Friday, October 31, 2014

Former Hurricane, Chad LaRose, starting to look like old self in Charlotte

After sitting out the entire 2013-14 season, Charlotte Checkers right wing Chad LaRose is starting to look like his old self.

In the final seconds of the first period of the Checkers 3-1 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in front of 3,459 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday afternoon, LaRose darted towards the left side of the net with the puck on his stick.

With a Bulldogs’ defenseman sliding in front of him, LaRose attempted to cross the puck, but it instead bounced right back onto his stick.

It was the 32-year-old’s quick reaction and soft hands that then stood out, as he lifted a backhand shot up and over Hamilton goalie Mike Condon (26 saves on 27 shots) for his second goal of the season.

The point was LaRose’s third in as many games, after posting a clean sheet in his first five regular-season games.

“He’s getting his legs and timing back,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said of LaRose. “He missed a year last year, so we knew it was going to take some time and I think you’re starting to see some flashes of what LaRose is capable of doing.” 

LaRose’s hard-nose style of play made him a fan-favorite in Raleigh, where he netted at least 10 goals for five-straight seasons from 2007-08 to 2011-12. But a down season in 2012-13 (two goals and two assists in 35 games) led him to question his commitment to the game. 

A free agent to be, LaRose, skipped his exit interview with the Hurricanes and fell off the grid. Calls and text messages from NHL clubs interested in his services simply went unanswered.

“I wasn’t into the game anymore and I didn’t think it was fair to give anybody 60 or 70 percent of me,” he told the Checkers’ Paul Branecky back in September. “I built up a lot of anger towards the game and wanted to get away. I didn’t know if I’d ever play again, to be honest with you.”

It took until this past spring for LaRose’s passion for the game to return. When it did, he reached out to the Hurricanes, who have offered him a chance to earn his way back to the NHL by showing what he can do with the Checkers.

“(LaRose is) a high-energy guy,” Daniels said on Friday. “He’s good down on the cycle with protecting the puck and he’s capable of scoring goals.”

With the Canes’ historically slow start to the season – they failed to secure a single win in the month of October – there’s a very real chance fans in Raleigh will be able to dust off their LaRose jerseys at some point this season.

Notes: Defenseman Ryan Murphy – who was assigned to Charlotte on Wednesday -- played his first game with the Checkers and failed to record a shot on goal, finishing the game a minus-2.

“I thought he was ok,” said Daniels when asked about Murphy’s debut. “He showed his ability to skate up the ice with the puck. He sees the ice well and can make a play, but he’ll get better.” 

Murphy was caught out of position on the Bulldogs’ first goal, allowing Christian Thomas a free run at Drew MacIntyre (20 saves on 22 shots), but also showed the ability to skate the puck into the offensive zone – something the Checkers have struggled with this season.

Asked what the Hurricanes want to see from him in Charlotte, Murphy didn’t make any excuses.

“I need to get better at defensive zone coverage, (improve my) strength, and work on the power play,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that I need to get better at to get myself back in the big leagues.

“(Carolina) Coach (Bill) Peters has a game plan and he likes to stick to it,” Murphy continued. “He’s probably the most prepared coach I’ve ever played for. He knows what he wants and he wants the best for his players and he wants his players to play hard for him.”

Friday’s loss dropped the Checkers to 2-6-0 on the season. They’ll take on the Bulldogs again this Sunday at 1 p.m.

Injuries: Checkers assistant captain Ben Holmstrom hit the boards hard during the third period on Friday and went straight to the locker room holding his left shoulder. Daniels did not have any update on Holmstrom’s condition following the game, but its likely he’ll miss this Sunday’s game. … Forward Justin Shugg (upper body injury) missed his fifth straight game.     

Game 8: Hamilton Bulldogs at Charlotte Checkers

Puck Drop: Friday, noon.

TV/Radio info: AHL Live / ESPN 730

Records: Checkers 2-5-0, Bulldogs 2-3-2

After splitting a pair of games at Iowa over the weekend, the Checkers return home to play a pair against the Hamilton Bulldogs. The team still is searching for its first home win and is looking to avoid a similar start to last season’s 0-6-0.

Notes: On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes reassigned defenseman Ryan Murphy and center Brody Sutter to Charlotte. Murphy joins the Checkers for the first time this season after playing six games with Carolina. … Murphy’s presence should help the Checkers climb out of last place in the American Hockey League in shots on goal (22.71 per game). … Charlotte did outshoot its opponent for the first time in Saturday’s loss at Iowa. … Brock McGinn and Carter Sandlak scored their first professional goals Friday at Iowa. Sandlak’s also was his first pro point.

