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#1 Alex Nedeljkovic
His TenureA second-round pick by Carolina in 2014, Alex Nedeljkovic has spent his first four pro seasons with Charlotte, starting in 2016-17
The Numbers89-45-11 | 2.57 GAA | .904 SV%
AccomplishmentsFranchise leader in games played (154) … Franchise leader in wins … Franchise leader in shutouts (14) … Tied for third in franchise history in goals-against average (min. 20 games) … Holds franchise record for wins in a season (34 in 2018-19) … Won Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as AHL’s most outstanding goalie in 2018-19 … Named to AHL First All-Star Team in 2018-19 … Led the AHL in wins and goals-against average in 2018-19 … Calder Cup champion
LegacyThis list wasn’t easy to create, and there was quite a debate about which goalie should be ranked above another (granted, the ultimate decision maker in this case was myself). However, the choice to put Alex at number one was made without hesitation.
Not many believed that would’ve been possible in the midst of his struggling rookie year, when he was sent down to the ECHL because he had little to no success in the crease for the Checkers. In fact, his rookie campaign was somewhat of a disaster. Every goalie can talk to you about the times they struggled. It is inevitable. The best goalies, however, persevere and come back even better than before. That is the story of Alex Nedeljkovivc, the greatest goalie to ever play for the Charlotte Checkers.
Nedeljkovic is a gifted athlete with incredible flexibility and reflexes. He plays much bigger than his six-foot frame. His ability to calculate where the puck is going and get there a split second ahead of it gives him an edge over shooters. His lateral quickness and footwork are NHL caliber. He is also one of the best puck-handling goalies in the world. Yet, even with all of those attributes, Nedeljkovic’s quiet confidence in his ability makes him rise to the occasion when the games get bigger. He is undeterred in his belief that he can accomplish any task on the ice. After four seasons of professional hockey, the accomplishments have piled up: AHL All-Star, goalie of the year and a first-team All Star all while winning the Calder Cup.
The sight of Alex Nedeljkovic leaping in the air at the culmination of Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals is perhaps the most lasting image of the entire Charlotte franchise. You won’t meet a more humble and decent man than Alex. They don’t come around too often. He is beloved in the city of Charlotte and the fans here embraced him through it all. He rewarded the fans and the organization that cheered him on with a trophy, and for that he wears the crown as the king of the crease in Charlotte, North Carolina.
#2 Justin Peters
His TenureA second-round pick by Carolina in 2004, Justin Peters spent three seasons split between the Checkers and Hurricanes starting with the 2011-12 campaign.
The Numbers36-26-4 | 2.47 GAA | .917 SV%
AccomplishmentsRanked second in franchise history in goals-against average (min. 20 games) … Ranked second in franchise history in save percentage (min. 20 games) … Tied for second in franchise history in shutouts (7) … Ranked fourth in franchise history in wins … Ranked fifth in franchise history in games played (71)
LegacyThe epitome of a goaltender who battled his way to victories in the NHL and AHL, Justin Peters made his way into the win column on many nights for Charlotte over the course of three seasons. Every year Justin played in the AHL, he would find his way back up playing meaningful games with the big club in Raleigh. He did that because of his work ethic and determination to win.
He didn’t have the most efficient technique or aesthetically pleasing style, but Justin won games by the relying on a high hockey IQ. At just over 6-foot-1 in height, he used a hulking frame to challenge shooters and leave them very little net to find.
When he was playing his best, he was one of the most proficient goalies in team history. His finest season with the team began during an NHL lockout while he shared the net with Dan Ellis. While Ellis was recalled first after the lockout ended, Peters put the revamped Checkers on his back and carried them almost single handedly to many victories. He finished that season in the NHL after displaying a .921 save percentage in 37 AHL games played, winning 22 times. Peters was a goalie who played with emotion and heart, which defined his style more than anything else.
#3 Mike Murphy
His TenureA sixth-round pick by Carolina in 2008, Mike Murphy came from Albany to Charlotte for the inaugural 2010-11 campaign and appeared in parts of the next three seasons for the Checkers.
The Numbers43-38-5 | 2.90 GAA | .906 SV%
AccomplishmentsRanked third in franchise history in games played (96) … Ranked third in franchise history in wins … Tied for fourth in franchise history in shutouts (3) … Tied for second in franchise history in shootout wins (7) … Tied for sixth in franchise history in save percentage
LegacyAt the time, there was no bigger fan favorite than Kingston, Ontario’s Mike Murphy and it was for good reason. Murphy began the Checkers’ inaugural season backing up another goalie who rarely seemed to find himself in the win column. When it was Murphy’s turn he skated away with a victory more often than not, totaling a record of 21-11-3 (keep in mind, of those 11 losses many were because he came into a game after the starter was pulled and the team would nearly mount a comeback while Murphy was in the crease). He had a way of inspiring his team while he was in the net that his counterpart never did. As the season progressed, Murphy became the team’s number one goalie. It was the same year that he helped the team to their first-ever playoff berth, then defeated the defending champion Hershey Bears and pulled of an incredible six-game series win against Wilkes-Barre Scranton to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s my opinion that Murphy was one of the most gifted goaltenders in Checkers history. He displayed incredible athleticism and would send the crowd to their feet at least once a game with a save that was seemingly impossible, yet Murphy would find a way. It was this desperation style that made many fans love the young goalie, who started making waves in the Hurricanes organization. Murphy holds the distinction of being the first goalie in NHL history to record a loss without giving up a goal when he came into a game for Cam Ward. In typical humility, Murphy commented afterwards he would be happy to take a loss in place of a player like Ward.
