The Checkers’ 2011-12 training camp is ‘built’ by Timberstone Homes
It remains to be seen exactly how the playing time will shake out, but either way, the Checkers enter the season more than confident in their goaltending.
The team returns 22-year-old Mike Murphy, who entered last season in a time share with Justin Pogge but won the No. 1 job in the end, backstopping Charlotte’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals. If that wasn’t enough, they’ve also added 25-year-old Justin Peters, an AHL All-Star in 2010 who spent all of last season backing up Cam Ward with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
That leaves coach Jeff Daniels with a bit of a dilemma on who to start on a given night - one that could very well last all season.
“There may be a situation where we get into a rhythm with one guy and he gets a good run of starts, but they’re both going to play,” he said. “We have two No. 1 goalies, and I’m sure they’re going to push each other and get a competition going.”
For Murphy, that’s nothing new. The third-year pro played 39 games last season – a number that would have been slightly higher if not for an injury down the stretch but still computes to about half of the team’s contests. For the season, his 2.53 goals-against average and .919 save percentage were superior to the elder Pogge’s statistics, but the two shared starts right up until the postseason.
“This is kind of the same scenario in that Justin Peters is an older, more mature goalie and I’m going to have to battle for my ice time,” said Murphy. “I do feel like I took a really big step forward last year, and the one thing I don’t want to do is take a step back.”
In recent years, Peters, now entering his sixth professional season, hasn’t found himself in the same kind of fight. When he last worked with Murphy two years ago with the AHL’s Albany River Rats, he was the clear No. 1, playing 56 games. He saw the other side of the coin in the NHL last season, when he made just 12 appearances behind an NHL All-Star in Ward.
Expected to see an appearance total somewhere in between those two marks this season, Peters said his mentality hasn’t changed.
“It’s the same as it is every year,” he said. “I was preparing all summer to play, even though I didn’t know where that was going to be.”
Despite coming off completely different seasons, both Murphy and Peters feel that they’ve improved and have confidence heading into the new campaign. For Murphy, that’s due to having won a similar competition last season over Pogge, who is now with the Phoenix Coyotes’ organization, and steady technical improvements gained by working with former NHL goaltender and current Hurricanes assistant coach Tom Barrasso.
“My first year when the puck went in, I’d start thinking about what Tommy was going to say about the tape,” said Murphy, who entered his pro career as a highly successful yet unorthodox junior goaltender. “Now, I pretty much know.”
Though he faced long spells on the sidelines last season, Peters claims similar benefits.
“In the goalie position, a lot of the game is up in your head,” he said. “I feel like having that experience to fall back on can only help my confidence and help me become a better goalie. I look at it like I’ve got more NHL experience than I’ve ever had.”
Though the two could be neck and neck all season, it doesn’t seem as though that will be a distraction that would affect their performance in any way, which is the last thing anyone wants.
“It’s a tough situation for them, but it’s no different than the other positions,” said Daniels, who is currently carrying two extra forwards at training camp. “I think that competition can help, but I don’t want it to be where they’re not talking to each other.”
Asked if that was a possibility given the fact that they’ll be neck and neck all season, both simply laughed it off.
“I’ve been lucky the past few years to play with Peters and Pogge, because we’ve all been really close off the ice but understand that we’re competing for games,” said Murphy. “If they’re in the net I cheer for them and if I’m in the net they cheer for me, because we know that we can only worry about things that we can control.”
The two each played well while splitting the Checkers’ two preseason games. Murphy posted a 23-save shutout in the first leg of the team’s series with Lake Erie, while Peters made 26, conceding the only goal against of the weekend. Those performances could foreshadow the rest of the season in that the two goalies shared time equally and didn’t do anything to make the situation easier on Daniels.
Still, if the results, both wins, are a further sign of things to come, he probably won’t mind.
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