The Charlotte Checkers came into Milwaukee tonight on a mission. Just over six months ago, their season ended on the Bradley Center ice as the Milwaukee Admirals defeated them to move into post-season play in a winner take all season finale. Add this to the fact that the Checkers returned 18 players from last years team including leading scorer Chris Terry, while the Admirals had more than a handful of players playing in only their second professional game, and the Admirals knew their home opener would be a test.
Things got off to a feisty start when Michael Latta and Nicolas Blanchard dropped the gloves just over a minute into the game. The teams went back and forth with neither team getting a good chance until the 12:10 mark of the first period when Victor Rask took a great feed from Jerome Samson in the corner, and pushed it through the five-hole of Admirals goaltender Jeremy Smith for a 1-0 lead. The first period ended with that score, and the Checkers outshot the Admirals 7-5.
The score remained that way until the midway point of the 2nd period when Gabriel Bourque scored a goal that may end up in the top ten goals of the season. An amazing individual effort saw Bourque check Samson off the puck at the bottom of the circle, steal the puck from him, get his first shot tipped away by a Checkers defenseman, but fought with it to tip a second attempt past goaltender Justin Peters to tie the score at 1.
The game changed in the last five minutes of the 2nd period. Charlotte was able to take the lead back on a powerplay goal by Drayson Bowman with under 3 minutes to go in the period, and then former Wisconsin Badger Sean Dolan scored on a wraparound goal that Jeremy Smith wasn't quick to cover the post on, and the Checkers ended the 2nd period with a 3-1 lead.
Charlotte capitalized on a turnover 5:54 into the third period to take a 4-1 lead. Zach Boychuk took a feed up ice from Riley Nash and beat Smith up high and the Checkers looked to seal the deal. Not so fast as the Admirals European players just showed up a little late to the party. A couple Charlotte penalties allowed the Admirals back into the game. Swedish sensation Patrick Cehlin took a great feed from Bourque and blasted a one-timer past Peters to bring the Ads within two with ten minutes to go. Mattias Ekholm added to the Euro Party as he blasted home a rebound on a shot by Taylor Beck to make the score 4-3 with 3:01 to play. Jeremy Smith was pulled with 1:19 to play and the Admirals controlled play and put a lot of pressure on the Checkers defensive zone, but weren't able to notch the tying goal.
Things that stand out:
The Admirals are a little "Bang"ed up, as Juuso Pustinen and Daniel Bang both missed tonight's game. Because of a shortage of forwards, the Admirals skated seven defensemen, and Anthony Bitetto skated the entire game as a forward. Quite a feat for a guy only playing his 2nd pro game.
Milwaukee looked pretty rusty at times. I guess this could be expected when Charlotte was basically playing with the same exact team as last year and the Ads have a dozen new guys. Charlotte is a quick team, and just executed on more chances tonight.
I really admire the Admirals refusal to give up. They were down 2-0 in Grand Rapids last week and came back and won. Tonight, they were down 4-1 and didn't give up, and were inches away from tying it late in the third period. It'd be nice to see the Admirals run away with a big lead, but I think once this team gets used to playing with one another, it will be a strong team.
Gabriel Bourque is REALLY fun to watch. Making big hits, creating chances, and he didn't give up on his goal....and thats why he's going to be back in the NHL asap. Jonathon Blum wasn't as bad tonight, but there were a couple no look/no thought passes to nobody that made you wonder how he's ever played a period in the NHL, but he wasn't as terrible as he looked in the preseason game.
The Admirals did something very classy tonight. The team paid tribute to Lieutenant Brian Murphy and Officer Sam Lenda of the Oak Creek Police Department in a special pregame ceremony. The officers were involved in the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple shooting in early August. They were the first two officers on the scene, and prevented something terrible from being much worse. The Admirals fans gave them a huge ovation as they were invited to drop the opening faceoff, and again when they were honored in the second period.