DULUTH, Ga. -- The Charlotte Checkers followed up Friday’s lopsided loss to Toledo with a 7-2 blowout of their own over the Gwinnett Gladiators on Sunday afternoon.
Matt Schepke led the charge with his second hat trick of the season while Matt Stefanishion recorded four assists. Ryan Munce stopped 19 of 21 shots for some redemption after allowing seven goals to Toledo on Friday morning. Munce is now 6-3-1 since Miika Wiikman, the other half of the Checkers’ goaltending tandem, was called up to Hartford in late January.
With the win, the Checkers opened up a nine-point lead over the Gladiators in the South Division standings and pulled within one point of second-place Florida.
Kevin Schaeffer, who was returned to the team from Hartford (AHL) earlier in the day, opened the scoring for the Checkers with a one-timer in the slot off a pass from Stefanishion. The goal was Schaeffer’s second of the season and came at the 7:19 mark of the first period.
Shortly after the opening tally Munce made several key saves to keep the one-goal lead, including a beautiful kick save on a wraparound attempt by Gwinnett forward Tim Miller.
Charlotte would then take a two-goal lead, five minutes later, when Andrew Carroll, who was also returned from the Wolf Pack today, scored on a 2-on-1 with Michel Leveille. Leveille fed a pass through the Gwinnett defender and Carroll made no mistake, burying his team-leading 22nd of the season.
Early in the second frame, Schepke scored his first of three to give the Checkers a 3-0 advantage. On the odd-man rush, Stefanishion dished a pass to Schepke who beat Gwinnett goaltender David Brown low on the blocker side.
Charlotte then went ahead by four, just two and a half minutes later, when Tyler Doig beat Brown from the left point on the power play. Leveille and Julien Brouillette picked up assists on the goal.
Gwinnett forward Mike McLean was assessed a high-sticking penalty a minute after the goal by Doig and the Checkers went to the work on the power play once again. Doig took a pass from Brouillette and put a shot on net which was redirected by Carroll between the post and the arm of Brown for the 5-0 lead.
With less than five minutes to play in the period, Jean-Philipp Chabot centered a pass to Schepke who converted for his second of the game to put the Checkers up by six goals.
The Gladiators got on the board early in the third on the power play before Schepke completed the hat trick when he redirected a pass from Steve Ward to regain the six-goal lead.
Gwinnett scored a late goal but it wasn’t enough as the Checkers triumphed, 7-2, to get back in the win column and maintain sole possession of fifth place in the American Conference.
The Checkers (29-17-6) will embark on a three-game northern road trip before returning on Wednesday, Mar. 3. Puck drops at 7 p.m. and ticket information can be obtained by calling 704-342-4-ICE or visiting www.gocheckers.com.