Dominic Franco didn’t join the Checkers until two months into the season. But that didn’t stop him from having a tremendous impact - both on and off the ice.

The 27-year-old forward inked an AHL deal with Charlotte last summer and took part in the team’s training camp, but when the time came to make tough cuts to the roster Franco was ultimately sent to the ECHL.

“Obviously no one likes getting sent down,” said Franco. “But we had a really good lineup here through training camp.”

Franco was a standout performer for the Florida Everblades - logging 14 points in 16 games for Charlotte’s affiliate - and earned himself a call in early December when the Checkers ran into some roster turmoil.

“I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity with guys getting called up and a couple guys getting injured,” said Franco. “When you’re in that situation you just have to come up and be ready to play. Luckily I was put in a position to do that and it worked out pretty well.”

It didn’t take him long to carve out a spot in the lineup, as Franco cemented himself as the team’s fourth center - going on to appear in all but two of Charlotte’s remaining regular season games.

“I think I bring a little more of the hard game,” said Franco. “I fit in pretty well on the bottom two lines where I can add some physicality and a pretty high level of compete. I think that’s what made me successful here.”

As it became clear that he would be staying in the Queen City, Franco approached the Checkers front office about collaborating on a community initiative. As a West Point grad and an active duty member of the Army, Franco has a commitment to helping the community during his pro hockey career, and Charlotte provided the perfect backdrop to revive his Friends of Franco program.

Through Friends of Franco, four tickets to each home game were donated to local veterans and military families. Franco would then make a point after the game to go and spend time with that night’s recipients.

The program was a rousing success, and for his efforts Franco was named the Checkers Man of the Year - an annual award given to a player who went above and beyond in the local community.

“It was a really special honor,” said Franco. “With my ties to the military and there being such a big military community here in Charlotte, it just seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to give back and help our team reach a new fanbase and hopefully get a lot more people to enjoy hockey games. It was great to be honored with it but I was truly honored to do it.”

Between clawing his way into an every-day role on the ice and his powerful impact off it, Franco’s stint in Charlotte proved to be a special one.