CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - If adversity builds championship teams, the Charlotte Checkers are ready for the challenge of taking on Chicago in their first ever appearance in the the Calder Cup Finals.
Charlotte was pushed to the limit in the Eastern Conference Finals by the defending AHL Champs Toronto and it all started in game 2.
After suffering their first home playoff loss in the postseason the night before, the Marlies jumped out to a 3-0 lead in game 2 and had the Checkers on the ropes looking at the prospects of going back to Toronto down 2-0 in the series.
“Everybody looked a little panicked,” said Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci. “My point to them was ‘how good is this going to feel when we win’ and we won.”
The Checkers would score 5 unanswered goals and went on for the 5-3 victory, but the adversity didn’t stop there.
Game 5 was turning point number 2. The series was tied at 2 games a piece after a Toronto win in game 4. The Checkers would be without some key players thanks to injury and the flu swept through the team as well. The biggest scratch was starting goalie Alex Nedeljkovic. He was the AHL Goalie of the Year but would miss this game for rest purposes. Dustin Tokarski got the start in the pipes for Charlotte and saved 40 of 41 shots as the Checkers won 4-1 to take a 3-2 series lead.
“I always say, that’s what makes you stronger,” said Vellucci. “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with what happens to you and we dealt with it the right way.”
The most impressive thing about overcoming all this adversity is that they did it against the team with a lot of playoff experience in Toronto. Remember, the Marlies were the defending champs. A great sign that this moment in the Calder Cup Finals won’t be too big for the Checkers.
“The coaches have put in a great system and a great culture in the locker room,” said Checkers forward Andrew Poturalski. “We know what we got to do to go out there and win games so I don’t see anything changing.”