An argument could be made that Mike never reached his fullest potential in professional hockey. He left his final year of junior having put up a .941 save percentage in 54 games for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls – an astounding stat – and he didn’t do it by accident. He was truly gifted. Over time, with injuries and not much room in the crease in Raleigh, Murphy eventually moved on before retiring from the sport. He left the Checkers with the third most wins in franchise history and the only goalie to win a playoff series until Alex Nedeljkovic did it in 2018.
Not every player that turns pro is destined to have a long illustrious career. What could’ve happened to Murphy if he was given a role in the NHL when he was in his prime? No one will know, but I believe that during his time as a member of the Checkers he displayed some of the most brilliant goaltending we’ve seen, while defying his doubters countless times. Off the ice, Murphy was a professional – well-liked by his teammates and others. For all his accomplishments, becoming the Checkers’ number one goalie when no one believed it was possible, all while carrying the team to the Eastern Conference Finals, gives him a place among the best to stand in the crease for Charlotte.
#4 John Muse
His TenureAn undrafted product of Boston College, John Muse joined Charlotte for his first full pro season in 2011-12 and suited up for the Checkers until the 2015-16 campaign.
The Numbers63-46-6 | 2.57 GAA | .916 SV%
AccomplishmentsRanked second in franchise history in games played (125) … Ranked second in franchise history in wins … Tied for second in franchise history in shutouts (7) … Ranked fourth in franchise history in goals-against average (min. 20 games) … Ranked third in franchise history in save percentage (min. 20 games)
LegacyAlready a winner of two NCAA National Titles and an ECHL Kelly Cup, John Muse stepped into the Checkers lineup during the 2011-12 season and put up absolutely incredible numbers to carve a path for himself in the AHL for several years. Over parts of the next four seasons, the Checkers would often turn to John Muse, including a career-high 47 games in the 2013-14 season.
When Muse was on his game, his rebound control was stellar and his elite-level anticipation put him one step ahead. John was a goaltender for the team in their lean years when the roster wasn’t as star studded, which is part of why he only managed to play one playoff game in his time with Charlotte. Otherwise, with his career numbers, it would warrant a higher placing on this list.
Perhaps his best moment in Charlotte came in 2013. The Hurricanes had goalie injuries which meant the Checkers suddenly needed a netminder, so they once again turned to Muse and recalled him from the ECHL. As a little reminder to those who doubted that he was still an AHL-caliber goaltender, Muse proceeded to post back-to-back shutouts in his first two appearances.
By today’s standards John was an undersized goalie, yet he battled his way to the second-most victories in franchise history. Like other goalies on this list, John was a very calm and composed netminder with excellent reflexes and never seemed phased when things didn’t go as planned. He is a testament to what great hockey sense and determination can do when they meet opportunity. There is a reason Muse has so many wins and trophies under his belt and those reasons put him among the elite in the Checkers’ goaltending history.
#5 Dustin Tokarski
His TenureIn his 10th pro season, Dustin Tokarski was loaned from Hartford to Charlotte in exchange for Josh Wesley on Feb. 28, 2019, and suited up for the remainder of the Checkers’ regular season and postseason slate.
The Numbers7-0-0 | 1.14 GAA | .956 SV%
AccomplishmentsOnly player with at least two games played to not record a loss wearing a Checkers jersey … Lowest goals-against average in franchise history among goalies with at least 400 minutes played … Ranked third in franchise history in postseason wins (5) … Franchise leader in postseason goals-against average and save percentage (minimum 60 minutes) … Calder Cup champion
LegacyThe road to the 2019 championship was memorable for many reasons, and as you glance at the lineup you can point to several key contributions that resulted in the team’s success. It would be difficult, however, to find someone who had a greater impact in such a short amount of time than goaltender Dustin Tokarski. Tokarski won all seven of his regular season appearances for Charlotte while posting ridiculous numbers – and keep in mind that Tokarski was often given the most difficult games in the schedule, with the team playing at the end of back-to-back nights.
As the team marched into the playoffs, Tokarski had the tough task of helping Charlotte bounce back from losses – including Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Toronto, where he was the single best player on the ice, and Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals. He also stood in the net victorious when Charlotte won the penultimate game of the playoffs in Chicago to put them one victory away from their first ever championship in AHL history. His regular season numbers were outstanding but they pale to what he accomplished in the postseason. He only gave up eight goals in five games played for a 1.74 GAA and a .935 save percentage, all while once again going undefeated.
Tokarski’s goaltending technique is unique to him and often times looks unorthodox. But his ability to read the play and stay totally calm under fire is among the best to ever play in the AHL. His poise in the crease permeated the entire roster and the team was always able to breathe easier knowing he was totally unflappable. The trade for Dustin should go down as one of the greatest trades in AHL history. The only reason he isn’t higher on this list is because he was with the team less than half a season. Otherwise this multiple Calder Cup-winning goalie who went undefeated for Charlotte would rank in the top three. It’s a credit to his storied career that in such a small window he had an enormous impact on one of the greatest AHL teams ever assembled.