CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte Checkers on Wednesday night looked to avenge their 5-0 blowout loss against the Hartford Wolf Pack from Tuesday. What makes this game interesting was that it was $1 Beer Night at Bojangles Coliseum. The Checkers overall did play a better 60 minutes of hockey compared to Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Checkers, they would drop this game as well in a 3-2 loss.
For most of the first period, it was a relatively quiet frame with a few chances for both teams. Luckily for the Checkers, they kept up with the Wolf Pack compared to Tuesday’s game where they were miles apart on the shot total. The shots in the period would end up being 11 to 9 in favor of Hartford.
Although, there were goals in the period and they came from both teams respectively. Just like Tuesday night, the Wolf Pack would strike first blood as Tanner Fritz would score at the 13:12 mark of the first period. The Wolf Pack were able to break out from their zone as Lauri Pajuniemi fed a great pass to Fritz who streaked into the Checkers’ zone on the breakaway.
Fritz would end up snapping the puck nearside just over the pad of Checker’s goaltender JF Berube to make it a 1-0 Hartford lead. The goal would be Fritz’s second of the season and Pajuniemi would be credited with his fourth assist on the season.
The Wolf Pack lead would not last for long as just over a minute and forty seconds later, the Checkers would tie the game up 1-1 at the 14:50 mark of the period. While skating deep into the Wolf Pack zone, Gerry Mayhew and Dennis Cesana drew three Hartford players to puck-watch them near their goal. That would prove costly as they left Ethan Keppen all alone right in the slot in front of the goal. Mayhew with a beautiful cross-ice pass would put it right in Keppen’s wheelhouse. Keppen would end up ripping a one-timer into a wide-open net past Wolf Pack goaltender Louis Domingue. As the Conehead line said in “Miracle” to personify the beauty of this goal, “pass, shoot and score.”
Keppen would be credited with his third goal of the season as Mayhew would receive his eighth assist on the year along with Cesana’s seventh assist. The first period would end tied 1-1 going into the intermission. A much better start for the Checkers in the first period compared to Tuesday night.
Compared to Tuesday night, the Checkers had a widely better second period on Wednesday. The period ended scoreless but with a much better result than giving up three goals on Tuesday.
The Wolf Pack would outshoot the Checkers ten to seven in the period but both goalies were playing very well. Berube and Domingue, with 23 years of pro hockey experience between the pair, were putting on a goalie clinic. the second period featured a classic goalie battle as neither netminder wanted to break first in a tied game at the time. It seemed that both goalies were trying to one-up each other with a save after an amazing save.
Outside of a couple of penalties, there was much not to speak of other than the goalie battle that broke out in the middle of the hockey game. The game would go into the second intermission with the score still tied at 1-1 with the Wolf Pack outshooting the Checkers 21 to 16.
Hockey is a wild game where bounces lead to puck luck for the team on the better side of said bounces. For the Checkers, they would end up being on the wrong end once again in the third period. The Wolf Pack would regain their lead at the 4:35 mark of the period off of a Ben Tardif goal. Initially, the puck seemed to be going on the net from a shot from Cristiano DiGiacinto that managed to bounce off Matt Rempe‘s skate and onto Tardif’s stick. Tardif had the easy task to bury the puck past Berube to make it a 2-1 Hartford lead. It ended up being Tardif’s second goal of the season along with Rempe getting his third assist and DiGiacinto’s seventh.
Unfortunately for the Checkers, the Wolf Pack would double their lead 51 seconds later when Ryan Carpenter crashed the zone and backhanded the puck that would bounce off Berube’s pads in the process. The puck just laid in front of the net and Pajuniemi being in the right place, at the right time, would shovel the puck into the empty net to make it a 3-1 game. As stated before, bounces in hockey are great for the team taking advantage of the puck luck. The Checkers seemed to be on the bad end of those in both games against Hartford. Pajuniemi was credited with his eighth goal of the year while Carpenter got his third assist.
The Checkers did end up getting the game back to within one at the 10:16 mark of the third period on the powerplay. While on their third powerplay of the night, the Checkers would get the puck deep into the corner of the Wolf Pack zone. The sequence started with a pass that was moved along the boards from Santtu Kinnunen to Aleksi Heponiemi off to the ride corner side of the Hartford net. Heponimei, well aware of his surroundings, did a quick backhanded pass to a wide-open Henry Bowlby who was falling onto one knee going from left to right. The pass was so quick that the Wolf Pack had no time to react as Bowlby snapped a one-timer onto the far side of the net passed Domingue. the whole sequence was brilliant and it got the Checkers to back within one on Hartford.
The powerplay goal would be Bowlby’s fifth of the season along with Heponiemi getting credited with his tenth assist and Kinnunen’s 14thon the year. The comeback would fall short though as the final horn sounded and the Checkers ended up losing the game 3-2. Although, they played a much better game Wednesday night compared to their 5-0 loss on Tuesday. It was a great bounce-back game to get them ready for the upcoming two-game weekend set.
The Charlotte Checkers have a couple of days off before their two-game weekend set on Saturday and Sunday against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Checkers were in Wilkes-Barre last week where they split the series with the Penguins. Saturday’s game is Star Wars Night and the puck drop will be at 4 p.m. Eastern.
Sunday’s game will also be a 4 p.m. puck drop with that game being Hockey is for Everyone Night. The Checkers would need to either split the two-game set or win both to keep the Penguins behind them in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with both teams being tied in points with 39. A huge weekend set of games looms large for the Checkers if they want to stay in the hunt for the Calder Cup Playoffs in a stacked Atlantic Division.
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