The past week was OK for the Charlotte Checkers but unforgettable for their star goaltender.
Alex Nedeljkovic, at age 23, started – and won – his first major league game Wednesday night. He was called up by the Checkers’ National Hockey League parent club, the Carolina Hurricanes, and got the start in the Canes’ game at Vancouver.
Nedeljkovic stopped 24 of 26 shots as the Hurricanes whipped the Canucks 5-2.
Carolina returned Nedeljkovic to the Checkers after the game, with the Hurricanes going into the All-Star break and expecting to have an injured goalie back in the lineup when play resumes.
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But for now, Nedeljkovic, a second-round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2014, has a perfect record in the NHL.
“One of my goalie coaches told me growing up, ‘Play every game like it’s the biggest game of your life, so when you play the biggest game of your life, it’s just another game,” Nedeljkovic said afterward.
His parents flew to the game from their home in Parma, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. Nedeljkovic told reporters afterward that he spotted them in the stands before the game started.
Nedeljkovic is expected to contend for the starting job with the Hurricanes next season. For now, he’s back with the Checkers and on Saturday night he was in Hartford, Conn., wearing a Checkers uniform and logging his American Hockey League-leading 21st victory of the season.
The Checkers are heading into the AHL All-Star break, with forward Andrew Poturalski, defenseman Trevor Carrick and coach Mike Vellucci representing the team at festivities in Springfield, Mass. The Skills Contest will be Sunday night, with the all-star tournament (featuring teams from the AHL’s four divisions) Monday.
Here's a look at the past week and what’s ahead for Charlotte:
Friday: Charlotte took a 2-0 lead at Providence, but the Bruins rallied and beat the Checkers 5-3. Jake Bean scored two goals, for his first multi-goal game as a pro.
Saturday: Aleksi Saarela scored two goals, and Nedeljkovic made 18 saves as the Checkers whipped the host Hartford Wolf Pack 5-2. It broke a three-game winless string for Charlotte.
The standings: The Checkers take a 31-11-4 record into the All-Star break. They lead the Atlantic Division by 12 points over Bridgeport Sound, and if the season ended today, the Checkers would be the AHL’s No. 1 seed in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Week ahead: Charlotte resumes play Friday, opening a four-game home stand at Bojangles Coliseum. The Checkers face Providence at 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday. The home stand continues with games Feb. 5 and 6 against the Cleveland Monsters.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle