For a team that already thought it had an injury crisis, what happened to the Checkers on Sunday was hard to fathom.
Charlotte, already without six regulars for their rematch of the previous night’s win over Houston, lost three more players in the first period of a 5-2 loss to the Aeros on Sunday. Forwards Sean Dolan and Luke Pither and defenseman Michal Jordan all left the before 20 minutes had expired, with the home team playing the bulk of the game with just 15 skaters.
Despite losing those three and giving up the game’s first two goals, the Checkers rallied back to tie the game at 2-2 on second-period goals by Matt Marquardt and Brody Sutter but gave up three unanswered in the third. John Muse made 18 saves in goal.
“The guys battled really hard tonight and in the second to make it 2-2, but in the third I thought fatigue set in,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It caught up to us, and we made some mental mistakes that ended up costing us the game."
“You’re not so much physically tired as you are mentally,” said captain Brett Sutter of playing with 10 forwards for what he believed to be the first time in his six professional seasons. “I thought we played hard, but there were just a few mental mistakes that cost us some goals.”
Pither initially left the game after a hard collision just inside the Charlotte zone but returned to finish the first period. However, he, along with Dolan, who fell awkwardly along the boards, and Jordan, who started the game despite suffering an injury late in the previous day’s game, did not come out for period two.
Following the game, Daniels said he did not have a definitive update on any of those three players or on defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who suffered an injury during Saturday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Aeros.
“It’s all up in the air,” he said.
In addition to Gragnani, a key cog in the team’s power play who had 11 points in his last 10 games, the Checkers were already playing without forwards Zac Dalpe, A. J. Jenks, Andreas Nodl, Jerome Samson and Justin Shugg. Additionally, scoring leader Chris Terry joined seven other players who started the season with Charlotte with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.
“It is what it is right now,” said Daniels. “Every day we have a new lineup with injures and guys getting called up. The message is to make it work every night, and tonight we didn’t do that.”
“We have a lot of new guys in a lot of new situations, so sometimes it’s a little bit of a chemistry thing,” said Sutter.
While looking out of sync for most of a first period that saw players entering and exiting the game every few minutes, the Checkers gave up an early rebound goal to Chad Rau at the three-minute mark and a power-play strike to Justin Fontaine at the halfway point.
With Charlotte already shorthanded at that point, it looked as though the Checkers would be in for a long night when Houston had one of the game’s more dominating shifts early in the second. However, that only served to make Marquardt’s first goal as a Checker, in which he stuffed home a loose puck just shy of the 10-minute mark, even more important.
A few minutes later, Brody Sutter, Brett’s cousin, scored his first AHL goal of the season and second in 11 career AHL games on a deflection of a point shot by Rasmus Rissanen to tie the game.
Both goal scorers were among 11 players on Charlotte’s roster that began the season in the ECHL, a number that could grow by as many as three by the time the Checkers play their next game against Norfolk on Wednesday. Defenseman Rasmus Rissanen had the primary assists on both goals for his second career multi-point game.
Despite the Checkers continuing to apply pressure for much of the third period, those were the only times they were able to break through rookie goaltender Cody Reichard, who was making his first career AHL start. At the other end, the Aeros were finally able to break down the Checkers’ defense with three goals in just under six minutes, including two by forward Jake Dowell.
The Checkers, now 5-1-1 in their seven-game series with their South Division rival, will now have two days off before continuing their five-game home stand against the Admirals at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Given the rapidly mounting number of injuries, they’ll take all the help they can get.
“This time of year you need a lot of different guys to step up and contribute," said Brett Sutter. "We’ll get a good few days of rest and go get them on Wednesday."
After scoring a power-play goal in six consecutive games, the Checkers went 0-for-11 in their two games against the Aeros … All three of the Checkers goals this weekend were scored by players netting their first in the AHL this season (David Marshall, Marquardt, Brody Sutter) … Defenseman Beau Schmitz, recalled from ECHL Florida earlier in the day to replace Gragnani, recorded his second assist in five career AHL games on Marquardt’s goal … The Checkers out-shot their opponent for just the second time in their last 13 games … For the second game in a row, fans voted Marquardt winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game award.