As the hockey season continues to carry on further and further into spring, the grind of the playoffs can take a toll on teams mentally. The Checkers, however, don’t appear to be falling victim.
“I wouldn’t call it a cockiness but our guys feel good about themselves,” said head coach Mike Vellucci. “They feel that when we play our game we’re a good hockey team and we’re tough to beat.”
Part of that can be directly attributed to the makeup of the team, with a concerted effort being made this season to add veterans who have experience making deep playoff runs at this level – midseason acquisitions Tomas Jurco and Dustin Tokarski have both captured Calder Cups, as have offseason addition Dan Renouf and returning forward Zack Stortini. Having a glut of established players in the room who know what it takes to push through that postseason grind has proved fruitful for the Checkers thus far.
“It’s leadership by committee,” said Stortini. “Guys come in every day and push the pace and make sure the other guys know what to do. We’re having a lot of fun together in the trenches battling every day.”
Those veteran leaders aren’t just there for moral support, though. They’ve fully bought in to what’s been brewing all season in Charlotte.
“I was really excited to see when we finally clinched it in Hershey how excited some of the older guys were on the bench,” said Vellucci. “There was a lot of emotion and energy from guys who, you know, they love to win but they’re older veterans. It was great to see that. They’re great leaders and they’re just as excited as the younger guys.”
The Checkers’ eclectic mix of veteran leaders and young prospects has meshed well throughout the season, resulting in a tight-knit group that seems to be reveling in its season continuing on into late May.
“Everyone in that room is not only confident in one another, they want to play for one another,” said Stortini. “That’s very rare to find a group that’s this close. We enjoy coming to the rink and seeing each other every day. We want to keep this thing going right to the very end.”
With a growing belief in themselves and a battle-tested bond in the room, the Checkers continue to mentally ramp up for Friday’s Game 1 as they push through the grind of over a week off. Come 7 p.m. on Friday, they’ll finally have their chance to show off that confidence.
“We feel good about ourselves but that doesn’t matter once the puck drops,” said Vellucci. “We have to be ready to go.”