Goalkeepers don’t score often in hockey. It had happened only 12 times in the American Hockey League’s 82-year history before Saturday night.
So when Charlotte Checkers’ netminder Alex Nedeljkovic accomplished the feat in Saturday’s 7-3 romp over the Hartford Wolf Pack at Bojangles Coliseum, he wanted to celebrate properly.
“I did it last year in Florida on the road, and it was awesome,” said Nedeljkovic, referring to his accomplishing the unusual feat with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades last season.
“The only thing I wanted to take from last year’s was just to go to the bench and celebrate with those guys, because I didn’t do that last year,” he added.
It happened with a little more than two minutes left in the game. The Wolf Pack, trailing 5-3, had pulled its goalkeeper a minute earlier. The Checkers’ Nicolas Ray scored into the empty net, making it 6-3.
The Wolf Pack kept the goal empty in favor of an extra attacker, hoping for a wild comeback. But the puck landed on Nedeljkovic’s stick, and he promptly got down on his left knee and swatted the puck down the ice – into the middle of the Hartford goal.
“When I saw it was going in, I jumped, and I was throwing my hands in the air,” said Nedeljkovic, who didn’t start the game in goal but entered in the second period after Jeremy Smith was injured. “I was like a little kid again.”
Checkers’ coach Mike Vellucci told the team’s website that the goal wasn’t an accident. He said Nedeljkovic practices handling the puck.
“We know he scored one last year in the ECHL … so I know he’s awesome at playing the puck,” Vellucci said. “A lot of guys don’t work on that, but he’s worked at it extremely hard ever since he was 16 years old in Plymouth (in the junior leagues).
“When you work on something it’s good to get rewarded, and I’m happy for him.”
The week in review:
Friday: The Checkers rallied from a 2-0 deficit for a 4-3 victory at home over Hartford. Valentin Zykov scored twice, increasing his AHL-leading goal total to 30. The Wolf Pack led 3-2 in the third period, but Charlotte’s Janne Kuokkanen and Andrew Poturalski got goals.
Saturday: Charlotte jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, playing before a crowd of 8,299. The Wolf Pack closed to 3-2, but Warren Foegele and Patrick Brown scored in the third period. Hartford closed to 5-3 on a Cole Schneider goal and pulled its goalkeeper for the extra attacker, setting up Nedeljkovic’s heroics.
Roster change: The team’s leading scorer, Zykov, was called up by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. It’s the first time he’s been called up to the parent team this season. The Checkers also called up goalkeeper Callum Booth from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.
Standings: Charlotte is solidly fourth in the AHL Atlantic, in the final playoff spot.
Week ahead: The Checkers have four home games – at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday against second-place Wilkes-Barre-Scranton, and at 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday against Binghamton.