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Anton Levtchi 11 26 22 Field Pass Hockey

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Series Preview: Charlotte Hosts Lehigh Valley in Back-to-Back

Charlotte Checkers forward Anton Levtchi against Utica Comets on 11-21-22. Photo Courtesy: Rebecca DaSilva

Series Preview: Charlotte Hosts Lehigh Valley in Back-to-Back

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte Checkers host the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this week in a Friday and Saturday back-to-back at the Bojangles Coliseum. This will be the first meeting between the two teams before they meet again next week on December 9th and 10th in Allentown, Pennsylvania. After 19 games into the season, the Checkers are fourth in the Atlantic Division with a record of 11-5-2-1 with a total of 25 points. They are currently five points behind the division-leading Hershey Bears. The visiting Phantoms are sixth in the division with a record of 8-7-1-1 and 18 points. Regarding both teams, who should fans be watching for this series? Let us dive in:

Phantoms Players to Watch

For Checkers fans, these are three players to watch for the Phantoms going into the series against Charlotte:

Elliot Desnoyers

One of the Phantoms’ best players right now is Elliot Desnoyers. The forward leads the team with seven goals on the season and has two assists for a combined nine points in 17 games played this season. The Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec native knows how to score points. When he was with the Halifax Mooseheads in the 2021/22 season, he had 88 points in 61 games. 42 of those 88 points were goals.

The Checkers’ defense ranks 14th in the American Hockey League overall in goals allowed with 58 on the season. While that is in the top half of the league, the team needs to find ways to shut the Phantoms and Desnoyers down this weekend. Although, as a team, the Phantoms are ranked 29th in the league in goals with only 47 on the season. If the Checkers can manage to shut down Desonyers, they have a solid chance to take one or even both games over the back-to-back.

Sam Ersson

Another key contributor for Checkers fans to watch on the Phantoms is Swedish goaltender Sam Ersson. The Falun native carries a 5-5-1 record on the season. In 11 games played Ersson has posted a 2.61 goals-against-average and a saver percentage of .915. While the Phantoms are 29th in the league in goals, the Checkers are 14th and could be a cause for concern for Lehigh Valley if they potentially want to stay in some games. While Ersson does boast a solid GAA and save percentage, the Checkers have been known to score at will. More so, if captain Zac Dalpe gets going, then the whole team could be going to put up big numbers this weekend. The Phantoms have to hope that Ersson and the defense can slow down a potent Checkers offense if they get going early.

Louie Belpedio

The last Phantoms player for people to watch this series is defenseman Louie Belpedio. The Skokie, Illinois native on the season for the Phantoms has two goals and five assists for seven points on the year. Although, he does carry 23 penalty minutes in those games as well. Safe to say that Belpedio has a good amount of conversations with the timekeepers in the box. Belpedio brings a level of veteran presence to help the younger defenseman find their game within Lehigh. The Checkers need to capitalize on their speed and play to make Belpedio commit penalties and keep him in the box. If so, then that could open up tons of possibilities on the special team’s side of the game.

Checkers Players to Watch

Zac Dalpe

Zac Dalpe 11 21 22 Field Pass Hockey

Charlotte Checkers forward Zac Dalpe against WB-Scranton Penguins 11-21-22
Courtesy of Rebecca DaSilva

It comes as no surprise that Dalpe is one of the three Checkers players to watch this series. Checkers fans so far this season have seen what the captain can do when he’s on a hot streak. Dalpe currently leads the team in goals with 10 and is second on the team in points with 14 on the season. Only Riley Nash has more points with 16 on the season (five goals and eleven assists). Dalpe at one point in the season had a five-game point streak. If Dalpe can stay hot and get the offense going, that could help the Checkers bring more pressure on the Phantoms’ defense which is bottom five in the league when giving up goals this season. The leadership and scoring ability that Dalpe brings is huge for a Checkers team that looks to make noise this season and also in the playoff potentially.

Anton Levtchi

Anton Levtchi 11 26 22 2 Field Pass Hockey

Charlotte Checkers forward Anton Levtchi against Utica Comets 11-26-22
Courtesy of Rebecca DaSilva

A Checkers player that is having an under-the-radar season is Finnish forward Anton Levtchi. The Varkaus native so far in the 2022/23 season has accumulated seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 18 games played. He’s currently third on the team in points and second in goals. There have been times this season when Levtchi has stolen the show for the Checkers, especially in the three games in the three-days series in Bridgeport and Providence. Along with Dalpe, if Levtchi can get it going early, those two could cause havoc on a Phantoms defense that mentioned before has been struggling this season to not get scored on.

Alex Lyon

Alex Lyon 11 21 22 Field Pass Hockey

Charlotte Checkers goaltender Alex Lyon against WB-Scranton Penguins 11-21-22
Courtesy of Rebecca DaSilva

The last piece of the puzzle for the Checkers to hopefully have a great weekend series against the Phantoms is goaltender Alex Lyon. Lyon, who is a former Lehigh Valley Phantom, will look to capitalize on his start against his former team at home in Charlotte before facing them in Pennsylvania next week. The Baudette, Minnesota native this season for the Checkers carries a 6-3-1 record while posting a 2.75 goals-against-average along with a save percentage of .908. Lyon at times this season seemed to be struggling although has had games where he looked brilliant. Some could say that it might depend on how his defense is playing that game along with if he’s getting goal support. Although, it could be a number of things why it seems like Lyon is somewhat inconsistent even though he does have solid numbers so far this season.

He has been splitting time with his goalie tandem partner Mack Guzda. Guzda on the flip side of Lyon is 4-2-2 with a goals-against-average of 2.60 along with his .911 save percentage. The two netminders seem to play well off of each other. This is a clear indication as to why the Checkers haven’t been giving up too many goals this season and are in a close race at the top of the Atlantic Division. It seems like this is a 1A-1B goalie tandem in Charlotte so there might not be a goalie who will run away with more playing time over the other. Lyon has played more games (10) than Guzda (8) so far this season. Only time will tell who will get more of the starts but nonetheless, Lyon with his experience in the AHL long with the NHL does give the Checkers a solid chance to play well against the Phantoms.

Final Thoughts

Before the weekend series against the Phantoms, the Checkers on Thursday announced that Michael Del Zotto won The Independence Fund Defenseman of the Month award. The Ontario native had a November to remember as he totaled two goals and six assists for eight points on the month in 13 games played. It is fitting for a guy who has been crucial on the Checkers’ blueline this season. Well deserved honor for Del Zotto.

Overall, this should be an exciting series to watch with two huge hitters in the Atlantic Division. Four games in two weeks will make things very interesting especially with it being in Allentown next weekend. All in all, this is the series to watch this weekend for any hockey fan who likes minor-league hockey.

Special thanks to Samantha Wismer for the suggestions on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms players who Checkers fans should watch for in this upcoming series. Also, a special thank you to Rebecca DaSilva for the photos provided in this article as well.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2023 season!

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