RALEIGH Zach Boychuk has played enough hockey games at PNC Arena to know his way around the rink.
On Saturday, Boychuk was in a Charlotte Checkers uniform. At other times, he’s worn the jersey of the arena’s home team, the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Checkers were in town Saturday to face the Abbotsford Heat in an AHL game, but were soundly beaten 5-1. Victor Rask had Charlotte’s only goal, scoring on a second-period power play.
Markus Granlund gave the Heat the lead early in the first period, and Blair Jones’ goal 14 seconds into the second made it 2-0. Rask scored, but the Heat (32-15-3-1) answered on Sven Baertschi’s goal after a Checkers turnover and added third-period goals by Ben Street and Ben Hanowski.
“We didn’t play well,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said. “They’re a very dangerous team. No matter how long they traveled, it wasn’t a factor.”
Boychuk had a breakaway eight minutes into the game, only to be stopped by Heat goaltender Joni Ortio. The forward had a few other offensive chances but couldn’t convert as the Checkers (22-24-1-1) were outskated and outplayed by a team that spent 19 hours on a bus Friday getting to Raleigh after the AHL’s All-Star break.
The two teams play again Sunday at PNC Arena. The starting time was pushed back to 4 p.m. because of the Heat’s delayed arrival.
Boychuk wants to be a full-time NHL player, not an occasional AHL call-up. It’s what the Canes expected when they made him their first-round draft pick in 2008 and what Boychuk expected of himself.
Canes management believes Boychuk is playing a more focused, determined style of hockey this season. He doesn’t disagree, saying, “I’ve changed a lot of my mindset during the game. I feel like I’m playing a lot more intense.
“In past years, I don’t know if it was just me being young or me thinking it was going to be easy. It has taken me a little longer to figure things out. But it hasn’t come easy and I realize that and I’m just trying to be more intense in all different ways that I can play.”
Boychuk has 22 goals and 18 assists in 41 games for the Checkers, and also is among the AHL leaders with 12 power-play goals. He has made the most of his nine games with the Canes, scoring a goal, notching three assists and a plus-2 rating.
“I’ve tried to go to the net as much as I can and be feisty and be bulldog-ish in front of the net,” he said.
A year ago, Boychuk felt like a wanderer. He was waived by the Canes and two other NHL teams before coming back to Carolina and then the Checkers. Now 24, he concedes this is an important season in his career.
“I’ve got some games (with Carolina) and played pretty well and my season’s going pretty well down in Charlotte as well, so I want to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully I’ll be back up in Carolina helping them make a playoff push,” he said.
Daniels said he’s noticed a difference in Boychuk, always a carefree, easy-going type off the ice.
“Without a doubt,” Daniels said. “I’m sure (last season) was a little bit of a wakeup call for him. He’s got to be ready every day to prepare himself to play and push himself.
“He’s still the life of the team and keeps things loose when we need him. But at the same time, his focus has been a lot better and with that his game has been real solid.”
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