CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the first weekend of February, the Charlotte Checkers completed a New York Empire road trip that can only be summed up as going into the AHL All-Star Classic break in style. Charlotte ended January and started February with a five-game road trip in New York facing the Utica Comets, Rochester Americans, and Syracuse Crunch.
Any fan of any team in the American Hockey League would like to see their team take two or three wins in that type of stretch going into the break. Checkers’ fans got to watch their team do something even better. The Checkers won five – all five – games on that road trip. That’s right, the team from the Queen City went up to the Empire State and swept the road trip, collecting all ten points in the process. Charlotte finished the road trip in Syracuse, and a couple of players from the Checkers stood out from that weekend set.
Franco, Dominic Franco
Checkers forward Dominic Franco had himself a weekend in Syracuse. The Scituate, RI native scored his first two goals of the season for the Checkers Friday night in a 5-4 overtime win over the Crunch. Going into the series, Franco had zero points for the Checkers in 21 games this year, although he did have four goals and ten assists for 14 points in 16 games played while with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL earlier this season. While Franco wasn’t finding the scoresheet for Charlotte, he was doing the more minor things to help the team get wins this season. That being said, it was probably a relief for Franco to notch his first-ever goals with the Checkers this past weekend.
Franco’s first career Checkers goal came in the first period on Friday night after a great assist from Patrick Giles. That is one he will remember and probably got a puck for since it was his first for the team. Furthermore, Franco didn’t have to wait long for his second as he scored less than seven minutes later to end the period with two goals.
As of now, Franco sits with only two goals in 23 games played for the Checkers, but the former Army West Point assistant captain is probably glad to get his first points with the team this season. He knows how to score goals, as he scored 45 in his collegiate career for Army. Franco has done the little things this season that head coach Geordie Kinnear wants from his guys. For Franco, as long as he keeps playing the way he does, there will be more goals, and more points, for him with the Checkers this season and beyond.
Hello Logan Hutsko
Logan Hutsko was also no stranger to scoring goals this weekend. In the same Friday game where Franco scored his two first-period goals, Hutsko came in huge for the Checkers as he scored the overtime-winning goal to seal the 5-4 win.
The overtime game-winning goal was Hutsko’s seventh on the season and it was set up beautifully by Matt Kiersted, who got his fourth assist in the process. For Hutsko, it broke a goalless streak, which must feel good for a guy who’s used to scoring goals. The Tampa, FL native is looking to make himself a consistent scorer in the Florida Panthers organization that drafted him back in the 2018 Entry Draft.
Hutsko’s second goal of the weekend came in Saturday’s game where he tied the game up 1-1 in the first period for the Checkers. His eighth goal of the season was the first of two goals for the Checkers in that first period and helped secure a 5-3 Checkers win on Saturday.
In the first 28 games of the season for the Checkers, Hutsko had six goals and 12 assists for 18 points on the year. After those two goals over the weekend, he was at 20 points. Hutsko is managing to have top-six minutes for Kinnear’s Checkers but has been trying to get on the board more.
First Half Check-In
Going into the AHL All-Star Break, the Checkers are 25-15-2-2 with 54 points on the season, and on a five-game winning streak after their road trip in New York. Charlotte is still nine points back of the second-place Providence Bruins but is slowly catching them. Furthermore, the Checkers’ record of 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 games gives them a solid chance to break away from the rest of the Atlantic Division, while trying to move within the top three.
The Springfield Thunderbirds have won eight straight games and are on an 8-2-0-0 run in their last ten to stay only three points back of Charlotte with 51 points. As long as the Checkers manage to keep the Thunderbirds at bay, there is a solid chance the Checkers make the postseason and put themselves in a solid spot for a deep run in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The second half of the season will be a fun one to watch for not only Checkers fans, but fans of the American Hockey League as well.
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