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Checkers Weekly Recap: Can They Do It?

The Checkers continue to fight for their playoff lives as the schedule turns to April.

Gregg Forwerck/Charlotte Checkers

The Charlotte Checkers have plenty on the line as they head into the month of April. Charlotte is now on the outside of the playoff picture looking in despite going 2-1-1 this past week. The Checkers fell to fifth place in the Central Division standings, two points behind the fourth place Cleveland Monsters. Charlotte does, however, have a game in hand.

Charlotte began their week by dropping a crucial 3-2 overtime decision to the Monsters. Former Checker and Hurricane Zac Dalpe scored 2:21 into overtime to give the Monsters the win. Aleksi Saarela scored his first professional hockey league goal in the loss against the Monsters since coming over to North America.

The Checkers followed the tough loss with a reassuring win against the Monsters on Thursday. After a scoreless first period, the Checkers surged ahead with three unanswered goals and didn’t look back as they topped the Monsters 4-1. Tom McCollum continued his torrid streak since joining the Checkers, stopping 30 shots in the win.

Charlotte followed up the win against the Monsters with a 3-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins the following day. Saarela scored twice for the Checkers. Daniel Altshuller had a strong day for the Checkers, stopping 30 shots from a heavy Griffins attack.

The Checkers dropped a tough 5-3 decision to the Chicago Wolves on Sunday. Ville Husso had a career day for the Wolves, stopping 36 of 39 shots. The Wolves remain firmly in second place in the Central Division.

Saalera’s play over his first four four games earned him CCM/AHL Player of the Week honors, recording six points (four goals, two assists) this week. McCollum also earned honors this week as he was named CCM/AHL Goalie of the Month. McCollum went 7-1-1 with a 1.88 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. The releases from the AHL are below.

The addition of Saalera has bolstered the Checkers offense and the team received even more help as Phil Di Giuseppe and Lucas Wallmark were sent back to Charlotte, albeit at the expense of leading scorer Andrew Poturalski, who was called up to the Hurricanes. The Checkers face a make-or-break week with four home games against the San Antonio Rampage and Texas Stars, neither of whom hold a playoff spot, before they wrap up the season on the road in a tough three-game trip to Grand Rapids and Chicago.

Since Last We Met

  • March 28: Cleveland 3, Checkers 2 (OT)
  • March 30: Checkers 4, Cleveland 1
  • March 31: Checkers 3, Grand Rapids 1
  • April 2: Chicago 5, Checkers 3

Next up for the Checkers (35-29-5-0, 75 points, 5th Central Div)

  • April 4 and 5: home vs. San Antonio
  • April 8 and 9: home vs. Texas


The American Hockey League announced today that Charlotte Checkers forward Aleksi Saarela has been selected as the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Apr. 2, 2017.

Saarela made his American Hockey League debut last week and recorded four goals and two assists for six points with a plus-5 rating in four games, helping Charlotte stay in the thick of the playoff race in the Central Division.

In his first taste of North American hockey, Saarela scored a goal in Charlotte’s 3-2 overtime loss at Cleveland on Tuesday night. In Thursday’s rematch he recorded two assists as the Checkers defeated the Monsters, 4-1, and on Friday he scored twice in the third period to send Charlotte to a 3-1 victory at division-leading Grand Rapids. Finally, Saarela notched another goal in a 5-3 defeat at Chicago on Sunday afternoon.

Saarela was reassigned to Charlotte from Lukko, where he led the Liiga team with 15 goals and ranked fourth with 28 points in 49 games in 2016-17, his third full season playing in Finland’s top league. The 20-year-old native of Helsinki won a gold medal with Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships, and was originally selected by the New York Rangers in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Saarela was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 28, 2016, as part of the trade that sent Eric Staal to New York.

In recognition of his achievement, Saarela will be presented with an etched crystal award prior to an upcoming Checkers home game.


The American Hockey League announced today that Hershey Bears defenseman Christian Djoos, Stockton Heat forward Mark Jankowski and Charlotte Checkers goaltender Tom McCollum have been selected as the league’s award winners for March.


McCollum, the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month, made his Checkers debut last month and was a 7-1-1 in nine appearances, allowing 17 goals on 260 shots for a 1.88 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.

Reassigned to Charlotte by the Calgary Flames on Mar. 8, McCollum got his first AHL start of the season on Mar. 10 and turned aside 49 shots in the Checkers’ 4-1 victory at Manitoba. He made 24 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory over Ontario on Mar. 18, and posted a 23-save shutout as the Checkers blanked Iowa, 1-0, on Mar. 21. McCollum extended his winning streak to six games by stopping 30 shots in a 3-2 shootout win vs. Chicago on Mar. 25, and he posted 30 saves in a 4-1 win at Cleveland on Mar. 30.

McCollum signed as a free agent with Calgary on Oct. 16, 2016, after seven seasons in the Detroit Red Wings organization that included a Calder Cup championship with Grand Rapids in 2013. This year, the native of Amherst, N.Y., has a record of 8-2-1 in 11 games between Charlotte and Stockton with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. Over 237 career AHL games, McCollum is 111-93-17 with a 2.75 GAA, a .906 save percentage and eight shutouts. A first-round pick by Detroit (30th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, McCollum has played three career NHL games with the Red Wings.

Each monthly award winner will be presented with an etched crystal award prior to an upcoming home game in recognition of his achievement.