January 27, 2012 12:30 PM
For the newest members of the Checkers, all the upheaval that comes with being traded still hasn’t completely settled.
That’s not because they aren’t getting used to new teammates and new surroundings, because for the most part, things seem to have gone smoothly. Rather, it’s because the schedule simply hasn’t allowed it.
Even for players that have been with the team all season, the un-AHL-like cluster of games – January is the Checkers’ busiest month with 13, including all the short breaks and hectic travel that come with them – has been daunting.
“You look at the schedule in the summer and you start to identify those tough stretches,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “This was one of them.”
As a result, Evgenii Dadonov, A.J. Jenks and Joe Sova, who were acquired via two separate Carolina Hurricanes trades with Florida and New Jersey, haven’t even been able to partake in a full practice since joining the team over a week ago. The more relaxed morning skates that precede games are a chance to at least get out on the ice in a no-pressure setting, but they don’t provide the same learning opportunities.
“There hasn’t been time to work our systems in and show them what we’re trying to do here,” said Daniels.
“There are a couple of things systems-wise that are different,” said Sova, a defenseman who arrived from the New Jersey organization as part of the Hurricanes’ trade of Alexei Ponikarovsky last Friday. “It’s tough not having a real practice, but it’s nice just to get out and play.”
All three players have had plenty of chances to do that, perhaps more than in their previous stops. They've had at least some time on the team’s power play that would easily be more if not for the rampant success that the team’s more established players have been having lately.
“The first unit is scoring so much,” said Sova, who in theory plays on the second unit, not that first-team point men Bobby Sanguinetti and Chris Terry are giving him a chance to get on the ice. “Just when you’re getting ready to go out there, they score.”
Though Jenks has centered the fourth line ever since he and Dadonov arrived from the San Antonio Rampage last week in exchange for Jon Matsumoto last Wednesday, his experience thus far has been a welcome change from his previous stop.
“When I got drafted by Florida (in the 2008 fourth round) it was by one management team, and by the time I signed my contract it was another,” said Jenks. “Then, a few days after that, it was another. Stability was hard to come by.
“They’re going in a new direction there and bringing in a lot of their own young players. Sometimes I wasn’t playing much, but I’ve got no problem playing a fourth-line role on this team. They’re giving me a lot of opportunities to play.”
Besides taking a teammate with him in the trade, Jenks is in the rare situation of knowing more players on his new squad. With the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers, he was teammates with Terry, Brett Bellemore and Michal Jordan. Defensive prospect Austin Levi, another player from the junior team owned by the Carolina Hurricanes’ Peter Karmanos, could join them at the end of this season.
“It’s definitely unique, but I’m fortunate with it,” said Jenks. “Everyone’s made it very easy.”
While winning certainly helps – the Checkers are 3-1-0 since making the first of the two trades and 2-0-0 with all three players in the lineup – the fact they’re all genuinely looking forward to the new opportunity, in some cases one they were actively looking for (more on Dadonov here), is also a benefit.
“The excitement level is high for all three guys,” said Daniels. “It’s a chance to make a good first impression, and so far they have.”