Checkers lines: 

Brock McGinn-Ben Holmstrom (A)-Greg Nemisz (A)
Phil Di Giuseppe-Brody Sutter-Chad LaRose
Brendan Woods-Patrick Brown-Alex Aleardi
Kyle Hagel-A.J. Jenks-Jared Staal

Rasmus Rissanen-Michal Jordan (C)
Trevor Carrick-Danny Biega
Keegan Lowe-Ryan Murphy

Drew MacIntyre
John Muse

Healthy scratches: Carter Sandlak, Dennis Robertson, Beau Schmitz

Injured/out: Justin Shugg (upper-body injury). 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Checkers swept by Griffins despite strong effort from a sick Brendan Woods

Brendan Woods woke up sick Saturday morning.

He tipped off the Checkers training staff and then did what he could to pull himself together. 

“It was up in the air a bit,” Woods said. “We were just taking precautions, but I felt good in warm ups and let the coaches and trainers know that I was good to go.” 

Woods – whose injury history is longer than most 22-year-old forwards’ – is back on the ice this year after a disappointing end to last season, where a knee injury cost him the final 25 games.  

After being sidelined with a broken leg earlier in his career and missing 31 total games in 2013-14, Woods had no intentions of sitting out Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins because of an illness.

“I’ve had a tough road in my career so far with injuries,” he said. "It’s just good to be healthy and I want to stay healthy.”

Woods’ physicality showed midway through the first period when he corralled the puck and carried it deep into the Griffins' zone with speed before sending a tape-to-tape pass to Phil Di Giuseppe for a slap shot that was tipped home by Jared Staal.

The puck found the back of the net at 6:14 in the first period and proved to be the lone goal of the game for the Checkers (1-4-0), who fell for the second time in as many days to Grand Rapids (3-1-0) in front of 5,917 at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“It’s a simple play,” said Woods, whose team surrendered two goals in the second and third periods. “That’s how our goals are going to be. They’re not going to be pretty. We’re going to be playing dirty and getting all those ugly ones. The ugly ones are just as good as the prettier ones. We’ve just got to keep plugging away."

For the second day in a row, Charlotte struggled to stay out of the penalty box (they allowed the Griffins nine power plays on Friday) and Grand Rapids took advantage, netting three of its four goals on the man advantage.

With the Checkers trailing 3-1 in the third, Woods was hit with a tripping penalty and his frustrations boiled over when he voiced his opinion that the play was a dive to the on-ice officials.

Woods’ words earned him a 10-minute game misconduct penalty, but the game was all but over at that point.  

“The way the score was and how the game was going, I was frustrated and I let my emotions get to me,” he said. “They’re a good team and they’re good on the power play. We knew that coming in to this weekend and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot by taking too many dumb penalties – me included.

“We have a great team in that locker room,” Woods continued. “We showed that for the first 15 minutes tonight when we dominated. We’ve just got to put a full 60 minutes together.” 

Game 5: Grand Rapids Griffins at Charlotte Checkers

Puck Drop: Saturday, 7:00 p.m.

TV/Radio info: AHL Live / ESPN 730

Records: Checkers 1-3-0, Griffins 2-1-0

The Charlotte Checkers are still looking for their first win at home this season after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Griffins at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday night. Brody Sutter scored the lone goal in support of Drew MacIntyre (41 saves on 43 shots), who is now 1-2 on the season despite leading the AHL with 112 saves. After Saturday night's game, the Checkers will hit to road, where they will play a two-game weekend series in Iowa against the Wild. 

Following Friday's game, the Detroit Red Wings recalled Griffins starting goaltender Petr Mrazek (18 of 19 saves) to the NHL. ... Tom McCollum (1-0-0; 2.00 GAA) will likely start in net. 

Notes: The Raleigh News and Observer's Chip Alexander put a nice update on former Checkers Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm adapting to play in Carolina. ... C Ben Holmstrom is three shy of 500 AHL penalty minutes. ... Friday was the 100th career AHL game for C Brody Sutter. ... After asking around, it sounds like the Checkers feel as though Friday's game was the best so far this season from rookie LW Brock McGinn, who had a shot hit the post. 

Probable lines: 

Brock McGinn-Ben Holmstrom (A)-Alex Aleardi
Phil Di Giuseppe-Brody Sutter-Greg Nemisz (A)
Carter Sandlak-Patrick Brown-Chad LaRose
Kyle Hagel-Brendan Woods-Jared Staal

Rasmus Rissanen-Michal Jordan (C)
Keegan Lowe-Danny Biega
Trevor Carrick-Beau Schmitz

Drew MacIntyre
John Muse

Healthy scratches: Mike Aviani (signed a PTO with the Checkers on Thursday), Dennis Robertson

Injured/out: Justin Shugg (upper-body injury). Brendan Woods (questionable due to illness)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Brody Sutter's goal not enough as Checkers fall to Griffins in home opener, 2-1

Brody Sutter kept telling himself that once the puck dropped, the arena didn’t matter.

