CHARLOTTE, N.C. – One year after Charlotte hoisted its first Calder Cup, the hockey world now sits idle waiting for the puck to drop and life to resemble some sense of normalcy. Through these uncertain times, one thing was certain: the Checkers were on a roll when the 2019-2020 AHL season was cancelled.
While maintaining a .500 record for the first few months of the season, first-year Head Coach Ryan Warsofsky saw his team’s fortune begin to change for the better. As the calendar turned to 2020, this team of mostly new faces and young, determined leadership began to gel. From January 4 to their last game on March 11, the Checkers went 18-8-2, which included a five-game win streak to begin the month of February. Winning four of their last six contests, Charlotte sat third in the Atlantic Division, anticipating a series with either the Providence Bruins or Hershey Bears. Both teams are familiar playoff foes from last Season’s Calder Cup run.
TEAM AND LEAGUE AWARDS
Team MVP: Jake Bean
In his second AHL season, defenseman Jake Bean led the Checkers in scoring with 48 points (10G/38A) in 59 games and led a blue line that saw an exit by veteran players such as Trevor Carrick and Josiah Didier in the offseason. With Hayden Fleury called up to the Carolina Hurricanes, Jake stepped in right away. His leadership and gameplay also earned him a spot on the AHL’s 2019-2020 First All-Star Team.
Team Forward: Steven Lorentz
Lorentz, also in his second AHL season, finished second in scoring for Charlotte with 46 points (23G/23A) in 61 games played. As with the blue line, the Checkers forwards also saw a mass exodus during the offseason.
Team Defenseman: Jake Bean
As Bean began to make a name for himself in 2018-19, the 2019-2020 season was certainly his breakout year. In addition to being named Checkers MVP, he also earned Defensive Player of the Year.
Most Improved Player: Steven Lorentz
In comparison from 29 games played in the 2018-2019 Season, Lorentz went from nine points (3G/6A – 0.31 points/game) to 46 points in 61 games (23G/23A – 0.75 points/game), earning him the team’s Most Improved Player. In a recent tweet from NHL.com AHL correspondent Patrick Williams, he stated:
“For my money, [Lorentz is] the most improved player in the entire AHL in the past two seasons.”
Unsung Hero: Max McCormick
In his first season with the Checkers, McCormick tallied 35 points (16G/19A) in 56 games played, amassed 120 penalty minutes, and one game-winning goal. From the Charlotte Checkers website:
“…McCormick stood as one of the premier physical forces on the squad, never shying away from stepping up for his teammates. His 120 penalty minutes ranked fourth in the AHL and make him just the second Checkers player over the last four seasons to crack 100 PIMs.”
Moment of the Season: Mattheos Return from Cancer Diagnosis
“After beating a cancer diagnosis that came just days after winning the Calder Cup, Stelio Mattheos made his season debut on the road in Cleveland on Nov. 1, but suffered an injury that once again pushed him to the sidelines. Finally on Feb. 11, with his cancer in the rearview and his injury setback overcome, Mattheos stepped back onto the Coliseum ice to the cheers of a raucous home crowd and got back to what he loved doing – playing hockey.”
Nicholas Niedzielski, Charlotte Checkers
Performance of the Season: Geekie’s 14-Game Point Streak
From January 8 to February 11, 2020, Morgan Geekie recorded at least one point in 14 straight games. During this streak, Geekie had 17 points and 11 goals.
As with Bean and Lorentz, this past season was also Geekie’s second year with the Checkers. These sophomore sensations ended their 2019-2020 season as the first, second, and third leading scorers respectively on a very young team. The top five scoring leaders were all returning players from the 2019 Calder Cup Championship squad.
An All-Rookie Team Nod
Sticking with the “young” theme, Joey Keane was named to the AHL 2019-2020 All-Rookie Team. Keane ended the season with 37 points (9G/28A) in 58 games played. Keane split the season between Hartford and Charlotte with seven points (1G/6A) in nine games while with the Checkers.
The goalie tandem of Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg saw action in 56 of Charlotte’s 61 contests this season. Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig, call-ups from Charlotte’s ECHL affiliate the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, had one start each. Keith Kinkaid (on loan from Laval) had four starts, and Mike Condon also had one start. The one-two punch of Forsberg and Nedeljkovic were nearly identical in games played, wins/losses, and save percentage. Forsberg earned a win in the Checkers only shootout of the season.
Though this season was ended all too soon without celebration and fanfare, it is evident this current group of players will continue to make an impact in the AHL regardless of locale or affiliation.
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