The Charlotte Checkers continued to roll as the string of away games to begin the year carried on into the third week of the season. The team hasn’t seen home ice yet this year, and won’t have their first home game of the season until November 4th. The 6th, 7th, and 8th games of the record 9-game road trip kicked off on Friday, as the Checkers traveled to Grand Rapids, MI to take on the Griffins, and Peoria, IL to battle in back-to back games against the Rivermen.
The Friday night game against the Griffins was the most memorable game of the Checkers’ young season thus far. Right from the onset, it looked like the Checkers would be in for a rout, not the way they wanted to open a 3-game set. Grand Rapids pounced on the Checkers early, scoring twice in the first 3 minutes of the game. Justin Peters and the rest of the Checkers looked to be asleep at the start of the game, and the Checkers trailed as much as 4-1 in the beginning of the 2nd period, the loan goal coming from Drayson Bowman on the power play. Peters was pulled for Dan Ellis, and the 2nd half of the game belonged to the Checkers. Halfway through the second, Griffin forward Trevor Parkes took a 5 minute major penalty for boarding, and Chad Billens tacked on another penalty, giving the Checkers an extended two-man advantage. Checkers’ forward Jerome Samson made the score 4-2 with wrister from the side, and Justin Faulk scored on a slap shot just 27 seconds later. The game was tied on the same major penalty by Zach Boychuck, who beat the goalie high and knotted the score at 4, all within a 5 minute span. Forward Chris Terry broke the tie with a shorthanded goal for the Checkers in the 3rd, giving them their first lead of the night, and Terry added an empty net goal to seal the 6-4 win over Grand Rapids. The Checkers showed amazing resilience in their comeback win, and it set the tone for the remaining games for the weekend.
The two games against the Peoria Rivermen were very similar to each other. Peoria had no answer for anything the Checkers threw their way either Saturday or Sunday. Dan Ellis and Justin Peters combined for consecutive shutouts, Ellis with 27 saves Saturday night, Peters with 19 Sunday, and the Checkers outscored the Rivermen by a total of 10-0 in the two contests. The first game, a 4-0 win for Charlotte, was the coming out party for forward Jeremy Welsh, who was expected to play substantial time in Raleigh with the Hurricanes this season. Welsh scored his first two professional goals of his career, and Drayson Bowman added a goal for the 5th consecutive game (tying a franchise record). Zac Dalpe added the 4th goal of the night for the Checkers, and Ellis did the rest, stoning the Rivermen all night. Sunday featured more of the same, as Peters, who wasn’t tested very often, stopped all 19 shots he faced, and the Checkers dropped 6 goals on the hapless Rivermen. Newly appointed captain Brett Sutter notched his first career hat trick, Bowman scored in his 6th consecutive game, and Zac Boychuck and Nicolas Blanchard added a goal apiece, as the Checkers coasted to a 6-1-1 record over their first 8 games. Forward Chris Terry served the first of his 3-game suspension for an elbow during Friday’s game in Grand Rapids.
The Checkers currently hold first place in the league, and have one away game remaining in Milwaukee before coming home. This is an incredible start for the Checkers, and despite all odds, they are finding all different ways to win on the road. The goaltending tandem of Peters and Eillis were unbeatable all weekend, and the power play is clicking on all cylinders. The Checkers look like a well-oiled machine that, if the first three weeks of the season are any indication, could compete for the Calder Cup.