Following a hard-fought 4-2 win over the Norfolk Admirals on Sunday, Charlotte Checkers’ enforcer Kyle Hagel made his way down the runway sporting one heck of a black eye.
As part of a “Skate with the Players” promotion, several hundred fans had donned skates and were eagerly awaiting the Checkers to join in.
Hagel – who suffered the injury in a first-period fight with John Kurtz – looked back, showing off a right eye that was nearly swollen shut, grinned, and mumbled something to the effect of, “I’m about to scare a whole lot of children.”
Hagel wasn’t the only player with bumps and bruises following Sunday’s physical win, as the Checkers (23-30-5-1) made sure the Admirals’ (22-30-4-3) last-ever trip to Charlotte was an eventful one.
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Defenseman Mike Cornell netted a goal and as assist to finish a fight shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick, while Hagel, Ben Holmstrom, and Patrick Brown each dropped the gloves to help the Checkers take a 3-2-2 season-series edge over the Admirals.
As part of a restructuring that will see the Norfolk team move to the ECHL next season, the win marked the last meeting in Charlotte between the clubs, who have become quite familiar with each other over the last five seasons.
Sunday’s matchup looked less like a game between two teams that currently rank 14th in their perspective conferences and more like teams battling for a playoff spot.
“It was a good game for this late in the season and the situation that we’re in,” said Checkers assistant captains Ben Holmstrom. “We’ve got a lot of young guys still and we’re still trying to preach the right messages and do the right things and I think today was a pretty good example of that.”
The Checkers boast an all-time mark of 23-15-5 against their former East Division rival, including a 13-7-2 record at home.
It didn’t take long for the two teams to begin exchanging pleasantries.
Both Hagel and Holmstrom made it clear with decisive wins in their first-period bouts that the Checkers weren’t going to be pushed around.
By the end of the first, goals by Justin Shugg (on the power play) and Cornell had Charlotte leading 2-0. In the second, Dennis Robertson’s second goal of the season put the Checkers up 3-0.
Norfolk netted the game’s next two goals to make things interesting before Alex Aleardi’s 11th of the season with just over four minutes to play in the third gave the Checkers some breathing room.
“They were coming hard and I felt like our guys battled back and responded well,” Holmstrom said. “That’s just hockey. There are games like that that are intense and physical – especially against a team you play that many times – so guys were ready to go and they played hard and we got the right result.”
1st Period-1, Charlotte, Shugg 16 (Di Giuseppe, Sutter), 11:34 (PP). 2, Charlotte, Cornell 3 (Boychuk, Sutter), 17:03. Penalties-Carrick Cha (cross-checking), 4:15; Kurtz Nor (unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting), 8:14; Hagel Cha (unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting), 8:14; LaBarbera Nor (leaving the crease), 10:37; Sgarbossa Nor (cross-checking, fighting), 10:37; Holmstrom Cha (roughing, fighting), 10:37; McIver Nor (fighting), 17:28; Brown Cha (fighting), 17:28.
2nd Period-3, Charlotte, Robertson 2 (Holmstrom, Cornell), 5:54. 4, Norfolk, Wagner 14 (Kurtz, Robak), 8:33. 5, Norfolk, Sgarbossa 6 (Sarault, Robak), 10:54 (PP). Penalties-Biega Cha (slashing), 9:25; Levi Cha (interference), 10:54; Wagner Nor (interference), 13:26; Shugg Cha (hooking), 13:42.
3rd Period-6, Charlotte, Aleardi 11 (Di Giuseppe, Carrick), 15:12. Penalties-Schmitz Cha (tripping), 10:59.
Shots on Goal-Norfolk 5-11-17-33. Charlotte 14-8-4-26. Power Play Opportunities-Norfolk 1 / 5; Charlotte 1 / 2. Goalies-Norfolk, LaBarbera 7-11-2 (14 shots-12 saves); Faragher 1-5-0 (12 shots-10 saves). Charlotte, MacIntyre 16-19-1 (33 shots-31 saves). A-7,956. Referees-Jason Rollins (37), Stephen Reneau (34). Linesmen-John Grandt (98), Tyler Landman (47).