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What makes Checkers’ playoff opener against high-scoring Chicago so historic?

Forward Janne Kuokkanen, the Carolina Hurricanes’ second-round draft pick in 2016, is getting a look in training camp on a line with Jordan Staal and Justin Williams
Forward Janne Kuokkanen, the Carolina Hurricanes’ second-round draft pick in 2016, is getting a look in training camp on a line with Jordan Staal and Justin Williams

Two of the American Hockey League’s late-charging teams will face off Thursday night as a bit of hockey history is made at Bojangles Coliseum.

The Charlotte Checkers open their first-round best-of-5 Calder Cup playoff series at 7 p.m., against the high-scoring Chicago Wolves. Game 2 is 7:15 p.m. Friday at Bojangles Coliseum, before the series shifts to Chicago for the remaining games.

It’s the Checkers’ first AHL playoff appearance in four years, and the first Calder Cup playoff game at Bojangles Coliseum. The Checkers joined the AHL, hockey’s top minor league, in the 2009-10 season and played at the Spectrum Center until the 2015-16 campaign.

Bojangles Coliseum hosted playoff games in decades past, but those were when the Checkers were members of lower-level minor leagues.

The Wolves are the Central Division’s top seed, and they averaged 2.79 goals a game – tied for fourth-best in the AHL.

“Chicago can score a lot of goals,” first-year Charlotte coach Ulf Sameulsson said. “They’re a fast transition team, and they have a lot of good players.”

Myles Fee, the Checkers’ video coach, said Charlotte’s coaching staff spent much of the week watching replays of the team’s eight meetings with Chicago this season.

Both teams had slow starts this season. Chicago was 8-11 in late November but won 36 of its final 57 games. The Checkers made an even later run to the playoffs, winning 12 of their final 18 games.

Five to watch

Tom McCollum, Charlotte: A 26-year-old goalkeeper, he joined the Checkers on March 8 and compiled a 12-5 record down the stretch. Two of those losses were in overtime and another in a shoot-out. His goals-allowed average of 2.08 was among the AHL’s best down the stretch.

Lucas Wallmark, Charlotte: A center who missed several games late in the season with an injury, Wallmark led the Checkers with 24 goals.

Kenny Agostino, Chicago: The AHL Most Valuable Player, he led the league in scoring with 83 points.

Wade Megan, Chicago: A center who led the AHL in goals, with 33, and was fourth in overall scoring.

Samuel Blais, Chicago: Like Agostino, Blais is a left-winger. He was second on the team in goals scored with 26.

Worth mentioning

▪  The Wolves didn’t make the playoffs last year but have won an AHL divisional title four of the past eight seasons.

▪ Chicago dominated the season series against Charlotte, winning six of eight games.

▪  While based in Chicago, the Wolves are not a farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks. They’re affiliated with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks’ AHL team is Rockford. Charlotte is a farm team of the Carolinas Hurricanes.

▪  Forward Janne Kuokkanen, 18, the Hurricanes’ second-round draft pick this season, has been assigned to the Checkers for the playoffs. His junior-league team, London (Ontario), was eliminated from the playoffs. Kuokkanen led his team in scoring in the playoffs.

▪  The Checkers are offering $2 hot dogs, popcorn and beer at Thursday night’s game.

They said it

“Any time you can get home-ice advantage, it’s important,” – Wolves coach Craig Berube, former coach of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Chicago will be home for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the series.

“They tend to win games 5-4 or 4-3. They give up goals, but they do a good job of scoring them too.” – Charlotte Checkers’ forward Phil Di Giuseppe, talking about the Wolves.

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