Charlotte Checkers’ fans have picked up where they left off last season. Will the team follow suit?
All in due time, say a couple of key players, following the team’s 2-2 start in the 2019-20 American Hockey League season.
The defending AHL champions have been a classic .500 team so far. They split two games on each of the two weekends they’ve played, and they sit exactly at the midpoint of the standings in their division, conference and the league overall.
“We’re coming together,” Checkers’ defenseman and captain Roland McKeown said after Friday night’s 4-2 loss to Bridgeport Sound. “I thought we were a lot better tonight than we were last weekend, just structure-wise and as a team.”
The next night, after the Checkers throttled Bridgeport Sound 4-1, forward Morgan Geekie preached patience.
“It takes a couple of games to get going, and I think it’s kind of a feeling-out process,” he said.
Typically, AHL attendance is a bit soft from October through December, as hockey competes with football and the baseball playoffs for fans’ attention. The Checkers were drawing an average of about 6,000 fans per home date much of last season, but attendance soared to 8,000-plus during the playoff drive.
If the first two home games are an example, Checkers’ fans aren’t waiting for football to end this season.
Friday’s opener drew 8,030 to Bojangles Coliseum, and 7,204 fans were on hand for Saturday’s game, despite a heavy schedule of college football.
McKeown and Geekie say the on-ice performance will improve.
“We’ll trust in the system, and good things will happen,” McKeown said.
Geekie added, “I like what we’ve got here. I like our team.“
Here’s a recap of the week:
Friday: The AHL championship banner was raised before the game, but the Bridgeport Sound Tigers apparently were not awed by the ceremony, as they beat Charlotte 4-2. Tigers’ goalkeeper Christopher Gibson was sharp, stopping 42 Checkers’ shots, including 16 in the third period. It was actually a 3-2 game, with Bridgeport Sound scoring an empty-net goal in the closing minute after Charlotte pulled goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic for an extra skater.
Saturday: Geekie scored a goal in both the first and second periods, and newcomers Brian Gibbons and Fredrik Claesson found the net in the third period of a 4-1 victory over Bridgeport. Goalie Anton Forsberg made 28 saves.
Personnel changes: Forward Julien Gauthier, who scored two goals in Charlotte’s first two games and had 27 goals last season, was called up last weekend by the Carolina Hurricanes. He was sent back to Charlotte on Monday, and Gibbons was promoted to Raleigh. Gibbons, 31, was signed as a free agent by the NHL Hurricanes in the offseason.
Goalie stats: Nedeljkovic, last season’s AHL Goalkeeper of the Year, is 0-2 this season in Charlotte, while Forsberg, acquired by the Hurricanes in the offseason, is 2-0.
Special teams are special: The Checkers’ penalty-kill unit has skated off 20 of 21 opponent power plays this season, including 19 in a row.
Week ahead: Charlotte is on the road, playing Friday at the Utica Comets and Saturday against the Syracuse Crunch. The Checkers return home for games Oct. 25 and 26 against Lehigh Valley.