It’s June 1 and, for the first time since 2006, there’s a professional hockey game going on in the Old North State.
The Charlotte Checkers are six days removed from a double-overtime win over the Toronto Marlies that gave them a 4-2 win in the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, propelling them to their first Calder Cup Finals in Checkers history and the first for an affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes franchise since the Springfield Indians won the 1991 title. Four wins stand between the Checkers and the AHL’s ultimate prize, and to get there the Checkers will need to vanquish a familiar foe.
Two seasons ago, the Checkers and Chicago Wolves played a first-round series when the Checkers were in the AHL’s Western Conference, and after the Checkers took a 2-1 series lead the Wolves used their home-ice advantage to advance in a 3-2 series win. They’ll face off tonight with much, much more on the line.
This time around, the Checkers have home ice on their side, and that could be big. Charlotte was tied for the AHL’s best home record this season, posting a 26-7-5 record in the regular season at Bojangles’ Coliseum and following that up with a 6-1 mark in the Calder Cup playoffs while outscoring the opposition 28-13. Andrew Poturalski, who became the Checkers’ all-time leading playoff scorer in the previous round, leads the team with eight goals and 18 points, with Morgan Geekie - the overtime hero in Game 6 against Toronto - close behind with seven and 15 respectively.
During the regular season, the Checkers and Wolves did not play, a byproduct of the AHL’s conference-heavy schedule designed to limit cross-conference travel. Tonight’s game will be the first time the teams meet since the fifth game of the 2017 first round, more than two years ago. Eight players who played in that series will suit up in tonight’s game, all of them Checkers.
Looking for their third Calder Cup and first since 2008, the Wolves knocked off the San Diego Gulls in six games to win the Western Conference title. The AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, the Wolves boast a balanced scoring attack of their own, with seven players posting ten or more points in the playoffs led by Tomas Hyka with 14.
We’ll update this post with the lines from the warmup when it gets underway in a few minutes. Enjoy the game!