The Checkers look to make a solid start to their season even better when they conclude a season-opening, two-game road trip tonight against the Texas Stars.
Both Charlotte and Texas are traveling into town on a winning note, with the Checkers coming off a 3-1 win in Houston, the first opening-night victory in three seasons as an AHL franchise, and the Stars riding high from a 2-1 victory in San Antonio. The game is the first of eight meetings between the new South Division rivals, with Texas claiming a 3-1-0 edge en route to finishing last in the Western Conference last season.
Though they will return to Charlotte following tonight’s game, the Checkers head out again on each of the next two weekends to continue a record-tying, nine-game road swing that takes them up to the home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena on Nov. 4.
The Checkers ended up getting off to a good start, but had to survive a tense finish in season premiere at Houston.
After Tim Wallace and Chris Terry broke a scoreless game open with goals 1:23 apart early in the third period, the Aeros began to rally back when the Checkers got in penalty trouble late. Rasmus Rissanen, Sean Dolan and Terry took consecutive penalties in the game’s final 13 minutes, with Houston defenseman Jonas Brodin, one of the Minnesota Wild’s top prospects, clawing one back during the minuscule amount of even-strength time between Charlotte infractions.
However, goalie Justin Peters and the Checkers penalty kill (perfect in six opportunities) limited the damage. Peters, who finished with 27 saves and would have had a shutout if not for a freak bounce on Brodin’s goal, earned the game’s first star and was one of a handful of would-be NHL players to leave their mark on the contest. Wallace, an offseason signing who also scored the team’s first goal of the preseason, and Justin Faulk (two assists and a game-high seven shots on goal), also had an excellent chance of being Carolina Hurricanes if not for the NHL’s work stoppage.
Despite getting into penalty trouble at the worst possible time, the Checkers allowed just five shots in the third period against a team with a host of top offensive prospects, including top rookie Mikael Granlund, who had four goals in his last preseason game but was pointless on four shots Saturday.
Despite Peters’ performance, the Checkers could turn to NHL veteran Dan Ellis in goal, with coach Jeff Daniels saying earlier in the week that both of his goalies were likely to play. Forward Zac Dalpe is questionable with an illness that caused him to miss Saturday’s opener.
Forwards A.J. Jenks and Justin Soryal and defenseman Justin Krueger all await their season debuts after sitting out Saturday’s game as healthy scratches.
The Stars, AHL affiliates of the NHL club with the same name, jumped out to a 2-0, first-period lead in San Antonio thanks to goals by captain Maxime Fortunus and NHL veteran Toby Petersen. They then survived a late scare of their own, with the Rampage’s Drew Shore spoiling Christopher Nilstorp’s (18 saves) shutout bid on a power play with 57 seconds remaining.
The score may have been more lopsided if not for the play of experienced netminder Dov-Grumet Morris, who kept San Antonio in the game despite his team being out-shot 34-19 by the Stars. Tomas Vincour, who played 47 NHL games with Dallas last season, led the way with nine shots on goal.
In a slightly different twist on the infusion of talent going on around the AHL, the Stars have added as much experience as they have up-and-coming talent due to the NHL lockout. Petersen has just under 400 games of NHL experience with the Stars, having been a full-time player in Dallas for the last four seasons in a checking role, though he was a productive scorer in his last full AHL season in 2007-08. He’s joined by defenseman Cam Barker, the third overall pick in 2004 who has nearly 300 games of NHL experience with Chicago, Minnesota and Edmonton, who joined the team on a tryout contract during camp.
That isn’t to say the Stars don’t have top prospects, as they’ll have two recent first-round picks in their lineup. The first is goalie Jack Campbell, the 11th overall pick in 2010, and the second is defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, the 14th overall pick in 2011. Both rookies, Campbell is one of the highest-drafted goalies to come along in recent years, while Oleksiak (6-foot-7, 254 pounds) is undoubtedly the biggest.
The Stars also return their top six scorers from last season, including Travis Morin (66 points) and Matt Fraser (35 goals). Forward Cody Eakin, acquired in an offseason trade involving Mike Riberio, had been known to give the Checkers fits while a member of the Hershey Bears.
Prior to their opening-night win, the Stars enjoyed a perfect 3-0-0 record in the preseason.
Of the 24 players on the Checkers' opening-night roster, four players (forwards Victor Rask, Tim Wallace and Jeremy Welsh and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani) made their Checkers debuts on Saturday night, with that game being the AHL debuts for Rask and Welsh. Goalie Dan Ellis’ next appearance would be his first for the Checkers and first in the AHL since May 12, 2007.
On Saturday, the Checkers won their regular-season opener for the first time in three AHL seasons by topping Houston 3-1. Previously, they had fallen 4-2 at Connecticut in their inaugural AHL contest on Oct. 9, 2010, before losing a 6-5 overtime decision in Norfolk on Oct. 7, 2011. All three season premieres came on the road.
Continuing with tonight’s game in Texas, each of the Checkers' first four games this season mark the opposing team’s home opener. That continues next week, when Charlotte visits Milwaukee (Friday) and Rockford (Saturday). The Checkers' home opener on Nov. 4 is the latest of any AHL team, with the next-latest coming two weeks earlier on Oct. 20 when Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Worcester all play at home for the first time.
The Checkers begin the 2012-13 campaign with a nine-game road swing that ties a team record set in October and November of last season, with Saturday’s win in Houston ensuring a 1-0-0 star. They finished that trip with a record of 5-4-0 en route to a 20-13-5 record for the entire season.
(All streaks include games from last season)
- (G) Justin Peters has started each of the last five games (April 10-Oct. 13; 4-1-0)
- (LW) Tim Wallace has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 3-Oct. 13; 1g, 2a)
- (RW) Jerome Samson has goals and points in each of his last two games (April 15-Oct. 13; 2g)
- (LW) Drayson Bowman has assists and points in each of his last two games (April 15-Oct. 13; 2a)
- (RW) Zac Dalpe – missed one game due to illness (Oct. 13)