Checkers: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)
After tonight’s game the Milwaukee Admirals longest homestand of the season will have come and gone. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

An interesting talking point for tonight’s game between the Milwaukee Admirals and Charlotte Checkers came up yesterday when chatting with head coach Dean Evason. In his place on the opposition bench will be a former teammate and long-time friend of his named Ulf Samuelsson who is in his first season as head coach of the Checkers. The two spoke about their teams together and said they saw similarities between their groups. The term pace was brought up and, if true for both sides, we could be in for a track meet tonight.

This will be the first stop on the 2016-17 calendar for the Checkers in Milwaukee. They won’t be back again until January 10th and the Admirals don’t venture out to Charlotte until the week after that when they play two games in three days. Plenty can change by then. As for now? Things set up well for a good show on the ice.

The Checkers have started the season with a record of 7-4-0-0 (14 points, 0.636 points percentage). They have allowed the least amount of goals of any team in the Western Conference and only have the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (20 goals allowed) ahead of them in that respect in the whole of the AHL. I feel like Mr. Shutout himself Michael Leighton has something to do with that as he joined the organization after a year spent with the Rockford IceHogs.

Leighton has been in net for all but three games that the Checkers have played this season and has a 6-1-0-0 record to show for it with a 1.44 goals against average, 0.944 save percentage, and 2 shutouts. When looking back at how he performed against the Admirals as a member of the IceHogs last season he had a record of 5-0-1-1 from 7 starts and 8 games played. He had no shutouts against the Admirals last season but held a 2.52 goals against average and 0.907 save percentage.

There are other familiar names in the Checkers camp that you might recall from different places. The names that leap off the page to me are Mitchell Heard (because of his tenure with the Lake Erie Monsters) and Jake Chelios (his start with the Chicago Wolves and move to Charlotte last season). Heard, in particular, was a pesky sort of player when he was part of the Monsters. In his time there against the Admirals Heard produced 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) from 10 games played over the course of three seasons while having a plus/minus rating of -4 with 49 penalty minutes (5 fighting majors).

Derek Ryan is the current leading scorer for the Checkers with 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) in 9 games. Yet, he won’t be a concern to the Admirals tonight as he is currently with the Carolina Hurricanes. He wasn’t alone in that recall, either. Brock McGinn was also part of that roster move by the Hurricanes. McGinn was third in scoring for the Checkers this season with 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists) in 9 games.

Who is left then for the Checkers on the firepower side of things? On the active roster first year pro Andrew Poturalski is the Checkers highest scorer with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 11 games. Poturalski joined the Checkers late last season as an undrafted talent out of the University of New Hampshire and logged 16 games before the end of the 2015-16 season. He is currently tied for third in rookie scoring in the AHL this season with five other players.

Thoughts on tonight’s game? Will the Milwaukee Admirals be able to solve the Charlotte Checkers defense and goaltending? Will Jonas Gunnarsson be able to bounce back and shine when he makes his second start of the season tonight?

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