Charlotte Checkers

New-look Checkers open home hockey season Friday by raising championship banner

The Charlotte Checkers will raise their 2018-19 American Hockey League championship banner Friday night, but many of the players who won that title won’t be around to see it.

As is usually the case in minor league sports, the Checkers’ roster underwent a makeover in the offseason, and only 10 players currently on the 2019-20 roster played for Charlotte during the championship season.

The ceremony is planned for 6:30 p.m. at Bojangles Coliseum, in advance of the Checkers’ 7 p.m. home opener against the Bridgeport Sound.

The Checkers won the Calder Cup, beating the Chicago Wolves in five games in the finals four months ago. It was Charlotte’s first championship in the AHL, hockey’s top minor league.

A number of the players from the championship team have been promoted to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, but several others were dealt away.

Players from the championship squad still on this year’s roster are:

Goalkeeper: Alex Nedeljkovic, the AHL Goalkeeper of the Year.

Forwards: Clark Bishop, Julien Gauthier, Morgan Geekie, Janne Kuokkanen, Steven Lorentz, Stelio Mattheos.

Defensemen: Jake Bean, Roland McKeown, Derek Sheppard.

Also gone is Mike Vellucci, who coached the Checkers to the championship. He is now coaching the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton franchise, a farm team of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ryan Warsofsky, Vellucci’s assistant last year, is now the head coach. At 31, he is the AHL’s youngest head coach in 19 years.

The Checkers launched their season last weekend with a pair of road games. Here is how they fared, with a look at what’s ahead:

Saturday: Charlotte became the first defending Calder Cup champion in eight years to lose its opener the following season, falling 5-3 at Hartford. Janne Kuokkanen put the Checkers ahead 1-0 just 1:18 into the game, but Hartford scored the next five goals. Kuokkanen was playing for the first time since being injured March 2.

Sunday: The Checkers rebounded with a 4-2 victory over the Springfield Thunderbirds. Geekie and Gauthier scored power-play goals, and newcomer Anthony Louis scored on an assist from Kuokkanen. The fourth goal came from Lorentz. In goal, making 33 saves, was Anton Forsberg, who was traded to the Hurricanes’ system in the offseason from Columbus.

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