The Charlotte Checkers’ road to the 2017 Calder Cup playoffs was not easy — and that’s underselling it a bit. The Checkers overcame one of the worst stretches of games in recent memory to propel themselves into the playoff conversation, and then clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the season, making it into the postseason for the first time since 2013.
Let’s skip ahead to the midway point of the season. Charlotte dug themselves into a deep hole in the month of December, recording a 3-9 record. They experienced separate losing streaks of four and five games in the month, and allowed at least three goals in nine out of the twelve games played.
To say Charlotte had a rough holiday season would be an understatement.
But something changed in the group when the calendar flipped over to 2017. January saw a turnaround with a 7-5-1 record in thirteen games played. After recording two or fewer goals in nine of 12 games in December, the offense came back to life. The team began to see other players contribute rather than rely heavily on Andrew Poturalski, who finished the season third in rookie scoring with 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists).
In February, the team recorded a 6-3-1 record. They found comfort at home as they have all year and went 4-1-0. Lucas Wallmark had another solid month after being named AHL Player of the Month for the month of January.
Charlotte saw many roster changes throughout the year to accommodate their parent team in Raleigh. The biggest roster changes, however, were in net. Charlotte had six goaltenders suit up for the team this year. In a move to stop the revolving door that was the Checkers crease, the team acquired goaltender Tom McCollum who can possibly be deemed as the Checkers’ season savior. McCollum was outstanding down the stretch, posting an 11-2-1 record with a 2.10 goals against average and .926 save percentage. He gave Charlotte the needed veteran presence they craved after Michael Leighton was sidelined after surgery.
It’s no coincidence that McCollum’s arrival signaled a seven game win streak for the Checkers in the month of March. Charlotte won nine out of their remaining eleven games in the March schedule. The offense hit strides it hadn’t yet reached and it gave them the confidence to close out the season, despite stumbling to the finish line over their final three games in April.
The most astounding feat for the Checkers this year was how they made the playoffs despite having one of the worst special teams unit in the AHL. Charlotte was dead last on the power play at 13.1% and was the only team in the bottom five in power play percentage to make the playoffs. Charlotte ranked 22nd on the penalty kill at season’s end and is one of only three teams to make the playoffs that ranked in the bottom ten in penalty kill percentage.
Turning their attention to the division-champion Chicago Wolves, Charlotte knows they are the underdog heading into the postseason. But after battling through adversity all season, Charlotte may just be the David to Chicago’s Goliath.
Tomorrow: A look at the first-round matchup between Chicago and Charlotte. We’ll also have coverage live from Charlotte on Thursday and Friday nights.