It seems strange to think about now, but there was a time this season when Chris Terry was struggling to score points.
Big things were expected from the 22-year-old forward in his third professional campaign, one year removed from his breakout performance in the Checkers’ inaugural season. He finished 2010-11 with a team high 34 goals – a number that was more in line with his gaudy junior totals than his 17-goal performance as a rookie, which he doubled for good measure.
For Terry, that growth pattern made his eight-game goal drought to start the season all the more vexing. He recorded just four assists during that stretch, which he admitted was a difficult one.
“Frustration definitely started to creep in,” he said.
When he finally found the back of the net on Oct. 29 in a Checkers win at San Antonio, he promptly added another in the same game, suggesting more was in the immediate offering, just as coach Jeff Daniels had predicted all along. It still took a few more contests, but even a two-game suspension for charging Grand Rapids goaltender Joey MacDonald couldn’t slow what was about to come.
Since Nov. 6, Terry has recorded at least one point in each of his games, resulting in a career-high eight-game point streak. That marks the longest of any Checkers player this season, breaking a tie with an earlier seven-game streak by Jerome Samson, and is tied for the longest active streak in the AHL. If he can extend it for two more games, he’ll match the longest point streak by any player in the league this season.
During his run, Terry has 11 points (2g, 9a) and has put himself back into contention for the team scoring lead along with Samson and Jon Matsumoto. Even with the slow start, he’s still on pace to eclipse his career high of 64 points set last season.
“Our coaches said all along that they were happy with my game, but the offense just wasn’t happening for me at first,” said Terry. “It’s nice that the points are coming now. It’s a ‘monkey off your back’ kind of thing.”
Other than his discovery of a lucky stick, it doesn’t seem that Terry has changed much from his early-season struggles to his recent hot streak. He took some solace that he was still helping create goals if not score them, with the team’s success (the Checkers currently enjoy a seven-point lead in the Midwest Division) relieving some of the personal pressure.
“It made it easier because we were winning, but it was in the back of my mind a little bit because every player wants to score goals,” he said.
Even his dramatic shift from goals to assists (though he remains behind last season’s goal pace, he’s already halfway to matching his career high of 30 helpers) just seems to be a result of taking what’s available.
“For me, he’s a guy that can do it all offensively,” said Daniels, who added that Terry is simply doing a better job of capitalizing on his chances. “Chris is a guy that probably tends to pass before he shoots. I talked to him about shooting more last year because he has one of the hardest shots on the team.”
While there’s no question that Terry’s offensive contributions will always be a key to the team’s success, a difference now from previous years is that he can still be a factor during stretches where he might not be scoring points. He’s one of the few Checkers players that feature heavily in all situations, as he’s spent time running the point on the power play and leading the penalty kill.
As is common with most big scorers who enter the pro ranks from junior hockey – Terry concluded a four-year junior career with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers with 188 points, including two seasons with over 90– that wasn’t necessarily the case at first.
“I don’t want to say I didn’t know how to play defense (as a rookie), but I learned how to do it at the pro level,” said Terry. “Last year was a big step because I felt like I started to find that balance in my game where I could still be an offensive player but also make good plays defensively.”
“He came in as a very good offensive player from junior and showed that right away, but he’s really improved as an overall player,” said Daniels. “In his first year we put him on a defensive line to start so he could learn that part of the game, and he’s gotten better from there.”
Add a few Terry’s intangibles, including durability (his suspension ended his reign as the AHL’s active leader in consecutive games played, and he has still not missed a professional game due to injury), leadership (winner of the OHL’s Captain’s Trophy in 2009, time spent as an alternate captain this season) and character (OHL’s Humanitarian Award in 2009), and it’s clear that Terry is about more than just points.
That being said, he’s sure to take them when they come.