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Charlotte Checkers Corner: Chasing a Championship; Canes sign Luostarinen to ELC

The Checkers have their eye on the prize and are four wins away from their first Calder Cup in franchise history.

Gregg Forwerck/Charlotte Checkers

Four wins. That’s all that sits between the Charlotte Checkers and their first Calder Cup in franchise history. What seemed like a distant dream in October is now a realistic possibility. Much like their parent team, the drama followed the team on the way to clinching the Eastern Conference Championship.

A double-OT spectacular at Bojangles Coliseum helped the Checkers punch their ticket to the Calder Cup Final after Morgan Geekie crashed the net and tipped a puck in past Toronto Marlies goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

The Toronto Marlies were a tough test for the Checkers as the defending champs and a team that brings a balance of skill and toughness, similar to the Boston Bruins at the NHL level. The Checkers balanced offense took advantage of a tired Marlies team that allowed at least four goals in four of the six games.

Heading into the Finals, the Checkers look relatively healthy despite the deep run they are on. After an unfortunate fall which sent him crashing into the boards in Game 6, Julien Gauthier is progressing nicely despite not finishing the game.

With the Marlies in the rear-view mirror, Charlotte must face another tough opponent on their road to the Calder Cup: the Chicago Wolves, affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. Charlotte and Chicago played a best of five first-round series in 2017, when the Checkers were in the AHL’s Western Conference and the Wolves were the affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. The top-seeded Wolves won the series in five games, coming back from 2-1 down in the series to win on home ice.

The Wolves have plenty of high-powered offensive weapons led by Daniel Carr, T.J. Tynan and Cody Glass. Glass, Vegas’ 1st round pick in 2017, only played six games for the Wolves in the regular season but recorded five points and has 12 points in 17 playoff games. Carr and Tynan finished tied for 3rd in the league in regular season scoring with 71 points. Carr did it in 52 games, finishing with 1.37 points per game, the highest in the AHL among players with at least 50 games played.

Oscar Dansk has put together a strong postseason with a .921 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average. Dansk has a few games of NHL experience and has been consistent at the AHL level with a career despite one rough season with the Springfield Falcons. Charlotte’s best option offensively is to put screens in front of Dansk and score “dirty area” goals. Charlotte’s ability to score off the rush could also pose a threat to an underwhelming Wolves defense. But, as was the case with Steven Lorentz’s initial shot that Geekie redirected in after a strange bounce in front, sometimes just throwing it on net can be the best option.

The series kicks off at home for the Checkers with the a pair of games on the weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Checkers ticket representatives are offering the family and friends discount to Canes Country readers. Plus, a special guest will be in attendance this weekend.

The Checkers hold the advantage at home, losing just one of seven games there this postseason. As someone who has covered somewhere between 50-60 games in Charlotte over the past three seasons, Bojangles Coliseum in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals was one of the loudest in recent memory. The same energy is expected at the start of the Calder Cup Finals, especially given the fact the series starts on a weekend which should give plenty of opportunity for fans from Raleigh to make their way to the Queen City.

The Checkers berth in the Calder Cup Finals is a monumental accomplishment for head coach Mike Vellucci, who will be without a contract at the end of the season. He’s helped shape the Hurricanes’ minor league program into a disciplined, talented and well-oiled machine within his short time with the team.

It remains to be seen what Vellucci’s plans are and if he’d rather move to a separate team for an expanded role outside of AHL coach and assistant general manager. Could a move up to the NHL be in his future? Is Vellucci content with his current roles and decides to re-sign? However, if Vellucci does decide to move on, the visual of the team lifting the Calder Cup over their heads would be a pleasant parting gift.

The Hurricanes announced on Thursday that they have signed forward Eetu Luostarinen to a three-year, entry-level contract running through the 2021-22 season. The 6’3” 178-pound forward was drafted by the Canes in the second round, 42nd overall, in the 2017 NHL Draft. He registered 36 points (15g, 21a) in 54 games in the Finnish league in 2018-19. He also played four games in the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping Finland bring home the gold medal. The release from the team is below.

Forward won gold with Finland at 2019 IIHF World Championship

Don Waddell, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has signed forward Eetu Luostarinen to a three-year, entry-level contract, beginning with the 2019-20 season. At the NHL level, Luostarinen will be paid $750,000 in 2019-20 and $832,500 in 2020-21 and 2021-22. The deal pays him $70,000 annually at the AHL level and he receives a signing bonus of $277,500.

“Eetu has already played three professional seasons in Finland and managed to increase his production every year,” said Waddell. “We’re excited to see what he can bring to our organization.”

Luostarinen, 20, registered 36 points (15g, 21a) in 54 Liiga games with KalPa in 2018-19. Among his teammates, Luostarinen ranked tied for first in goals in second in points. The 6’3”, 178-pound forward also finished tied for second among all Liiga skaters in game-winning goals (7). Luostarinen played in four games for Finland in the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping his home country win gold for the first time since 2011. He has posted 63 points (24g, 39a) in 141 career regular-season Liiga games for KalPa from 2016-19, and he has added six points (2g, 4a) in 23 career playoff games. The Siilinjarvi, Finland, native was drafted by the Hurricanes in the second round, 42nd overall, of the 2017 NHL Draft.