Coming off a shortened offseason and housing plenty of new faces on the roster, the Checkers were slow out of the gates. They struggled to build consistency and found themselves on a track of alternating wins and losses, bottoming out with a shutout loss against Providence on Dec. 1 that dropped the team to an 8-10-3 record and last place in the division.
The Checkers battled back a bit that month, and headed into the holiday break on an uptick with a .517 points percentage.
“We’re hanging around and fighting,” said captain Roland McKeown in mid-December. “We just have to stick with it and trust the process. We got through for the first 20 games or so and now we’re getting into the meat of the season. We really have to turn it on now.”
Something clicked for the Checkers over that breather, as the team came out swinging from there. Charlotte rattled off 10 wins over the next 11 games to skyrocket back into playoff position and never looked back.
“Everybody has really bonded and come together and that goes a long way,” said McKeown in late January amidst the red-hot run. “Hockey is a lot more than the Xs and Os. You’ve got to get a feel for the game and your teammates and their instincts out there. I think that’s been huge.”
“We’ve gotten some great growth since then,” said head coach Ryan Warsofsky around the same time. “Guys are just playing better, there’s no magic formula. We’ve tinkered with some things but at the end of the day your best players need to be your best players.”
All in all the Checkers ripped off 15 wins in the span of 19 games after the holiday break. There would be some bumps in the road through February, but that scorching run would be enough to comfortably slate Charlotte into a playoff spot at the time of the AHL’s season cancellation.
REVOLVING DOORIt’s no secret that the Checkers went through an extraordinary amount of roster turnover during the 2019-20 season.
Case in point:
- 40 different skaters suited up for the Checkers this season, the third time in franchise history that mark has been hit and the first since 2015-16
- 6 different goalies started in net for Charlotte over a six-game stretch from Feb. 21 to March 1, the first time that has happened in franchise history
- 13 players who were in the lineup for the season opener were not in the lineup for the final game of the season, with eight of those no longer even in the organization
STANDOUT PERFORMERSWith so much fluctuation in the roster the Checkers had to count on key players stepping up, and that’s just what happened.
Jake Bean built off of his All-Rookie outing the year before and elevated his game to another level, leading all AHL defensemen in scoring and earning a spot on the AHL’s First All-Star Team. His offense paced the Checkers as he picked up the slack on Charlotte’s blue line and logged a ton of minutes.
“He’s playing the best hockey of his career right now,” said Warsofsky in January. “He sees the ice so well. He’s playing at a high level and he’s done a great job. I think the world of the kid as a hockey player and as a person. He’s been wonderful to work with and we’re excited to keep working with him for as long as he’s here, because it’s only a matter of time before he gets his chance.”
While Bean’s jump from All Rookie to All Star was impressive, the ascension of Steven Lorentz from splitting time in the ECHL to being one of Charlotte’s biggest offensive weapons was perhaps even more remarkable. Lorentz came into his third pro year with nine points in 32 career AHL games and racked up a staggering 23 goals and 46 points in 61 games to rank second on the team.
“Lorentz is 6-4 and he can skate,” said Warsofsky in January. “That’s hard to play against.”
Then there was Morgan Geekie, who carried a strong postseason performance into year two and put up 22 goals and 42 points in 55 games. Geekie also caught the eyes of NHL fans when he burst onto the scene with four points in his first two games with Carolina.
Finally, the Checkers had perhaps their most dominant duo between the pipes for most of the season in Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg, as the former continued to shine as one of the AHL’s best and the latter stepped in remarkably for his new squad.
SPECIAL TEAMS SUCCESSIn his first season as an AHL head coach Ryan Warsofsky brought with him his extensive success on special teams, leading the Checkers to finish third in the AHL in both the power play (22.8 percent) and penalty kill (87.0). That marks the first time Charlotte has ranked in the top three in both categories in a single season.
The Checkers excelled in their overall game as well, standing as one of just three teams to finish in the top 10 in both goals for and goals against average.