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Labor News Ups Stakes of Checkers Game

Sunday, 01.6.2013 / 5:30 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Labor News Ups Stakes of Checkers Game
It was supposed to just be American Hockey League game No. 505 and the 36th regular season game for the Charlotte Checkers, but it ended up being so much more.

Michael Smith
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News broke early Sunday morning that the NHL and NHLPA had reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement that would end the 113-day work stoppage. That raised the stakes for today’s game, as the microscope of evaluation became more focused than perhaps it has been all season.

“The guys wanted to come in and make a good impression,” said head coach Jeff Daniels. “They showed a lot of excitement and passion early.”

At least from a Hurricanes perspective, the result of the game may have been less important than the brief opportunity to assess the performance of top prospects. But for the Checkers, today’s game meant another two points in the standings, as they topped their old East Division rival Norfolk Admirals 3-1.

“We just kind of put that in the background,” said forward Jeremy Welsh. “No one really knows what’s going to happen in the next week.”

Uncertainty aside, PNC Arena was buzzing, as a capacity crowd of 10,256 welcomed the happy coincidence of favorable labor news and the first AHL game in Raleigh.

“People in Carolina have always been great. I know the guys were excited in the locker room,” Daniels said. “The fans really got into it. It’s a credit to the people of North Carolina. They love the game, and they showed it today.”

“It was good news going into the game here, and I think it helped the crowd, too,” said defenseman Justin Faulk.

Hurricanes brass – including Jim Rutherford, Kirk Muller, Ron Francis, Jason Karmanos, John MacLean, Rod Brind’Amour and Dave Lewis, among others – watched the game from a suite. While this would have been the case regardless of the labor situation, the game ultimately morphed into a 60-minute training camp for many players.

“Guys emotions are running wild. It’s almost like that first day of training camp,” said goaltender Dan Ellis. “Hard work and effort, you want to encourage that.”

“This is where the guys want to be,” Daniels said. “But we didn’t want to get too fancy and try to put on a show.”

Even still, a number of players were quite noticeable today, as the energy level ramped up. Zach Boychuk, though he didn’t factor in on the scoresheet, had a number of prime scoring opportunities. Zac Dalpe scored a shorthanded goal and recorded an assist on the third goal of the game, a beautiful pass from behind the net to set up Jerome Samson in the slot. Faulk picked up from where he left off at PNC Arena in April, looking right at home. Ellis made 28 saves, earning third star honors.

Brett Sutter, who could possibly contend for a depth forward position with the Canes, made an early exit, as he was whistled for a major boarding penalty and a game misconduct at 9:48 of the first period.

“He’s been a leader day in and day out. I guess it was the right call,” Daniels said. “But it was unfortunate because he’s been playing so well.”

The aforementioned players could find themselves back in Raleigh in a few days when a smaller (around 25 players) and shorter (a week) shotgun training camp kicks off. Thought details remain to be seen, Daniels knows he will be without at least one player.

“I would assume Justin [Faulk], for sure,” he said. “He’s an impact player. You can see a big difference between him and other players, and you forget how young he is.”

For some of the Checkers, the fact that they’ve been playing regularly might give them an early conditioning advantage on those who haven’t played organized hockey during the prolonged work stoppage.

“You’re out there practicing with the guys, and you’re skating and pushing yourself hard, but [it’s different when] you get until the game situation – the stops, the starts, battling through checks, having guys pressure you,” Daniels said.

“I’m ready for hockey up here,” Faulk said with a grin on his face.

And he speaks for many.



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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Skinner 82 28 23 -2 51
V. Rask 80 21 27 -6 48
J. Staal 82 20 28 6 48
E. Lindholm 82 11 28 -23 39
J. Faulk 64 16 21 -22 37
J. Nordstrom 71 10 14 1 24
A. Nestrasil 55 9 14 4 23
R. Nash 64 9 13 -5 22
N. Hanifin 79 4 18 -14 22
J. Slavin 63 2 18 1 20
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 23 17 10 .909 2.41
E. Lack 12 14 6 .901 2.81