Hockey

Schedule favors Checkers’ bid for top seed in AHL playoffs

Charlotte Checkers coach Mike Vellucci faced a grilling from daughter Alli on his favorite music, food, state to live, and hockey players.
Charlotte Checkers coach Mike Vellucci faced a grilling from daughter Alli on his favorite music, food, state to live, and hockey players. (Raleigh) News & Observer file photo

That brutal early-season schedule is about to pay dividends for the Charlotte Checkers.

The Checkers played 13 of their first 17 games on the road, but now they’ll finish the American Hockey League regular season with 10 of 15 contests at Bojangles Coliseum.

The stretch drive will be important, as the Checkers hope to retain their No. 1 overall position in the AHL standings. That could loom large in the Calder Cup playoffs, giving Charlotte home-ice advantage through every round.

The Checkers are 18-10 on home ice this season, with four of the losses coming in overtime or shootouts. That’s only ninth-best of the AHL’s 31 teams, but a bad four-game homestand in early February – when Charlotte lost three of four – skews what has been an excellent home record otherwise.

The Checkers open the week with a six-point lead over second-place Bridgeport Sound in the Atlantic Division standings. And they have earned 69.7 percent of their possible points this season. That’s the way the AHL determines overall seeding in the playoffs. Next-best, with 67 percent, is Bakersfield, the Pacific Division leader.

Interesting interview: You might want to check out an interview that Alli Vellucci, daughter of Checkers’ head coach Mike Vellucci, conducted with her father about a week ago. It’s on the team’s Twitter feed, @CheckersHockey.

Alli Vellucci grills her dad on his favorite music, food, state to live, and hockey players. It’s a lot of fun.

Now here’s a look at the Checkers’ past week, and what’s ahead:

Friday: Mike Vecchione scored two goals in a five-minute span of the second period, and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms edged the visiting Checkers 3-2. After the Checkers fell behind 3-0, Aleksi Saarela scored a pair of goals in the third period.

Sunday: Checkers goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic made 22 saves as Charlotte blanked Lehigh Valley 4-0. It was his third shutout of the season, and he killed off six short-handed situations. Nick Schilkey scored twice for the Checkers, giving him three multi-goal games this season.

Charlotte played without defenseman Haydn Fleury, who received a one-game suspension for an illegal check in Friday night’s contest.

The week ahead: A six-game homestand begins with games Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (6 p.m.) at Bojangles Coliseum against the Rochester Americans. Charlotte is also home March 19, 20, 23 and 24 before hitting the road again.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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