CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For a team that already thought they had an injury crisis, what happened to the Checkers on Sunday was hard to believe.
Charlotte, already without six regulars for their rematch of Saturday’s win over Houston, lost three more players in the first period of a 5-2 loss to the Aeros. Forwards Sean Dolan and Luke Pither and defenseman Michal Jordan all departed during the first period, with the home team playing the bulk of the game with just 15 skaters.
Despite losing those three and giving up the game’s first two goals, the Checkers rallied back to tie the game at 2-2 on second-period goals by Matt Marquardt and Brody Sutter but gave up three unanswered in the third. John Muse suffered the loss in goal.
Pither initially left the game after a hard collision just inside the Charlotte zone but returned to finish the first period. However, he, along with Dolan, who fell awkwardly along the boards, and Jordan, who played despite suffering an injury during Saturday’s overtime period, did not come out for period two.
The Checkers were already playing without forwards Zac Dalpe, A. J. Jenks, Andreas Nodl, Jerome Samson and Justin Shugg and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, the latter of whom battled through an injury on Saturday that caused him to miss part of the game.
As a result of those injuries, the Checkers, now 5-1-1 in their seven-game series with their South Division rival, began the game with 11 players on their roster who began the season in the ECHL, 10 of whom were in the lineup on Sunday, including just-recalled defenseman Beau Schmitz.
Perhaps affected by the turnover, the team fell behind 2-0 in the first 10 minutes on goals by Houston’s Chad Rau and Justin Fontaine. Rau’s goal came three minutes in when he came down the right wing and forced Muse to make a save on that and Ryley Grantham’s rebound attempt, only for Rau to find the second rebound himself as he curled back towards goal from behind the net.
The Aeros would make it 2-0 on the game’s first power play, with Justin Fontaine firing a shot high over Muse’s blocker as he carried the puck into the zone.
Despite the bleak circumstances, the shorthanded Checkers stormed back in period two, with Matt Marquardt scoring his first goal as a Checker directly following one of the Aeros’ most dominant shifts of the night. With heroics by Muse keeping the Checkers within two during that sequence that included a Houston power play and a solid minute of zone time in Charlotte’s zone thereafter, Marquardt slammed a loose puck past Cody Reichard, who was making his first career AHL start.
Near the end of the second, Brody Sutter tied the game on his first goal of the season and second in 11 career AHL games, all with Charlotte, on a redirection of a Rasmus Rissanen point shot. Rissanen had the primary assist on both goals for his second career multi-point game.
Though the Checkers continued to press for offense in the third period – they looked like the team more likely to score throughout the final frame – Houston regained the lead by scoring three goals in five minutes on either side of the midway point.
Charlotte’s five-game home stand continues with games against Norfolk on Wednesday and against Texas on Friday and Sunday.