Coach Jeff Daniels said that the Checkers still have some fine-tuning to do between now and the start of the regular season, but for the time being, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Thanks to a goal by Justin Soryal with three minutes remaining and two tallies from rookie Justin Shugg, Charlotte ensured a sweep of their preseason series against Lake Erie with a 3-1 victory at Extreme Ice Center on Saturday. Justin Peters earned the win in goal, making 26 saves as the Checkers prevailed for the second time in less than 24 hours.
The game represented the final chance for some fringe players at camp to make an impression, with Daniels saying that the game didn’t greatly sway his opinion in either direction.
“I’ve got nothing negative to say about anyone,” he said. “Overall we played OK.
“I think the first five minutes were great, but then you give up a two-on-one and you’re down a goal,” added Daniels, describing how his team fell into an early 1-0 hole. “Some of the guys looked tired towards the end, which you expect with the short turnaround.”
With most of the expected opening night roster already in Charlotte, with the possible exception of Drayson Bowman, Justin Faulk and Riley Nash, who are still with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, the Checkers are expected to announce cuts either later in the day on Saturday or sometime on Sunday.
One player who made his case in the two-game set was Shugg, who led the team in scoring with three points over the course of the two games. He also set up Matt Pistilli for a power-play goal on Friday in addition to his game-tying and empty-net goals on Saturday.
Even with the continuation of the scoring pace that saw him net 41 goals during his final junior hockey campaign last season, Shugg, who deposited a loose puck in the second period, admitted that he was still very much in the learning process.
“I think the biggest thing for me is learning the systems that we’re playing and where to be on the ice in all three zones,” said the 19-year-old Ontario Hockey League product. “Some of the things I was taught in junior, it’s the complete opposite here. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take me to break those habits, but I’m going to continue to work hard and get better as a player.”
“He has some things to learn, but when the puck is on his stick he knows what to do with it, as he showed tonight,” said Daniels.
Soryal, signed in the offseason to provide an element of toughness to the Checkers’ lineup, did just that over the two-game set. After a spirited fight on Friday, he left the game and did not return. However, not only did he play Saturday, he got into another altercation in the second period that saw him rack up 12 penalty minutes.
“It’s the way I like to play,” he said. “It was a rough and tumble affair.”
Though the physical play may have been expected from a player who posted 220 penalty minutes with the Connecticut Whale last season, his game-winning tally came as more of a surprise. In 79 contests last season, the 6-foot-3, 211-pound forward scored just three goals.
Daniels said that the goal was a good start from Soryal, who will be counted upon to make an all-around contribution.
“I like to play four lines, and he’s going to have to play,” he said.
Peters, who is expected to compete with Mike Murphy for playing time all season, was strong in response to the latter’s shutout effort from one night earlier. Daniels, who has said he considers both to be No. 1 goaltenders, expects that to continue.
“No matter who we’ve got in net, we’re confident,” he said.
Having concluded their preseason schedule, the Checkers will continue training camp practices throughout the week at Extreme Ice Center ahead of the Oct. 7 regular-season opener in Norfolk. They return to Charlotte for their home opener against Peoria on Oct. 15.