The Checkers are currently going through their second major roster upheaval of the season. They can only hope it goes as smoothly as their first.
In mid-January, it was the end of the NHL lockout that caused a major wave of comings and goings as many of the team’s top players joined the Carolina Hurricanes, some for a few days and others for good. One month later, it’s injuries to the parent club that have the Checkers scrambling to replace players on the fly, with recent recalls of Michal Jordan, Riley Nash and Jeremy Welsh bringing the total number Hurricanes who started the season in Charlotte up to eight.
As he watched the Hurricanes take on Montreal on Monday, at one point icing a five-man unit of Nash, Drayson Bowman and Tim Wallace at forward and Jordan and Bobby Sanguinetti on defense, one could forgive coach Jeff Daniels for feeling as though he was looking in the mirror.
“We’re here to develop and get guys to the next level,” he said. “It’s fun to see those guys up top,”
As was the case when seven players suddenly departed for impromptu NHL training camps on Jan. 12, the Checkers don’t plan to make significant adjustments to the way they go about their business despite their depleted roster. That worked out OK last time, as the team won four out of its next five games, continuing one of most successful months in team history.
“We haven’t changed our mindset and we’ll play the same way,” said captain Brett Sutter. “Whenever guys come in we do whatever we can to make them comfortable.”
It’s not as though the Checkers’ roster has been picked entirely clean, with three of the team’s top four scorers, Chris Terry, Zac Dalpe and Sutter, still in the fold for the time being and continuing to produce at a high level. There’s also experience on defense, highlighted by an offensively reenergized Marc-Andre Gragnani (four assists in his last three games) and All-Star Justin Peters in goal.
“We’ll continue to make do with what we have,” said Daniels.
More turnover may be on the way as the Checkers prepare to continue a six-game road swing with back-to-back games in Abbotsford on Friday and Saturday. No Hurricanes player who missed Monday’s game is a lock to play their next game Thursday
, with Wallace the latest player to miss practice time.
Meanwhile, the Checkers may already be one player short of a full lineup depending on the status of David Rutherford, who practiced with the team on Tuesday for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury two weeks earlier.
“I wouldn’t say we’re close (on injuries),” said Daniels, who also has forwards A.J. Jenks and Jerome Samson on the shelf. “We’ve got one guy back out there in Rutherford, but we’ve got two more that aren’t even skating and will be a while longer.”
Daniels said that the Checkers are in wait-and-see mode for the time being, though it would certainly be easier to have a lineup intact as the team makes the long trek to western Canada on Wednesday. Getting reinforcements, whether they come from up the road in Raleigh or from the team’s ECHL affiliate in Florida, would be more difficult, though not impossible, thereafter.
If another player does join Charlotte from the ECHL, he would be the ninth player on the roster who started the season at that level, which is more or less in line from what the team went through at the height of the transition period caused by the NHL’s return – a situation they dealt with just fine.
“It’s always the same message,” said Daniels. “It’s about being consistent night in and night out, and I feel like we’re getting there now.”