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Grigori Denisenko 11 26 22 Field Pass Hockey


Checkers Complete Comeback in Win over Marlies

#AHL | @CheckersHockey completed the comeback to defeat the @TorontoMarlies in non-divisional action Friday night. @FPHCheckers has the recap in his latest.

Charlotte Checkers forward Grigori Denisenko against the Utica Comets 11-26-22. Photo Courtesy of Rebecca DaSilva

Checkers Complete Comeback in Win over Marlies

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After taking a break for the AHL All-Star Classic hosted in Laval, Quebec, the Charlotte Checkers hosted the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies at home in Bojangles Coliseum. Friday’s matchup was NASCAR Night for the Checkers in their first game back. For most of the season, neither team had a chance to face non-divisional opponents, and it was exciting to see where both teams measured up. In the end, the Checkers would prevail in a comeback win in overtime to defeat the Marlies 4-3.

Start Your Engines

On NASCAR Night it seemed that things would be as fiery on the ice as it usually is on a racetrack. It’s no surprise that Checkers forward Riley Bezeau isn’t afraid to get in a scrap or two in a game, no matter who it’s against. Things got going at the 3:14 minute mark of the first period as Bezeau and Toronto’s Marc Johnstone dropped the gloves for a little brouhaha to start the physicality early in this one. Both guys landed some solid haymakers, but in the end, it was Bezeau on the winning end to get the crowd going.


The first period ended with the Marlies in the lead as Dryden Hunt made it a 1-0 game at the 9:45 mark of the period. The goal was Hunt’s second of the season and first given up by Checkers goaltender Alex Lyon in his first game back in over a couple of months. Lyon had been up with the Florida Panthers due to injuries. The first period ended with the Marlies up 1-0 although the Checkers outshot them 14-12.

Third Period Fireworks

After two periods of play, the Marlies still carried a 1-0 lead going into the third period. The Checkers were outshooting the Marlies 32 to 26 after 40 minutes. Fortunately for the Checkers, they wouldn’t have to wait long for the tying goal as Calle Sjalin scored his third of the season at the 2:24 mark of the period.

As the Checkers were behind the Marlies’ net, it seemed that forward Justin Sourdif was looking to center the puck in front. Although a Charlotte player did fall in the process, the puck went right to an open Sjalin. Sjalin, with all the time in the world, wound up and blasted home a one-timer past Toronto’s goaltender Erik Kallgren and into the net. The shot, while being placed perfectly in Sjalin’s wheelhouse, was sent beautifully into the top right corner of the goal where the cookies were hidden. Charlotte tied the game up at 1-1 on the goal. Sourdif was credited with his ninth assist of the season, along with Gerry Mayhew getting his 11th.

Just over three minutes later, the Marlies regained the lead on a Bobby McMann power play goal. McMann’s goal was his 11th on the season, with Nick Abruzzese and Logan Shaw receiving their eye-opening and mind-blowing 20th and 37th assists on the season, respectively.

Shaw wasn’t done as he scored his 17th goal of the season just two minutes after McMann’s. The goal doubled the Marlies’ lead to make a 3-1 game for Toronto. Although, things changed drastically for the home team after that goal.

The Comeback Starts

With under five minutes left in the game, the Checkers came back within one after a goal from captain Zac Dalpe. Defenseman Santtu Kinnunen‘s drive toward the left side of the Marlies’ net started the sequence. Kinnunen saw Sourdif in front and passed the puck off to him. Sourdif knew Dalpe was behind him and did a no-look behind-the-back pass to Dalpe, who shoveled the puck onto the net and past Kallgren to make it 3-2, bringing the Checkers back to within one. The goal was Dalpe’s 12th of the season, with Sourdif getting credited with his 10th assist on the year. Kinnunen was also credited with his 16th assist.

Alternate captain Aleksi Heponimei tied the game up just over three minutes later to make it a 3-3 game. The Checkers were on a power play with the extra attacker to make it a two-man six-on-four advantage with under two minutes left in the game. Charlotte was playing an almost double triangle set-up and had Lucas Carlsson with the puck at the top of the zone near the blue line looking to set someone up with a shot. Carlsson found Heponimei and passed it off to him. Heponimei surprised mostly everyone and snapped the puck on the net to hopefully get a rebound.

In the end, the rebound wasn’t necessary as the puck went into the net, tying the game up once again at 3-3. It was Heponimei’s ninth goal of the season and was huge for the Checkers. Carlsson was credited with his 16th assist on the year, along with Dalpe getting his ninth of the season and his second point of the night.

After 60 minutes of play, the game went to overtime with both teams securing a point.

Comeback Completed

As both teams came back onto the ice, fans were wondering if they would be in for a comeback win for their team. The fans got their wish at the 1:29 mark of overtime. The Checkers were in the Marlies’ zone looking to find an opening to get the puck on net to create a chance to end the game and secure the win. The puck was on Grigori Denisenko‘s stick as he came into the zone and crossed with Mayhew above the faceoff circles.

Denisenko and Mayhew were trying to throw the Marlies off to see if they passed the puck in their crossover above the circles. It was Denisenko who still had possession of the puck as he wristed a shot that ended up going past Kallgren and into the net to complete the comeback win for the Checkers.

The game-winner was Denisenko’s ninth goal of the year. Mayhew was credited with his 12th assist of the year, followed by Matt Kiersted receiving his fifth of the season.

On NASCAR Day, Charlotte saw the Checkered flag to capture a 4-3 overtime victory from the jaws of defeat after the smoke cleared. It was their sixth straight win.

Where Do Things Stand?

After the Friday comeback win, the Checkers are now 26-15-2-2 with 56 points after 45 games played. They are on a six-game winning streak and are 8-1-0-1 in their last 10 games played. The win brings them within seven points of second-place Hershey Bears, who have 63 points currently. Although, the Springfield Thunderbirds are still within three points of the Checkers at 53 on the year.

Hershey has lost their last two games despite being 5-4-1-0 in their last 10 games played. Springfield, on the other hand, is now on a nine-game winning streak and is 9-1 in their last 10 games played. Things are heating up in an Atlantic Division where the third-place team is only separated from the fifth-place team by five points.

Saturday night’s game against the Marlies will be another big test for the Checkers to see if they can make it seven-straight wins and hopefully distance themselves from the Thunderbirds. It will be a game worth watching.

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