It was Thursday morning, and Sutter, a seventh-round draft pick with a famous last name, was hours away from making his NHL debut – at Madison Square Garden.

“It was awesome, probably the best day of my life and something I’ve worked towards since I was a little boy,” said Sutter, 23, who logged 13 shifts in the Hurricanes shootout loss to the Rangers. “To not only make the NHL, but to do it in New York was not only really cool, but an exciting day for my family and I.”  

Following the game, Carolina activated Jeff Skinner from its crowded list of injured reserves and reassigned Sutter to the Charlotte Checkers just in time for its home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday.

Less than 24 hours removed from centering the Canes' fourth line, Sutter found himself paired with youngsters Alex Aleardi and Phil Di Giuseppe, again reminding himself that once the puck dropped, the arena doesn't matter.

After using the first period to get his legs under him, Sutter broke into the offensive zone, collected a rebound, and sent a quick shot past Grand Rapids goalie Petr Mrazek for the Checkers’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss in front of a home-town crowd of 7,277. 

“Hockey is hockey,” Sutter said. “You have to come and compete every night. It doesn’t matter if it’s NHL, AHL, juniors, or college. Obviously, it’s a little bit bigger of a stage up top and it’s a little bit faster. But, like I said, once the puck drops, it’s still hockey and you’ve got to be able to compete and win your battles and help the team win.”  
Friday night was a solid showing for Sutter (three shots on net) – who played 69 games for the Checkers last season and set career highs in games, goals (8), assists (20) and points (28) – but almost no one else, with the Checkers getting outshot 43-19. 

Charlotte – which surrendered Grand Rapids nine power plays -- allowed the go-ahead goal at 0:46 of the third while playing a man down, when Teemu Pulkkinen found the open net above the right blocker of Drew MacIntyre (41 of 43 saves).

“I think if we cut down on some shots against and some penalties we might be a little fresher to play the other way, but right now we’re killing ourselves with too much time in our end killing penalties and soft plays,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said.

Charlotte did what it could to try to even the score in the third period, but was still outshot 16-8 in the frame and ultimately fell to 1-3-0 on the season.

The Checkers will have a chance for redemption on Saturday at 7 p.m. when the two teams face off once more before Grand Rapids heads out of town.

Carolina coach Bill Peters “said I should get another chance up there at some point this season, so that’s encouraging and it was a good first step,” said Sutter. “But we’ve got to execute better on our breakout. There are not too many positives when you get outshot 38-20 or whatever it was at home. We need to be better and we’ll make sure we are tomorrow.”

Game 4: Grand Rapids Griffins at Charlotte Checkers

Puck Drop: Friday, 7:00 p.m.

TV/Radio info: TWC Ch. 323 / no radio

Records: Checkers 1-2-0, Griffins 1-1-0

The Charlotte Checkers are set to play their first home game of the season after starting the 2014-15 campaign with a three-in-three road trip. After dropping their first two games of the season, Charlotte secured a 2-1 win in overtime on Sunday thanks to Ben Holmstrom's first goal as a member of the Checkers and 42 saves (on 43 shots) from Drew MacIntyre

The Griffins split a home-and-home series with the Lake Erie Monsters and will take on Charlotte at Time Warner Cable Arena again on Saturday. The Checkers are 2-2 all time in home openers.

Hurricanes assign Brown, Sutter to Charlotte

Per AHL release...

RALEIGH -- Ron Francis, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has assigned forwards Patrick Brown and Brody Sutter to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League (AHL). It was also announced that forward Jeff Skinner has been removed from injured reserve.

Notes: This is the first of eight regular-season meetings between the Griffins and Checkers. ... Tonight is the 13th all-time meeting between Charlotte and Grand Rapids. The Checkers hold the edge with a 8-4-0-0 (16 points) record. ... Holmstrom (1-1-2) is tied for the team leas in goals and points and has recorded points in his last two games. ... Both Sutter and Brown are expected to play tonight. ... Former Checker Chris Terry (3-1-4) has scored three goals in the Hurricanes last four games and is tied for the team lead in points.  

Probable lines:

Brock McGinn-Ben Holmstrom-Chad LaRose
Phil Di Giuseppe-Brody Sutter-Alex Aleardi
Carter Sandlak-Greg Nemisz-Jared Staal
Kyle Hagel-Patrick Brown-Brendan Woods

Rasmus Rissanen-Michal Jordan
Keegan Lowe-Danny Biega
Trevor Carrick-Beau Schmitz

Drew MacIntyre
John Muse

Healthy scratches: Mike Aviani (signed a PTO with the Checkers on Thursday), Dennis Robertson

Injured/out: Justin Shugg