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Checkers Corner: Firing On All Cylinders

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Fans should get to Charlotte to witness one of the most complete teams the franchise has ever seen.

Scott Kinser/Charlotte Checkers

The Charlotte Checkers are a must-watch team. While the verdict may still be out on a struggling Carolina Hurricanes squad, their minor-league team has become must-watch television so now may be the time to dish out the dough for the recently-made-affordable AHL TV.

The Checkers improved to 10-1-0 on the season and now sit atop the American Hockey League standings. You read that right: a certain North Carolina hockey team is the best in their league.

Charlotte was challenged by the Providence Bruins this past weekend but it was special teams that was the center point of the conversation in an otherwise easy weekend for the Checkers. In Friday’s match-up, Saku Maenalanen scored a short handed goal at an opportune time to give the Checkers the advantage. “I think he’s been great. He’s probably one of our hardest workers now...he’s played really well,” said Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci after Friday’s game. Maenalanen was benched in a game earlier this season after Vellucci didn’t care for the forward’s effort. Since then, he’s looked strong with and without the puck.

In Friday’s game, the Checkers scored two power play goals on a Bruins squad that was ranked second in the AHL on the penalty kill heading into the game. However, the power play faltered the Checkers on Saturday with a 1-for-9 performance and could have yielded worst results had it not been for a strong effort by goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.

If they find more consistency with their power play units, look out.


Weekend Recap

Canes Country had coverage of both games this weekend as the Checkers returned to Bojangles Coliseum. Here’s a look at how they did...spoiler alert: they won.

Checkers vs Bruins Game 1

Checkers vs Bruins Game 2


Player of the Week

Alex Nedeljkovic didn’t make jaws drop this weekend but he was a steady game manager and calming force when things got tight against the Bruins. He made 21 saves in the first game of the weekend and followed it up with a 26 save, third-star performance on Saturday. Providence had a 6-on-4 opportunity late and Nedeljkovic came up with a big save to preserver the on goal lead. He also stopped forward Ryan Donato early in the first period on a penalty shot that could have changed the outcome of the game.

Courtesy of AHL TV
Justin Lape

He also showed compassion and took time out after Saturday’s game to meet with a fan who had traveled from Canada to see him play. He wrapped up the weekend with a .911 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against average.


Thought(s) of The Week

Bojangles announced this morning it will be acquired by two companies: Durational Capital Management and The Jordan Company. Fear not, you can still get your chicken supreme combo with fries, lemonade and honey mustard.

The Checkers, of course, call Bojangles Coliseum home. A Charlotte Checkers source told me Bojangles does have a naming rights agreement with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority which also manages venues like the Spectrum Center (home of the Charlotte Hornets) and the Charlotte Convention Center.

The current naming rights agreement runs out at the end of this year. It’s possible the Checkers could be playing in a newly-named coliseum if the new owners of Bojangles and the CRVA cannot come to an agreement on a new deal.

As for on the ice, Martin Necas continues to struggle and could be seen visibly frustrated on the bench during Saturday’s game after whiffing on a well-placed pass on the power play. His positioning on the power play throughout the weekend was questionable with most of his play coming along the boards and not in high danger areas.

Vellucci thinks the problem can be fixed if Necas simplifies his game. “I think he’s frustrated a little bit, trying to do too much and put up a bunch of points. I want to see him slow the game down a little bit. He’s got too much energy right now...slow it down a little bit and good things will happen,” said Vellucci after Saturday’s game.

Necas has just a goal and two assists since his demotion. It could be possible, if the Hurricanes continue to tread water, that Necas is called up within the next week or so. However, his play as of late and the assessment of his coach and assistant general manager say otherwise. He may need additional seasoning with the thriving Checkers.


Looking Ahead

The Checkers have a packed weekend ahead with three games in as many days. Charlotte will take on the Binghamton Devils on Friday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Sunday. Expect Nedeljkovic to be in net on Friday and Sunday and Callum Booth could get his second start of the season on Saturday.

The Checkers faced off against the Devils earlier in the season, beating them 4-3 on the road in overtime. It will be their first match-ups against the Sound Tigers and Phantoms this season.