Though happy with their first scrimmage on Tuesday, the Checkers still saw the progression they were hoping for in round two.
By all accounts the session was much faster than the first, with the Red team sweeping the miniseries with a 5-3 victory at Extreme Ice Center. With the first preseason contest just days away, it was another important step towards game readiness.
“I thought they were a lot sharper and that there was more intensity,” said coach Jeff Daniels.
“Today had a much higher tempo, and that helps everyone step up their game,” said forward Chris Terry.
As was the case Tuesday, the potential top line of Terry, Jeremy Welsh and Zac Dalpe led the way offensively, with Terry and Dalpe each finding the net for Team Red. Dalpe batted his goal in out of mid-air, just as Welsh did Tuesday, while Terry deflected a point shot by Justin Faulk after a faceoff win by Welsh.
That gave the trio a combined five goals in two games to cap off an impressive week.
“There’s no guarantee that they’ll be together this weekend or on opening night, but they’re three skilled that can all shoot the puck and make things happen,” said Daniels.
“Dalpe’s got the speed and Welsh is a big guy,” said Terry of the group’s apparent chemistry. “When you look at Welsh he’s obviously a big body and you want to use that to your advantage down low.”
The offensive totals could have been even higher, with that unit dangerous on several other occasions during Thursday’s scrimmage. Terry in particular may have had close to 10 shots on goal, not including a hit post in third period.
“Probably my career high,” said Terry with a smile when asked about how many pucks he fired at goalies John Muse and Justin Peters on Thursday.
Terry said that was by design, as he dropped to 16 goals last season following a career-high 34 in the Checkers’ inaugural AHL season.
“I’m definitely trying to get back to my first year here and shooting the puck,” he said, noting that Daniels had been persuading him to do so. “If there’s a play to make I’ll still try to make it, but good things happen when you shoot it.”
Forward Zach Boychuk and defenseman Bobby Raymond, a camp invite who spent last season with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, also scored for Team Red, with White defenseman Michal Jordan inadvertently deflecting a fifth goal into his own net while trying to break up a centering feed.
Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, rookie center Victor Rask and one of either Jared Staal or Brett Sutter, depending on which player last touched a puck that went in during a goalmouth scramble, scored for Team White.
Another developing story is in goal, where veteran tryout Dan Ellis performed well on Thursday. Ellis and rookie Rob Madore emerged from the week with the best goals-against record (two apiece), while returnees Muse and Peters each allowed four. Ellis was nearly perfect in playing Thursday’s second half until White scored a late consolation goal.
“The first couple of days of any camp are kind of a crash course, but as you go along it’s about getting that timing,” said Ellis. “I felt a lot better today. I haven’t been to sleep more than a few hours a night since I’ve been here and I was a little bit choppy in the first game, but I’ve been able to develop a rhythm and hopefully I can keep going in that direction.”
“As an older player, he’s very calm out there and doesn’t seem to panic,” said Daniels of Ellis. “He’s even showed some leadership with the way he talks to the guys on the ice.”
The Checkers are expected to take a large group to Norfolk for this weekend’s games, one of which will take place Saturday night and the other on Sunday afternoon. However, it will still be smaller than what they have now, with a first round of cuts expected to take place Thursday.
Having already stressed the difficulties he’ll face when determining his final roster, Daniels suggested that even his first round of cuts won’t be a cakewalk.
“To be honest there’s not too many guys that I’m disappointed in,” he said. “They’ve all come prepared to try to make our team and make us better.”
Update: The Checkers assigned forwards Matt Beca and David Rutherford, defenseman Joe Sova and goalie Rob Madore to ECHL Florida on Thursday evening. The team also released defenseman Bobby Raymond from his tryout contract. Read more details here.