Checkers: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
Remember last season’s home opener against the Charlotte Checkers? Me too! (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The opener to the 2015-16 season wasn’t very good. Everything fell apart before it ever had a chance to get going all because of a lack of discipline by the Admirals in the opening period. It’s hard to get into a game offensively when you’re on the penalty kill for so long – and it doesn’t help when that penalty kill is also letting in goals.

The good news is that was the opening game. There are still a whopping 75-games left to play yet. That’s still more games to play this season that Californian AHL squads get to feature in! (I kid, I kid) In fact, as bad as that 5-1 loss looks as a result I’m certain that the Admirals will be on the flip-side of a scoreline such as that at some point this season. Actually, why not have one of those games tonight?

~Home Opening Energy~

There is something to be said about feeding off of the energy of a home opening crowd. This season alone there have been 16 home openers held and the home teams are 9-6-1-0 so far. How have the Admirals fared in home openers? Well, dating back to the 2005-06 season, the Admirals are 5-3-1-1 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on opening night.

Alright, so it’s not the most mind blowing thing in the world. There isn’t a guarantee of victory here by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, let’s look back only one season ago where both combatants of tonight’s home opener in Milwaukee paired up.

The Admirals took down the Checkers 6-3 in last season’s home opener. And, when looking at the game sheet of last year’s box score, you will find 21 returning faces (Checkers, 12… Admirals, 9). All the ingredients are there for the Admirals to recapture some of that electricity from last season’s home opener. And if that isn’t enough perhaps some of last season’s toxicity against the Checkers could manifest itself again.

If it were to get dodgy out on the ice it could center around Rasmus Rissanen. The 24-year old Checkers defenseman always seemed to be on the ice when tensions spiked last season. I’m sure there was a reason for that. No matter, I’d keep an eye out for #2 in red tonight just in case.

~Checking In On Those Checkers~

As mentioned, there are twelve returning names from last season’s opening night roster alone for the Charlotte Checkers. Not too much has really changed in terms of the roster. Last season, the Checkers -like the Admirals- did not make the playoffs. Unlike the Admirals they finished with a sub-500 record: 31-38-6-1 (69 points).

Thanks to the new AHL realignment they move out of the rowdy and high scoring West Division and into the new Central Division. Two games in and they’ve come up trumps both times… on the road… against the Iowa Wild. The first game was a smooth 4-1 win. The second game was far more impressive that saw the Checkers rally for three unanswered goals in the third period to force overtime where they’d go on to win it in a shootout.

In both games former Admirals goaltender Drew MacIntyre started in net for the Checkers. Opening night he went 22/23 on save opportunities while picking up the win. His second night out against the Wild he stopped 12/16 before getting pulled in favor of Rasmus Tirronen. The Finnish netminder stopped all seven shots he faced in relief and both shootout chances en route to picking up the win in relief of MacIntyre. Will the Admirals get the familiar veteran tonight or the young product of Merrimack College? It’s not as sure a bet as you’d think. I’d be interested to see if they rolled out Tirronen over MacIntyre.

~The Perennials~

Zach Boychuk.. Kyle Hagel.. Justin Shugg.. we meet again. Of these three I think I feel for Boychuk the most. He is an 0.86 points per game player in the AHL but that has never really manifested itself in his 127 career NHL games. Hagel on the other hand is the oldest player on the Checkers roster who isn’t named MacIntyre. Hagel has yet to play an NHL game in his seven-year professional career and is now entering his eighth season. That probably has to do with his most eye-popping numbers in the stat sheet coming under the penalty minute column. Shugg has a really great shot. Much like Boychuk he has great AHL numbers, as well: 118 points (50 goals, 68 assists) in 214 AHL games – 0.55 points per game. Shugg is coming off of a career year that saw him reach new bests in AHL scoring numbers and even earned some games at the NHL level. If there are big time threats on the ice tonight, be it scoring or a scrap, it’s these three.

Expectations on tonight’s home opener? Will the Admirals be able to rebound from a disappointing effort in Chicago?

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