May 14, 2012 7:00 AM
Sean Dolan is just happy to have a home.
After playing under three different contracts this past season, the 24-year-old center has agreed to a one-year AHL deal that will bring him back to Charlotte for his second professional campaign. In doing so, he will avoid the kind of uncertainty that hung over his head as an undrafted college graduate last summer.
“The biggest thing is that now I don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “I can just get my training done and not have to worry about what city I’m going to be in or who I’ll be playing with. It’s a huge burden off my shoulders.”
It’s also a fitting conclusion to his rookie campaign, which started with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays before the Checkers called with a professional tryout offer in January. Though such agreements sometimes don’t last more than a day or two, Dolan’s play, particularly his defense and penalty killing, kept him in the lineup to the point where he finally secured an AHL contract for the last month of the season.
“When I got called up, I was given every opportunity to succeed in Charlotte,” he said. “I was given more than enough ice time. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I also didn’t really know how things would be or what kind of role I’d play.”
To understand how his 35-game run with the Checkers has changed his fortunes, consider where he was one year ago. After finishing up at the University of Wisconsin, he spent the entire summer aiming for an AHL contract with no takers, with even a last-minute invite to training camp with the Syracuse Crunch not producing a roster spot. Now, even with so much uncertainty surrounding the Checkers’ roster due to the number of players with expiring contracts, the team made him an early priority.
“It means a lot and it shows they trust me in Charlotte,” he said. “It’s definitely a relief.”
Dolan, who has good size at 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds and chipped in five goals and five assists in his first taste of AHL action, said that he knew there was a chance he would return to the team based on his exit meetings with coaches Jeff Daniels and Geordie Kinnear.
“The main thing they said was that I pressed their hands to keep me around,” said Dolan, who played in every one of the team’s games between joining up and suffering a concussion that caused him to miss the last six. “They said there were times where they knew they had to get rid of somebody but couldn’t get rid of me. They said that was kudos to me, and it was really great to hear those kind words.”
Speaking of that concussion, which he suffered during the Checkers’ home game against Milwaukee on April 5, Dolan said that he’s been symptom-free for two weeks and had just one more test to pass before he could depart his home in St. Louis to begin training with a group of his former college teammates in Minnesota.
Considering how he felt in the days immediately after that collision along the boards, that’s welcome progress.
“This one was pretty vicious,” said Dolan of his injury. “I couldn’t really go outside because the light would bother me.”
The injury wasn’t exactly good timing with his deal set to expire after the season, but Dolan said that wasn’t his primary concern with the team in a desperate playoff battle at the time.
“Not being able to help the team in those last games was the most difficult thing,” he said. “I wasn’t really worried about myself and my future. It was more frustrating than anything.”
With new contract in hand, Dolan will get a chance to help the Checkers make up for that disappointment next season. However, in trying to change the end, Dolan said his personal goal will be to keep being the same reliable player that’s gotten him to this point.
“The role I played last year will be no different, but it’s the role I like to play,” he said. “I’m completely happy with that.”