belly has worked hard over the last three or four years and is playing by far his best hockey lately,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “He gets the job done every night.”
Bellemore currently leads all Checkers defensemen with a plus-12 rating and ranks second on the team with 85 penalty minutes. He has already posted career highs in assists (11) and points (13) while tying his career high in goals (two). Additionally, he missed just one game over the last two seasons when he was a healthy extra for this season’s second game on Oct. 14.
“He’s stepped up in a leadership role and he’s stepped up in his confidence with the puck,” said Daniels. “He’s also given us a lot of toughness on the back end.”
Ongoing injuries to Joe Corvo in Carolina and to Marc-Andre Gragnani and Michal Jordan in Charlotte brought the need to add a player without prior NHL experience. Of the six healthy defensemen on Charlotte’s roster prior to Wednesday's transaction, Bellemore had played the most total AHL games (294), with Justin Krueger and Rasmus Rissanen next in line. Rookies Tommi Kivisto and Beau Schmitz, only recently brought in from ECHL Florida, round out the group of five Carolina signees, while Bobby Raymond is on an AHL contract with Charlotte.
Bellemore’s departure leaves the Checkers in the familiar position of having to add a player for their upcoming road trip through Houston (Thursday) and Texas (Saturday). With the team now dealing with 11 total injuries, any player added would be the 13th in the projected lineup that began the season in a lower league.
Of Checkers defensemen likely to play against Houston on Thursday, only two – Krueger and Rissanen – began the season with Charlotte. In addition to Gragnani and Jordan, Danny Biega, a college signee who joined the team last week, is also injured.
Defenseman Joe Sova, currently playing with the Reading Royals, is the only remaining ECHL player that is under contract with Carolina or Charlotte. Of course, the Checkers could always look elsewhere and sign yet another professional tryout contract to a player currently outside the organization.
The Checkers’ overall injury list grew by one in recent days, with Daniels saying that forward Justin Soryal, a healthy scratch for each of the last two games, will miss “a good portion of the rest of the season” to deal with a nagging injury. None of the other 10 players are expected to return this week, though Zac Dalpe, who has been cleared for contact and practiced fully with the team in the last two days, appears to be closest.