The Charlotte Checkers, much like all the other AHL farm teams in the league, benefited from the lockout currently happening in the NHL. Players who have played for the Carolina Hurricanes, such as Justin Faulk, Drayson Bowman, and Zac Dalpe are down in Charlotte as long as the NHL lockout continues. With the team loaded with NHL-ready talent, they took a trip to the Midwest for a set of back-to-backs to open the 2012-2013 AHL season.
The Checkers opened play on Saturday, the 13th against the Houston Aeros (the farm team for the Minnesota Wild). Goaltender Justin Peters, who has played a substantial amount of time in the NHL, was strong in the opening game of the season, making 27 saves on 28 shots faced. The only goal allowed by Peters was somewhat of a fluky goal that bounced high off of Checkers’ defenseman Rasmus Rissanen and flew over Peters’ head into the net.
Scoring wise, the Checkers 1st line center Zac Daple would sit this game out due to flu-like symptoms. The scoring didn’t begin until a wild 3rd period, as both teams played a conservative, defense first type of game in the opening two periods. However, the flood gates opened in the 3rd, as the Checkers shifted from defense to offense and pounded the Houston goaltender with shot after shot. Newcomer Tim Wallace scored his first goal in a Checkers sweater as he roofed a rebound from a Zach Boychuck slapshot. Chris Terry scored the second goal of the season just 1:23 later poked a rebound in from a Justin Faulk shot from the point. The Checkers were comfortably up by 2 until the Houston goal bounced in. Houston pulled their goalie, and with 56 seconds remaining in the contest, Jerome Samson added an empty net to give the Checkers the 3-1 win and a 1-0 record for the first time since the team moved to Charlotte from Albany.
There was no rest for the team, as they turned right around to play the second half of a back-to-back against the Texas Stars, affiliates of the Dallas Stars. As in the game against Houston, the scoring in this game didn’t start until later in the contest. The first goal came towards the end of the 2nd period as Zach Boychuk intercepted a pass and took it in on net for his first goal of the season. Texas answered back immediately on a beautiful passing play to knot the game at 1. The third period was a special teams clinic, as the Checkers scored twice on the man advantage three minutes into the period. Riley Nash and Bobby Sanguinetti scored the goals to put the Checkers up 3-1 early in the period. The lead would be short lived, however, as the Checkers took a couple of back to back penalties, giving Texas the 2-man advantage for a brief period. Defenseman Cam Barker scored on a blistering slap shot, and drew the Stars within one. Later in the period, Dallas added a short-handed goal to draw even with 4 minutes remaining.
The game would go into overtime, and the Checkers dominated play, taking all four shots in the period and maintaining puck possession for much of the period. However, they couldn’t crack the Texas goaltender, and the game went into the shootout. The shootout wasn’t ended until 9 full rounds had been finished, as Texas scored on veteran journeyman goaltender Dan Ellis, who got the start to give Peters some rest. Ellis made 38 saves in the game, as well as 7 more in the shootout. The Checkers fell to 1-0-1 on the season after the first two games.
With 3 out of a possible 4 points out of the opening weekend on the road, the Checkers have to be pleased with their performance. The powerplay looks potent, and the goaltending looks particularly strong. The tandem of Peters and Ellis should win plenty of games, and with scoring weapons on every line, the Checkers have great potential this season. Zach Boychuk leads all players with 4 points in 2 games. The Checkers have a tough set of games next weekend, as they will play 3 in a row from Friday to Sunday.