Charlotte Checkers’ coach Mike Vellucci knows his team, one of the youngest in the American Hockey League, should have the endurance to deal with grueling parts of the schedule.
But Vellucci also knows young players must learn how to make the most of that energy when the schedule gets busy.
“We’ve talked about it,” Vellucci says. “I’ve said it for a long time – every point is very important, no matter what. If you’re down in a game, you’ve got to scratch and claw to tie it up, and at least get it to overtime.”
A loss earns a team no points in the standings. An overtime loss is worth one point.
So Vellucci and the rest of the coaching staff tried to prepare the squad for a schedule that included three straight games this weekend, another road contest Wednesday, and then home games Friday and Saturday. That’s six games in nine days.
“We just have to manage their rest, manage their eating, and getting them lots of fluids,” Vellucci said before the team left Charlotte late last week for games Friday at Lehigh Valley and Saturday and Sunday in Hershey.
The effort seemed to pay off.
Charlotte had an amazing rally Saturday night in Hershey, battling back from a 3-0 deficit and managing to tie the Bears 5-5 in regulation. Charlotte lost in the shootout but still gained a point.
On Sunday, the Checkers scored five times in the first period on route to a 5-2 victory over Hershey. Aleksi Saarela’s two goals and Andrew Miller’s goal and assist led the way.
With the Checkers fifth in the AHL standings but within easy striking distance of third place, and with only the top four teams earning playoff berths, the coaching staff wants to earn at least one point in every game.
“Every point is very important, and I’m pretty sure they know that,” Vellucci says of his players.
The Checkers face two more three-games-in-three-days grinds – on back-to-back weekends, Feb. 23-25 and March 2-4.
Here’s how the team fared during the past week:
All-Star Game: The Checkers’ Warren Foegele and Valentin Zykov each had four assists for the Atlantic Division, which finished second of the AHL’s four divisions in a round-robin format.
Friday: Foegele’s 21st goal of the season (tops among AHL rookies) tied the game in the third period, but host Lehigh Valley scored with three minutes left and won 3-2.
Saturday: Five different players scored for Charlotte in its 6-5 shootout loss to Hershey. In the shootout, Zykov scored for Charlotte but the Checkers were outscored 2-1.
Sunday: Charlotte’s five-goal first-period outburst chased Bears’ goalkeeper Phoenix Copley. Saarela scored two goals, and teammates Miller, Josiah Didier and Clark Bishop had single tallies in the 5-2 romp.
Week ahead: Charlotte finishes the road trip Wednesday with a 7:05 p.m. game in Lehigh Valley. Then the Checkers return home for games at 7:15 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday against the Springfield Thunderbirds (Florida Panthers farm team).