Most of the Checkers’ top scorers from the first half of the season are in the NHL right now. A notable exception is doing everything he can to soften that blow.
Forward Chris Terry has not only kept up his normal scoring pace since the end of the NHL lockout caused the departure of his most talented teammates. With 12 points in 11 games since Jan. 6, including back-to-back, two-point games last weekend, he’s exceeded it.
As perhaps the only forward on the Checkers’ current roster that’s proven capable of scoring at an elite level in the AHL (another, Jerome Samson, has missed every post-lockout game due to injury), there’s no question that the spotlight is shining brighter on Terry these days. Not that it’s affected his approach.
“There’s not a big difference,” he said. “Obviously we lost a lot of guys and with that comes more opportunity, but I’ve just been going out and trying to play my game. Those guys were our top scorers, but I don’t feel any more personal pressure.”
Terry, a 23-year-old, fourth-year pro, recently led a pair of comeback attempts against the Abbotsford Heat, the AHL’s best defensive team. His two goals on Friday brought the Checkers to within inches of erasing a 4-1 deficit in an eventual 4-3 loss, while his two assists on Saturday, one of which was his 200th professional point, helped them cancel out two early goals in a 5-4 win.
For a team that took a few games to hit its stride when the lockout ended – it took less than 20 shots on goal three times in its next four games, the only time it’s done so all season – that kind of firepower had been sorely needed.
“It’s been huge,” said coach Jeff Daniels of Terry, the Checkers’ all-time leader in just about every offensive statistic one can measure. “Obviously we lost a lot of those players, and he’s been one of those guys who’s stepped up.”
If the question of why Terry didn’t even receive an invite to Carolina’s training camp hadn’t already been raised, his current stretch seems to have done the trick. One of his goals, a one-time blast from the right circle on Friday that found the smallest bit of daylight inside the top corner
, was one that any of his promoted teammates – or any other NHL player, for that matter – would have been proud of.
“I work on my shot a lot, and it’s one of my big assets,” said Terry. “When you’re in a stretch like this, you just try to get as many as you can on net and things like that will happen for you.”
The disappointment of not getting an opportunity at Carolina’s camp (aside from Samson and Marc-Andre Gragnani, both injured at the time, he was the only one of Charlotte’s top 12 scorers not to go) was nothing new for Terry, who has yet to make his NHL debut. Rather than get fed up with the reality of being passed over on so many occasions due the organization’s depth at the forward position, he’s continued to stay patient.
“Chris is very professional and he understands what he needs to do,” said Daniels. “It’s a process and it hasn’t been his time yet.”
“Every guy wants to be invited and that was hard, but it’s no different than in years past when you come down after training camp in September,” said Terry. “You come down with the mindset that you have to do more to get back there, and if anything it fires you up a little bit. I still have my whole career here, and there’s only so much I can control.”
Within that realm is his consistency, as he's followed up a hot month with a cold one in the early going. However, Daniels was quick to point out that the occasional droughts, including an 11-game game stretch in early December that produced just one point, have plenty to do with back luck and tend not to have adverse effects on the rest of his game.
“He was just snakebit,” said Daniels, who has coached Terry for all four of his professional seasons. “When you’re an offensive guy you get frustrated when shots aren’t going in or you make a great pass that ends up not being a goal.”
“I’ve gone through enough stretches in my pro career that I know just to stick with it,” said Terry.
Any tweaks beyond that would be to his all-around game, which he gets a chance to do on a nightly basis as one of a small group of players who sees extensive time at even strength, on the power play and the penalty kill.
“They’ve always been honest with me about what I need to do,” said Terry of the Hurricanes. “They want me to be a strong player in all three zones - they tell me they know I can score. I’ll continue to work on my conditioning, and I’m always willing to listen if they see something else I should be working on.”
If and when Terry does get his first trip to the NHL – something he is believed to have come close to on one or two different occasions last season – it will be a fitting reward not only for his on-ice accomplishments but also for his persistence.
“There will always be disappointment, but it’s how you react,” said Daniels. “I wouldn’t change anything about his approach to the game.”