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Commentary: AHL Hockey, Charlotte Checkers at Hartford Wolf Pack

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by David F.P.

[Editor’s Note: I’m showing bias towards the Wolf Pack so I don’t entirely feel correct presenting this as just a straight up report. That is additionally added to by my dislike for the Carolina Hurricanes franchise.]

HARTFORD, CT- Just weeks after the news that the Harold Baldwin led Whalers Sports and Entertainment would be handling all non-hockey operations for the Hartford Wolf Pack, and gradually transforming the team into the Connecticut Whale, the Wolf Pack took the ice in their season opener versus the most ironic of opponents, the Charlotte Checkers, the affiliate of none other than the Carolina Hurricanes, which of course were the Whalers until they were unceremoniously moved to that bastion of Hockey fandom…North Carolina…

Anyway, the fans filled the stands. 7,013 to be exact, dressed in an array of jerseys, of there was a mix of Wolf Pack and Hartford Whalers as well as several fans who were already donning the Connecticut Whale logo gear. There was also quite a lot of dislike for the new Connecticut Whale logo which when displayed got booed by many. It would appear there is a great deal of division still over the switch in names as well as the new logo. To me the new logo could have been better but it is what it is, and I think I know why they chose a logo of that nature.

Before the game a video played tying together the New England Whalers, Hartford Whalers, Hartford Wolf Pack, and Connecticut whale. This was described as “Year 35” of Hartford Hockey, and Unity was seen as the theme bringing together all fandoms. That’s the goal anyway.

So Head Coach and former Whaler Jeff Daniels led his Charlotte Checkers into XL to take on Hartford hockey hero Ken Gernander and his Wolf Pack. In goal for Charlotte would be Mike Murphy, and in goal for the Wolf Pack, Chad Johnson who I will not call Chad Dos Nueve…except for this one liner attempt.

The first penalty fo the game came at 2:34 when Hartford’s Chris McKelvie was sent into the box for Goalie Interference. Insult was added to injury as Dale Weise went into the box as well as 3:38 for hooking giving Charlotte a 5 on 3 advantage. The Wolf Pack killed the first penalty and killed the second but Jacob Micflikier still knocked it passed Johnson at 5:39 one second after the second penalty expired. He was assisted by Ethan Graham.

The Checkers were getting their chances but the Wolf Pack was frustrating their fans by repeatedly setting up some excellent opportunities only to have a pass bounce off a stick or some other development. With 7 minutes go Charlotte had 7 shots to Hartford’s 5 but it sure seemed like the Pack had a lot of chances.

Charlotte’s Zack Fitzgerald was called for roughing at 14:38 giving the pack their first power play. At 16:22 Jon Matsumoto joined Fitzgerald in the box on account of tripping.  While the Checkers killed the brief 2 man advantage, Weise slid in and knocked it past Murphy for a power play goal at 16:55 assisted by Kris Newbury and Wade Redden.

At 18:39 Ryan Garlock was penalized for interference, and Charlotte went on the power play but did not score. At the end of 1 each team had 1 goal and 9 shots.

Period 2 opened with the Checkers still on the power play but the Wolf Pack took care of it. Charlotte’s  Micflikier went into the box for charging at 2:14. The Wolf Pack did not score during the power play and in fact their power play overall was very frustrating to watch even as a laymen, but at 5:49 Chris McKelvie received the puck and knocked it to the left side of the net where Murphy was not for a goal assisted by Kelsey Tessier, and Garlock.

Mats Zuccarello (sans his other last name) was called for goalie interference at 8:16 when the ref noticed either an intentional kick or an accidental tangling of skates between him and Murphy, but the Wolf Pack killed it. Micflikier went back in the box at 13:21 after the team got called for too many men on the ice. Jeremy Williams made them pay for the error sliding the puck by Murphy for the power play goal assisted by Redden.

The Wolf Pack’s Pavel Valentenko went into the box for holding at 14:48 but at 16:04, Charlotte’s Jerome Samson was called for slashing. Nothing resulted from either penalty. At the end of the period however there was some extracurricular activity from Michael Jordan of Charlotte and Justin Soryal of Hartford. The result was a Soryal penalty at 20:00 which would start the Wolf Pack a man down in period 3. The shot differential was Charlotte 19 to Hartford 16, but the Wolf Pack now led 3 to 1.

With Soryal in the box for roughing period 2 began, the Wolf Pack killed the penalty, but all heck broke loose soon after.  Fitzgerald who had been running his mouth for most of the game was called for both Hooking and Roughing, as McKelvie was called for Roughing. Fitzgerald and McKelvie’s penalties offset, but Micflikier went in the box to serve the hooking penalty. The result was some 5 on 4.  There was plenty of good saves by both goalies but one came to mind when Stefan Chaput of Charlotte swept in towards Johnson and was stopped cold.  At 8:28 Nigel Williams was called for holding putting the Pack a man down.  Matsumoto moved to the center of the zone during the power play and smacked it past Johnson at 9:50 to get his team back within one. Assist went to Chris Terry.

Charlotte was unable to tie the game up and Murphy headed to the bench late in the period to get the extra attacker, Dane Byers thanks to help from Newbury and Weise received the puck and flicked it into the empty net to close the door on the game. The final score would be 4 to 2, shots for Hartford 23, for Charlotte 26. However even as the horn sounded and people started filing out a brawl broke out including a brief fight between Soryal and Nicolas Blanchard of the Checkers. The fans had been expecting a fight for some time but did not expect it to happen after the game itself.

This puts the Wolf Pack at 1-0-0 for the season and the Checkers 0-1-0. A fitting victory over Carolina’s minor league team to open the new hockey era in Hartford.