As home-heavy as the Checkers’ schedule has been thus far, it won’t take long for the tide to turn.
On Thursday, the team will depart for a season-long nine game road swing that won’t see it play another game at Time Warner Cable Arena until Nov. 18. The trip features three separate three-in-three sets that will take the Checkers on two trips through Oklahoma and Texas and one through the Midwest.
For a team that hasn’t been on the road since the season’s opening weekend, it will present quite a change, particularly for a new member of the Western Conference that will be visiting all six locations for the first time.
“It will be new for us,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, whose team went 0-1-1 in Norfolk on Oct. 7-8 before playing five straight at home. “It’s a whole different travel situation, new teams, new places and new rinks.”
The Checkers quite nearly made the most of their just-completed home stand, picking up four wins. While they won’t argue with the final result, the team did experience some ups and downs along the way, with two of those victories coming by way of shootout after the team had allowed their opponent to come from behind.
There’s also the nature of their lone loss to Houston on Friday. Being up two goals in the third period only to allow the winner with four seconds remaining is about as heartbreaking as it gets.
“From a character standpoint the way we responded the next two nights was good, but I still think we have another level to get to as a team,” said Daniels.
After a flurry of roster turnover, there’s still the matter of who will make up said team. Having carried two extra skaters to start the season, the Checkers are now one short following Zach Boychuk’s recall to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. In addition to making sure he can dress 20 players, Daniels said that he would like to carry extras with him on the road, making as many as three additions possible before the start of the trip.
Whether those additions come in the form of players coming back from Carolina or new recalls from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades remains to be seen.
“We’ll see how things play out up top,” said Daniels.
Hurricanes winger Anthony Stewart, who Boychuk is replacing for Tuesday’s game against Ottawa, is officially listed as day-to-day. Should Stewart be able to return soon, that could result in a forward coming back to Charlotte, with Checkers captain Brett Sutter also still with the team. One of Boychuk or Sutter will likely be needed for at least a little while longer, with the Canes placing former Checker Zac Dalpe on injured reserve.
Regarding Boychuk, Daniels said that position played a part in Carolina's decision.
"They wanted a right wing and 'Chuckie' is a guy that can play both sides," he said. "There were a lot of options because we have a lot of guys that have played pretty well up front."
If the Checkers do end up recalling a forward of their own, 19-year-old Justin Shugg would be near the top of the list. The rookie forward, who attended training camp in both Carolina and Charlotte, was named the ECHL’s Player of the Week after posting back-to-back three-point games over the weekend. The Hurricanes’ fourth-round pick in 2010 ranks third in the ECHL in scoring with 8 points (3g, 5a) in five games.
On defense, the Hurricanes could send defenseman Justin Faulk, who is not playing for Carolina on Tuesday following his recall from Charlotte, on another conditioning stint of sorts, while Ryan Donald, who sat out the Checkers’ first six games, could return from Florida to provide depth.
Daniels said that Faulk adapted well after an initially slow start with the Checkers.
“I thought he got better each game. He may have shown some rust on Friday, but he gave us something we lack with the offensive side.”
One way or another, the Checkers should be all set in goal, with Justin Peters returning to practice on Tuesday. For now, the team will keep John Muse on the roster just to be safe.
“Obviously it’s a good sign that (Peters) is out there, but we’ll take it day-to-day to see how he’s feeling with it,” said Daniels.