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In the System: Checkers Learning to Win Close Games

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 6:11 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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In the System: Checkers Learning to Win Close Games
Over a month into the American Hockey League’s 2010-11 season, the Charlotte Checkers have begun to mesh as a team, finding ways to win close games that they were losing earlier in the season.

Michael Smith

Before being dropped 7-3 by the Norfolk Admirals on Monday night, the Checkers (10-8-3) put together a 4-game winning streak that included pairs of wins over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Adirondack Phantoms.

During that stretch, head coach Jeff Daniels praised the Checkers’ ability to apply pressure offensively in order to score timely goals and their play on special teams – the Checkers converted on 26 percent of their power plays and killed off 13 of 14 penalties.

Zach Boychuk, the team’s leading scorer, recorded 5 points during the win streak. He added 2 assists on Monday night to bring his season point total to 22 (8g, 14a).

“He’s at his best when he is skating, when he’s physical and playing the body to create turnovers,” Daniels said. “He obviously has the talent to score goals, but what he’s doing away from the puck is getting a lot better.”

“He’s definitely been one of the more productive guys recently,” said Jason Karmanos, vice president and assistant general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes. “You can always see the flashes of skill and the bursts of speed that he can show, but when he’s really going, he has that consistently from shift to shift.”

Defensively, the play of Checkers’ captain Bryan Rodney has been noted. According to Karmanos, Rodney is still on the short list of potential call-ups. He hasn’t been to Raleigh yet simply because he plays on the left side, and the need has been for right-side defensemen.

“From day one, he’s come down with a good attitude, and he leads the team on the ice in the way he handles himself,” Daniels said. “He is a guy that we put in all situations. He plays a ton of big minutes, and he’s been a great leader for us.”

Jared Staal, brother of Hurricanes’ captain Eric Staal, was recently assigned to the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). In nine games for the Checkers, Staal went pointless and finished at -3.

However, Karmanos said he wouldn’t characterize the situation as a struggle for Staal. Rather, because of the number of forwards in the system already, Staal got caught in a numbers game, much like the situation Patrick O’Sullivan found himself in with the Canes.

“What’s most important for Jared is that he plays. He needs to develop and play a lot of minutes,” Karmanos said. “He needs to continue to work hard and keep himself in the best shape possible. The best way to do that is to be playing games.”

Player Spotlight – Mark Alt

Defenseman Mark Alt is currently starting as a true freshman for the University of Minnesota. Like Justin Faulk, Alt is already having an impact on an otherwise experienced defensive corps.

The 19-year old, U.S.-born defenseman was drafted 53rd overall (2nd round) by the Hurricanes in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. At a listed 6-foot-3, 199-pounds, Alt comes off as a stocky defender. But don’t let the size fool you.

“His athleticism is what jumps out at you right away,” Karmanos said. “He’s a big kid and he’s strong, but he skates very well.

“Sometimes when people hear defensive defenseman they think big and slow – that’s not Mark,” Karmanos added. “He’s already big, but certainly he doesn’t appear slow on the ice.”

Though Alt isn’t slow, he does benefit from his size, as he plays a physical game down low.

“He likes to get in and play an aggressive game,” Karmanos said. “That would indicate that he’s not afraid to go into the tough areas. He wants to engage physically and use his big frame to his advantage.”

Before attending Minnesota, Alt played high school hockey at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul where he earned All-State honors in his last two seasons. He also played football for Cretin-Durham, quarterbacking his team to a championship in 2009. For that, he was named Minnesota’s Most Outstanding High School Football Player in 2009.

His 1,956-yard and 26-touchdown senior year performance earned him an offer from the University of Iowa to play football. Instead, he chose to pursue hockey, and in August, he participated in the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Karmanos said that making the step from high school into Division I hockey is a big adjustment, but it is also one that Alt is making in stride.

“He’s getting a lot of playing time. These are the things you like to see – kids jumping right into a high level of play,” Karmanos said. “There’s going to be some ups and downs like there always are with young players, but he’s one in that group of young college defenseman that we think have bright futures.”




1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
11 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
12 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47


J. Faulk 54 15 19 -13 34
J. Skinner 55 19 12 -3 31
V. Rask 53 12 19 0 31
J. Staal 55 12 19 7 31
K. Versteeg 54 10 21 1 31
E. Staal 55 9 21 1 30
E. Lindholm 55 8 16 -9 24
A. Nestrasil 48 8 12 0 20
J. Nordstrom 44 5 10 2 15
R. Hainsey 55 3 11 -12 14
C. Ward 15 11 7 .909 2.34
E. Lack 9 10 3 .901 2.74
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