Checkers Find Themselves In Must-Win Game

By Cliff Mehrtens
Staff Writer
© 2005 Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s a small area, easily visible but tough to reach.

Eight feet wide, a few feet in front of the goaltender. Hockey’s hallowed ground — the crease — is from where plenty of goals are scored.

It’s where the Charlotte Checkers need to frequent, or face elimination in Game 6 of the ECHL semifinals against the Florida Everblades at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Cricket Arena.

Florida leads 3-2 in the best-of-7 series. The winner will advance to the championship against the Trenton-Alaska winner (Trenton leads 3-2).

Players camped in the crease are easy targets for punishment.

“We need to make a commitment to get to the net,” Charlotte coach Derek Wilkinson said. “We did a good job of doing that in Games 3 and 4, caused some rebounds and jumped on them. That’s our only chance.”

Florida dominated a 5-0 victory in Game 5 at home, scoring three times on the power play.

The Checkers, if they lose, will be playing their last game at Cricket Arena, home of professional hockey in Charlotte since the 1950s. The team will move to Charlotte’s uptown arena next season.

“I hadn’t really considered that,” Wilkinson said. “Of course we hope it doesn’t happen, but I think we’ve done that building proud this season. We’re just trying to shrink it to a one-game series.”

Game 7, if necessary, would be at 5 p.m. Sunday in Estero, Fla.

Charlotte hadn’t been beyond the first round of the playoffs since 1998. Florida lost in the finals to Idaho last year.

The Checkers rallied from an 0-2 start against Columbia, and 0-1 against Gwinnett, both best-of-5 series. They’ve trailed 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 in this series.

“Everybody is going to have to bring their best game; it’s that simple,” Wilkinson said. “If we do, we’ll be fine. We have to concentrate on doing everything we can to play well. Game 5 was our 14th playoff game, and our first not-so-good one.”

Charlotte’s leading scorer, Eddie Pershin, who missed the past eight games with a shoulder injury, could return, but it’s “a long shot,” Wilkinson said.

Pershin was the team’s leading scorer (67) in the regular season, and had three points in six playoffs before getting injured April 24 in Game 1 of the Gwinnett series.