The largest crowd ever to see a Checkers hockey game in Charlotte saw the home team come up just short on Saturday night.
Goaltender Drew McIntyre stopped 33 of 34 shots but the visiting Rockford IceHogs scored an early power play goal and rode it to a 2-0 American Hockey League victory over the Checkers in front of 13,219 fans at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Checkers (29-36-6-1) wrap up their home schedule at 1 p.m. Sunday against Rockford, ending a 10-season run in Uptown Charlotte. The Checkers will play home games at Bojangles Coliseum, the long-time home of the team’s ECHL incarnation, starting next season.
They put up a pretty good fight before dropping their next-to-last game at TWC Arena.
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“We’ve been playing hard all season and we played well enough to win tonight,” said winger Kyle Hager, who was recognized with the AHL’s Man of the Year community service award before the game. “Guys are playing for pride and for their next contracts, so we haven’t wanted to quit.”
Rockford’s Spencer Abbott scored the only goal of the first two periods almost eight minutes into the second period on the power play. He took a feed from the left circle from Peter Regin and tapped it past McIntyre at the left of the crease.
That was the only shot that the IceHogs (44-21-5-2), winners of their last five games, got past McIntyre — Rockford’s other goal was an empty-netter by Mark McNeill in the final minute.
But IceHogs netminder Antti Raanta was even more effective, stopping all 25 Charlotte shots.
“It took us a while to get our legs going after a week without playing a game,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said. “They (Rockford) play a fast game and we had to catch up pretty quickly. Both goaltenders were very good.”
Not that the Checkers didn’t have their chances. In the first 20 minutes alone, Hagel nearly converted a turnover in the Rockford zone into a score about five minutes in, and winger Phil DiGiuseppe clanged a shot off the crossbar about midway through the period.
“We were right there,” Daniels said. “We had a couple of good chances in the slot that didn’t go in.”
After giving up the power play goal, the Checkers penalty kill stopped four other man-advantage opportunities by Rockford to stay within striking distance.
“”Our penalty kill has been solid all year,” Daniels said. “They got the job done for us late in the game.”
NOTES: After today’s home finale, the Checkers finish the regular season with games at Rockford on Wednesday and Grand Rapids on Saturday and Sunday.
First Period: No scoring. Penalties — Woods (C) tripping 1:52; Mashinter (R) cross-checking 12:00; Holmstrom (C) cross-checking 18:28.
Second Period: 1. Rockford — Abbott 18 (Regin, Hartman) 7:58 (pp). Penalties — Abbott (R) slashing 5:34; LaRose (C) interference 6:55; Shugg (C) hooking 18:45
Third Period: 2. Rockford — McNeill 22 (Hartman, Cumiskey) 19:27 (en). Penalties — Biega (C) slashing 12:31
Shots on Goal: Rockford 10-11-14-35, Charlotte 4-13-8-25. Power Plays: Rockford 1-for-5, Charlotte 0-for-2. Goaltenders: Rockford —Raanta (8-1-2) 25-25 60:00; Charlotte — McIntyre (19-25-5) 34-33 59:14. A — 13, 219