The Checkers will have enough players for their long trip out west, but just barely.
Just prior to beginning their cross-country flight on route to Abbotsford on Wednesday, the team recalled forward Brody Sutter from the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. Sutter, the 21-year-old cousin of Checkers captain Brett Sutter, has yet to make his AHL debut this season.
The addition gives the Checkers at least 12 healthy forwards, with David Rutherford, who practiced fully with the team on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a concussion two weeks earlier, possibly making it a lucky 13. If a sudden need had arisen in Abbotsford and the team did not have any extra players, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels likely would have been making calls to ECHL teams in California to find players available to sign professional tryout contracts on short notice.
With the parent Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh for the duration of the Checkers’ western-Canadian trip to play two games against the Heat on Friday and Saturday, the normally-convenient distance between the two clubs may never be farther. As such, despite some improvement to a dire injury situation, the Hurricanes will hang on to the likes of Riley Nash, Jeremy Welsh and Michal Jordan – all recalled within the last week – for the time being.
Sutter, who scored one goal in his first four professional games with Charlotte at the end of last season, has spent the entirety of the current campaign with Florida, scoring 16 points (8g, 8a) in 37 games. Six of those points have come in his last six games, including a career-best, three-point outing (1g, 2a) on Feb. 9.
Rutherford, a 25-year-old forward who joined the Checkers from Florida in early January, centered a line with Justin Soryal and Matt Beca during Wednesday’s practice. He had spent his first nine AHL games on the wing but can play at any forward position, as can Sutter.
Rutherford had only begun skating on his own one day earlier, but things went so well that he was able to continue.
“I went out there on my own for 30 minutes and since I didn’t have any symptoms they told me I could stay longer,” he said. “It ended up being a really long skate so I was out there for almost two hours and I felt fine.”
The timing couldn’t have worked out much better, with Abbotsford just 30 minutes from his hometown in British Columbia.
“My mom has never seen me play since I turned pro,” said Rutherford, who said he had received requests for approximately 100 tickets for family and friends. “I’m thrilled just with the opportunity to be back in the lineup, but I’ve learned that until warm-ups are over, you never really know.”
The Checkers’ flight takes off around 6 p.m. Wednesday, giving the team a full practice day on Thursday before springing into game action. That schedule is designed to give them as much time as possible to make adjustments related to their journey.
“You’re dealing with the time change and the travel, just because it takes so long to get out there,” said Daniels. “It’s a long day.”
Sutter’s recall gives the Checkers eight players who started the season in the ECHL. All of those, with the exception of center Luke Pither, were his teammates in Florida.