The schedule put the odds against the Checkers having a great start to the season, but that hasn’t seemed to matter.
Playing the fourth game of a team-record-tying, nine-game road swing, the Checkers prevailed 2-1 in Rockford on Saturday night to improve to 3-0-1 and continue the best start in their three seasons as an American Hockey League franchise. Drayson Bowman scored both goals for Charlotte, with Dan Ellis picking up 35 saves for his first AHL win since May 10, 2007.
After starting the season scoreless in his first two games, Bowman, a Checkers veteran who was able to rejoin the team on an AHL contract during training camp, now has three goals in the last two days to take sole possession of the team lead. Forward Zac Dalpe picked up the primary assist on both goals.
The Checkers will complete their set of playing three games in three nights when the IceHogs host a rematch of tonight’s game on Sunday at 6 p.m. eastern.
Saturday’s game featured an excellent performance by both goaltenders, with Rockford’s Carter Hutton finishing with 40 saves. Bowman proved to be the only player who could beat him, first with an excellent shot from the right circle on a second-period power play that found an inch of daylight inside the near post and under the crossbar, and then early in the third period when he stuffed in a Dalpe rebound.
After starting out strong, Ellis actually made an error on Rockford’s goal, allowing a seemingly harmless Ryan Stanton shot from the right wing trickle through his pads and into the crease, where Marcus Kruger, a Swedish forward who spent all of last season with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, slamming home the loose puck.
Despite allowing another goal mere minutes after Kruger’s tally that officials waved off due to goalie interference, Ellis was able to navigate a slow stretch midway through the game and come up huge late, particularly during two late penalty kills. After Michal Jordan took a slashing penalty with 1:11 remaining, Rockford pulled Hutton for the extra attacker to set up a six-on-four power play but was unable to beat Ellis and the Checkers’ penalty kill, which was six-for-six on the evening.
Despite becoming the only team to score on a Rockford penalty kill that entered the game perfect in 18 chances when Bowman scored his first, the Checkers may actually leave the game disappointed in their power play, which failed to convert on almost three total minutes of time spent on a two-man advantage. The first lasted 53 seconds in the first period when Ben Smith and former Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Philippe Paradis took minor penalties in quick succession, while the second occurred in the third when Shawn Lalonde roughed Chris Terry midway through a five-minute boarding major to Paradis.
The Checkers were playing without standout defenseman Justin Faulk, who suffered an injury in Friday’s 4-3 win over Milwaukee and is day-to-day with a muscle strain. Due to the injury, both Brett Bellemore and Justin Krueger, who had been taking turns as a healthy extra, played in the same game for the first time this season.
Since joining the AHL two seasons ago, the Checkers are now 12-3-2 in the second game of three-in-three sets … Though left off the score sheet for the first time this season, Zach Boychuk had a game-high eight shots on goal … A.J. Jenks earned the secondary assist on Bowman’s second goal, giving him a point in his season debut … Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani assisted on the first goal, giving him three assists in his last two games … Rockford was playing its home opener, marking the fourth time in four games that the Checkers have experienced opening night as the visiting team … Forwards Victor Rask, Justin Soryal and Jared Staal were healthy scratches for Charlotte.
1. Drayson Bowman
2. Dan Ellis
3. Carter Hutton (Rockford)