During the season, Checkers broadcaster TJ Chillot checks in with a weekly blog highlighting everything Checkers hockey, presented by Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates!
Happy Holidays, hockey fans! As we approach the not-exactly-halfway-holiday-break, let’s take a look at what’s going on in the world of Checkers hockey and beyond. Come with me into the trapezoid!

Trades and Tidings

On Monday, the Florida Panthers sent veteran Michael Del Zotto to Detroit in exchange for 24-year-old forward Givani Smith, who was then assigned to the Checkers after playing 19 games with the Red Wings’ affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins this season. A former second-round draft pick of the Red Wings, Smith brings talent and grit to the Checkers forward group. The Toronto native was protected by the Red Wings during the expansion draft, proof of his high ceiling. His success in Detroit/Grand Rapids was perhaps slower than management was hoping for, making him expendable. I’m excited for the change in locale for Smith. I think he fits into a Charlotte Checkers front that is certainly less potent than they used to be with the rash of reassignments to the NHL (Dalpe, Denisenko, Heponiemi, Tierney). In total, Smith has 85 games under his belt at the NHL level and is approaching 150 games played in the AHL.

Del Zotto, on the other hand, was immediately flipped from Detroit to Anaheim for forward Danny O’Reagan. Del Zotto was a mainstay on the Checkers blue line, so the group of youngsters like Dennis Cesana, Santtu Kinnunen, Zach Uens will have a chance to step up and hold down the fort. Del Zotto is the second defensive casualty this month after Max Gildon was reassigned to Bakersfield (AHL).

Season’s Greetings from the Special Teams

Last week I bemoaned the Checkers penalty kill, which was in its worst stretch of the season. They absolutely righted the ship this past weekend against the Americans by going 9-for-9 on the penalty kill. On the other side, the power play suddenly took a dive as the Checkers struggled with the man-advantage, going 0-for-8. I’d love to see the Checkers find some balance this weekend in their matchup against Providence. Keep the kill strong, bring up the power play and get back to level seas in that regard.

Holly Jolly Hutsko

Personally, I think Logan Hutsko is playing some of the best hockey of his professional career. It’s a shame that he didn’t show up on the stat sheet last weekend against the Americans, but that’s not for a lack of trying or effort. The second-year forward was all over the ice it seemed. His puck handling has been slick, his awareness has been top-notch, and I’ve never seen him cruise at such high speeds. I really hope he stays fresh during the short layoff, because I think the dam is about to break for the former Boston College Eagle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him register a few multi-point games over the next few weeks with the way he’s been playing.

In the Crease at Christmas

On Friday, the Checkers pulled Mack Guzda five minutes and fifty seconds into the game after surrendering two goals on five shots. This isn’t a shot at Guzda in any way, I think the rookie netminder is playing well above expectations. I also think the change in goal was more a message to the team than to Guzda himself, because it was certainly not the start Head Coach Geordie Kinnear was imagining. I just found it interesting that it was the first time this season the Checkers have played two different goaltenders in a game. Neither goaltender had been pulled previously, neither goaltender missed any time due to an in-game injury, or anything of the sort. When you can go 34 games without pulling a goalie, that’s not too bad!

Ghosts of This Season’s Past

The Checkers have struggled with Providence to start the season, there’s no two ways about it. Coming into this weekend’s games, the Checkers are 0-3 against their divisional rivals. The one thing that all three of those games have in common? They were all played in Rhode Island, a place that’s notoriously tough to play in for visiting team. It’ll be nice to see what the Checkers can do in their own building against a very tough team. The Bruins have only lost four games in regulation this season in total, meanwhile the Checkers are on a five-game losing skid. It’ll certainly be a test, and one I expect the Checkers to be ready for, even if it is a short week.

Happy New Year, Here Comes a Tough Stretch

In their next seven games, the Checkers will be battling teams that are equal-to or above them in the standings. With games coming up against Providence, Cleveland, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Hershey, it’s a big test for Charlotte. At the time of this writing, the Cleveland Monsters are the only opponent with less than 30 standings points and all three divisional opponents are top-four in the Atlantic. If you take out Cleveland, a team the Checkers have yet to see this year, Charlotte is 3-4-0-1 against their upcoming opponents.

A Message from Me to You

I wanted to take the time to thank each and every one of you reading this article or those who’ve tuned into even just a second of Checkers hockey this season. We have the best fans in the American Hockey League, and I don’t have any problem defending that statement against anyone who argues with me.

You all make up the culture of the Charlotte Checkers and I wish you and your family a very happy holiday season filled with laughs, joys, and togetherness. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Boxing Day, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year!