Playoff hockey returns to the Old North State on Thursday, when the Charlotte Checkers (39-29-7-1) host the Chicago Wolves (44-19-8-5) at Bojangles’ Coliseum. It will be the Checkers’ first playoff appearance since the Oklahoma City Barons bumped them from the first round in 2014.
The Chicago Wolves sport a trio of former Carolina Hurricanes — Brad Malone, James Wisniewski, and Ty Rattie. The three have only combined for 24 points and are not expected to have a huge impact on the series. Throughout the duration of the regular season, the Wolves proved to be the class of the Central Division. They come into the matchup having won five of their last six and are tied for second in the league in total points.
Earning points in nine of their last ten, Charlotte closed out the season on a nice little streak of their own. Entering their final regular season game last Saturday, the Checkers needed only one point to clinch a playoff berth. They got exactly what they needed with a 4-3 overtime loss. Ironically, this loss came at the hands of the Chicago Wolves.
Player To Watch: Aleski Saarela
Saarela came over from the New York Rangers as part of the Eric Staal trade last year. He played the last four seasons in Finland’s SM-liiga before making his AHL debut in March. The 20 year-old has recorded ten points (six of those being goals) in his first nine games with Charlotte. However, Saarela has missed the last two tilts due to injury. But Nicholas Niedzielski, Director of Communications for Checkers, reported today that Aleski is close to returning. Assuming Saarela laces up, look for him to make an immediate impact and provide some much needed firepower to Charlotte’s offense.