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 Charlotte Checkers

Notebook: Going About Their Business

April 10, 2024 - American Hockey League (AHL)
Charlotte Checkers News Release

A lot has changed for the Checkers over the last three months.

Heading into a road contest in Cleveland on Feb. 9, the Checkers had lost seven of their last eight games, had dropped to just a shade over .500 and were at risk of falling out of the Atlantic Division playoff conversation.

Charlotte snapped that skid with an overtime win over the Monsters, and a switch was seemingly flipped.

Since that game the Checkers have gone 16-3-3-0, which stands as the best record over that span in the Eastern Conference. They've clinched a playoff berth and are aiming at solidifying their postseason position.

"There's a lot of good chemistry in the locker room and on the ice too," said Checkers forward Will Lockwood. "There's not one guy having a lot of individual success, it's like every line is rolling. That's been the key to our success so far."

So what changed in February to spark this run? According to the coaching staff, not much.

"We just go about our business," said head coach Geordie Kinnear. "That's our approach. When we worry about ourselves, we're a good team. When we start worrying about what other teams are doing, we're mediocre. We want to be a really good hockey team, so let's focus on ourselves."

The mantra of focusing on yourself and your game is one that has been harped on from day one by Kinnear, and it's one that the players have bought into.

"You can tell when you watch our games that we've been dictating the play quite a bit," said Lockwood. "That stems from that attitude and we've been finding a lot of success that way. When you can kind of go in and play your game and dictate the play like that, you're probably going to have a lot of success doing that."

This red-hot run has the Checkers locked into at least home-ice advantage for the opening round and challenging for a bye, but the team is hardly ready to take their foot off the gas.

"We've had a really good mindset," said Lockwood. "I don't think we've been content where we've been at. We've been playing well and we've been winning a lot of games, but there's not satisfaction in the locker room. We know we're building toward something, so we're just trying to keep building."


The most eye-catching aspect of the Checkers' hot run has been the team's defensive play. They have surrendered 46 goals over that 22-game stretch and have locked down even more as of late, giving up just 5 goals in the last 7 contests.

That success has been a complete team effort. The Checkers rank in the top five across the AHL in terms of shots on goal allowed per game, and the tandem of Spencer Knight and Magnus Hellberg have been lights out between the pipes.

"It's just five guys working together," said Kinnear after Saturday's win. "And obviously the goalies have played well. It's a total team game and team defense. I keep saying it this time of year, but if you look at the teams that win in the end, they're good defensively."

That strong play has gone hand-in-hand with other areas of Charlotte's game as well, as the stingy defense has fed into a reignited offense and vice-versa.

"There's no special recipe to it," said Lockwood. "We've just been playing the right way. Everyone's bought into that and understands it. The best defense is playing in the O-zone. But it takes all the guys on the ice to get it there, everyone needs to be on the same page and really work in the neutral zone and the D-zone to get it to the O-zone. There's been a ton of success that way and it's a fun way to play."


Every year, as the calendar reaches this point and the college and junior seasons come to an end, an influx of young prospects jump onto the Charlotte roster for a taste of the pro game.

This year is no different. There are four new faces on the ice for practice this week - Kai Schwindt, Riese Gaber, Gracyn Sawchyn and Cooper Black - plus Ben Steeves, who joined Charlotte earlier and has appeared in three games.

"It's been really fun," said Steeves, who finished his college career at the University of Minnesota Duluth and signed an entry-level deal with the Panthers for next season. "Everybody's good so you're always playing with good players. High tempo, high execution, it's really fun."

Exactly how long the different skaters will remain with the Checkers will vary, so the time for them to learn and make an impression is limited, and the coaching staff is looking for them to make the most of it.

"I think when you're a student of the game you just constantly get better," said Kinnear. "I look for those guys to absorb what we're working on, how we play, the environment. Be a student of the game and add it to your list of things you need to work on. I think all great players are students of the game. I look at the players that I played with that ended up being great players - one in particular, Chris Pronger - he was a student of the game. Be a student of the game."

While they try to absorb as much as they can before beginning their first proper pro seasons down the road, the Checkers are making sure these new prospects are getting a good first impression of their possible future home.

"We've done a good job - from the leadership group to the coaching staff to the trainers to Tera's staff to Michael - at making sure that everyone feels important," said Kinnear. "When you feel important, you feel a part of it. You get 100% of the individual. It's important that we're a family, because in the end when you play for the guy beside you, good things usually happen."

"We have a really good group that's been really welcoming," said Steeves. "They like to win hockey games, so it's fun to jump into a group like that."

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The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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