Remember the saying, “Walk a mile in my shoes?” Well, try skating 60 minutes in someone else’s unused skates. That’s what newly-signed Charlotte Checkers defenseman Mike Little did Thursday night, filling in again for the injured Keegan Lowe.
“I get here [to the airport] at about 5 p.m. and I go to the baggage carousel, and my gear is not there,” Little said. The airline was unable to locate his bag and Little had a game to play at 7 p.m. “So I get here as fast as I can, and I’m throwing on all sorts of gear trying to wear whatever fits and get out there and battle.” He ended up wearing Ryan Murphy’s skates that were never broken in and had no top eyelet, according to Little. He wrapped 6 layers of tape around the top of the skates to provide stability.
After signing his first professional tryout contract with the Checkers on Tuesday, he arrived 15 minutes before warmups and contributed minutes in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Barons. Following Tuesday’s game, Little was released from his contract and flew back to join the Florida Everblades, the Checkers’ ECHL affiliate.
Little played a game for the Everblades on Wednesday, then returned to Charlotte for Thursday night’s matchup against the Barons. “He never complained once, and it’s huge to get those minutes from him,” Checkers defenseman Ryan Murphy said. Little had 17 points in his time with the Everblades, and contributed some key minutes in Keegan Lowe’s absence for an already shorthanded squad.
Charlotte defeated the first-place Oklahoma City Barons 4-2 on Thursday night, rebounding from Tuesday’s loss and defeating the Barons for the first time this season.
“We were a much better team tonight and it was exciting to be a part of,” Little said.
Charlotte captured the momentum early with a barrage of shots on the Barons’ goal in the first period, converting two of their season high 20 blasts. “We played a faster game today as opposed to the other night we were kind of straight-legged,” said Checkers head coach Jeff Daniels. Charlotte outshot OKC 35-24 for the game.
Things settled down in the second frame as Barons right wing Andrew Miller finally lit the lamp, bringing the Barons within one.
Then, the Checkers accomplished something that has been a rarity this season. They were able to score on one of their four power plays on the night, with Danny Biega cashing in to extend the lead to 3-1 in the second. “We just (have to) earn our ice in the offensive zone. We (have to) get pucks deep and get possession before position,” Murphy said.
Anton Lander continued his hot streak for OKC, scoring a power play goal in the third frame and drawing the match back to within one. But Ben Holmstrom took advantage of an empty net from the opposite end of the ice with 37.7 seconds left to put the game away.
“I thought it was the best our power play has looked in a while with the way they were moving the puck and getting some looks, and then you score an ugly goal,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t a pretty one, but from a confidence standpoint it helps a little bit.”
Charlotte currently sits dead last in the league on the power play, only converting 11 of 112 chances at an embarrassing 9.3 percent. Improving the power play unit will be key after losing one of the team’s top scorers in left wing Justin Shugg to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Checkers NHL affiliate. The Hurricanes recalled Shugg on Dec. 15 from Charlotte, removing a key player from the team who had 11 points (9 goals, 2 assists).
The Barons (16-7-2-2) came into this game having won six of their last seven games, and leading the West with 36 points. The Checkers (10-15-2-0, 22 points) will begin another two-game home series against the second-place San Antonio Rampage on Dec. 19. Charlotte boasts a 7-6-1 record on their home ice, but are struggling mightily on the road at 3-9-1. Coach Daniels expressed the importance of these next two games.
Charlotte hopes to enter the upcoming break on a positive note, feeling good about themselves and being closer to .500, Daniels said. “This team has battled. I know our record is not what we want it to be, but give credit to our guys that they have always fought and battled every single night.”