Sports

New faces could have key roles for Checkers this spring

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Tomas Jurco (13) skates to the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 6-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Tomas Jurco (13) skates to the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 6-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) AP file photo

The Charlotte Checkers appear to be fine-tuning the attack in advance of the American Hockey League’s postseason.

With the AHL’s best record and a possible No. 1 seed in the Calder Cup playoffs that begin in mid-April, the Checkers are adding a few more pieces to the roster.

Recent acquisitions include 26-year-old forward Tomas Jurco and 29-year-old goalkeeper Dustin Tokarski. They join a Charlotte roster that is among the league’s youngest, and each played a role in Checkers’ victories over the weekend.

A year ago, the Carolinas Hurricanes’ organization acquired forward Greg McKegg, a veteran who had NHL experience but who had struggled a bit and was playing in the AHL. The Hurricanes sent McKegg to Charlotte, and he was a key part of the Checkers’ run into the second round of the playoffs last spring.

McKegg impressed the Hurricanes and has become a full-time NHL player with Carolina.

Checkers coach Mike Vellucci says the same could happen with Jurco, who played 201 NHL games with Chicago and Detroit but has spent the last few years in the AHL and is recovering from back surgery.

“He gives us some experience,” Vellucci say. “He’s won a Calder Cup with Grand Rapids, so we’re hoping that will help us, as far as knowing what it takes to win a championship.

“He (McKegg) came in here and earned an opportunity, and now he’s a full-time NHLer. I’m really proud of him, and hopefully Jurcs can do the same.”

Says Jurco: “That’s my goal.”

He says he’s impressed with what he’s seen so far in Charlotte.

“I can see right away how much skill is here, and how good the players are. I know they like to have fun but work hard. I obviously knew that Charlotte is a really nice city.”

Jurco and Tokarski, who also has played in the NHL but mostly in the AHL (with seven different teams), made their mark in Saturday night’s 8-1 hammering of the Binghamton Devils. Jurco scored two goals, and Tokarski got the victory in goal.

Here’s a look at the past week and what’s ahead for the Checkers:

Friday: Charlotte beat Binghamton 4-2, before a crowd of 6,828 at Bojangles Coliseum. Tied 1-1 after one period, the Checkers pulled ahead on goals by Patrick Brown and Julien Gauthier in a 28-second span of the second period.

Saturday: The Checkers’ 8-1 romp over the Devils, before 7,920 fans, marked Charlotte’s biggest offensive night of the season. Since early January, the Checkers had gone 0-5-2 when anyone other than Alex Nedeljkovic was in goal. Tokarski stopped that streak.

Standings: Charlotte has a six-point lead over second-place Bridgeport Sound in the AHL Atlantic Division, and the Checkers have the best overall record in the league.

Week ahead: The Checkers are back on the road, playing Friday (7:05 p.m.) and Sunday (1:05 p.m.) at Lehigh Valley. Then they return home for six games.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle
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