March 01, 2012 3:11 PM
Sean Dolan got the chance he was waiting for, and he made the most of it.
On Thursday, the Checkers signed the 24-year-old rookie center to a standard player contract, ensuring that he’ll remain with the team for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. Previously, the University of Wisconsin product had been on a professional tryout contract that was set to expire after four more games in a Charlotte uniform.
For Dolan, who the Checkers brought up from the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays for what initially could have been a short stint as an injury replacement back on Jan. 6, the news fulfilled a goal he set for himself at the start of the season.
“I’m more than excited about how things have worked out and that coach (Jeff) Daniels has given me the opportunity,” he said.
For Daniels, the decision to keep the 6-foot-3, 199-pound Dolan in the fold wasn’t particularly difficult.
“Based on his play and what he’s done to help our team, he deserves to be here,” he said. “He’s been good on the penalty kill, gives us a big body down the middle and is really smart defensively. Right from the get-go he showed that he can play at this level.”
Since Dolan first arrived to fill the void caused by injuries and NHL recalls to four players who have played the center position for the Checkers this season, there have been plenty of opportunities for the team to send him back to the ECHL as those players returned. That he survived those instances was a good indication that Dolan wouldn’t be going anywhere, though he never completely let his guard down while armed with the knowledge that his AHL stint could end as abruptly as it began.
“I’ve been trying to worry about hockey first, so I think I just went in with the same mentality every day that I needed to make an impression,” he said. “That’s not going to change.”
Dolan is one of five players to sign tryout contracts with the Checkers this season, with Daniels expected to add a sixth, a defenseman, in time for this weekend’s games in Lake Erie. Though the hope is that one will surprise from time to time, such players are rarely expected to last as long as Dolan.
“Obviously we had good reports on him, but at the time you’re just looking for a body to fill a hole,” said Daniels. “The rest is up to him in terms of making the most of that opportunity, and he has.”
Reports are pretty much all Daniels had to go on when setting out to find a player like Dolan, but it’s a process that can clearly work.
“Since you don’t get to see much of that league, you ask around and listen to people that you trust,” said Daniels. “His was a name that kept coming up from a few different people, and he fit the mold of that checking center that we were looking for.”
Though Dolan has chipped in some offense to the tune of 7 points (4g, 3a) in 21 games, his biggest impact has been on the penalty kill. He’s been a key cog as the Checkers have killed 37 of their last 38 penalties to rise to their current ranking of fourth in the AHL.
“I knew coming in I was going to be in that role, and I embrace that 100 percent,” said Dolan, who did many of the same things during his four-year career with the Badgers, where he was teammates with the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jamie McBain. “Since the first day they’ve given me more than enough of an opportunity, and I’m happy they have confidence in my game.”
Support from teammates also helped, with Dolan singling out veteran Nicolas Blanchard as a positive influence.
“I’ve been on a line with him pretty much the whole time, and has been really good about taking me aside and helping me out,” said Dolan.
Though Dolan’s met his goal of getting his AHL contract, its duration won’t necessarily be much longer than his PTO. He has no guarantees after this season, which could essentially make it just another 25-game tryout, albeit with more day-to-day security.
“Nothing is going to change for me,” he said. “I still need to be the player I have been and work hard. There are still plenty of things in my game I need to work on, but the keys are all in place here with the coaching staff and the support from my teammates.
“Hopefully we as a team can go all the way. We’ve got a really good team here, and it’s been great to be a part of it.”