With injuries mounting, Hurricanes look to Charlotte

Carolina has had to recall several players from the Checkers, who are the favorites in the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs

Checkers captain Patrick Brown was recalled by the Hurricanes on April 16, one of several players Carolina has had to bring up from Charlotte due to injuries. (Nick Wass / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — If you haven’t watched the Carolina Hurricanes for a while, you might be wondering where some of the familiar names have gone.

Calvin de Haan. Micheal Ferland. Andrei Svechnikov. Jordan Martinook. Saku Maenalanen. Trevor van Riemsdyk. Petr Mrazek.

All have (or will) miss full games this postseason, and the Hurricanes are just nine games into a run that, while unexpected, is less than halfway to its end goal.

“It seems like they’re happening all at once, too,” Greg McKegg, who was recalled in January right as the team started to get hot, said of the flurry of injuries. “Each game, a couple guys here and there. It’s that time of the year, and I think we’re not the only team that goes through it.”

Carolina already got back de Haan, who missed the first three games of the playoffs, but now has lost van Riemsdyk to a shoulder injury that will keep him out indefinitely.

Svechnikov looks set to come back in Wednesday’s Game 3 against the Islanders — the Hurricanes took Game 1 and 2 in Brooklyn — after being knocked out and concussed in a fight with Washington captain Alexander Ovechkin in Game 3 of that series.

After Tuesday’s practice, Ferland said he could be ready for Friday’s Game 4, while Martinook is going to be a game-time decision every night until he just can’t go anymore.

With all these injuries, the Carolina brain trust has had to pilfer the Hurricanes’ top affiliate for players to keep going.

“You never want to see anyone go down, but that’s what the Checkers are for, really,” Patrick Brown, captain for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte, said. “It’s a developmental league and those guys have been working hard all year, and it’s awesome seeing them getting a chance here.”

That’s meant frequent, albeit brief, calls between Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour and Checkers coach Mike Vellucci.

“He’s coaching those guys down there and he knows who fits what we need and I don’t have to talk very long about it,” Brind’Amour said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s been dead-on right every time. He probably doesn’t like hearing me call or have to ask because I’m taking one of his guys, but he gets it.”

Vellucci and the Checkers are in a playoff push of their own. Charlotte had the AHL’s best record this season and has advanced to Round 2 of the Calder Cup Playoffs, which will begin in the Queen City on Friday against the Hershey Bears.

“You lose a guy up here, we’re losing a guy down there,” said Alex Nedeljkovic, the AHL goaltender of the year who was recalled Monday after Mrazek was hurt in the Hurricanes Game 2 win on Sunday. “So the next guy that’s come in has filled in very well.”

One of those is Jacob Pritchard, an undrafted forward who just finished his collegiate career at the University of Massachusetts and signed with the Hurricanes on April 17.

“I think it was in Game 4, he scored a big goal for us, first one of his career,” Nedeljkovic said. “He wasn’t playing in Game 3. Like you said, next man up, the next-man-up mentality — it’s big.”

Brown, who was recalled to Carolina on April 16 after Svechnikov’s injury in the Hurricanes’ Game 3 of the Capitals series, was already gone.

“Actually, I haven’t even met him yet,” Brown said. “I hear he’s playing great, so that’s great to hear.”

Such is hockey life between North Carolina’s two biggest cities right now.

“Everyone wants to be up here,” said Clark Bishop, who was first recalled before Game 6 of the Washington series. “At the same time, I think we want Charlotte to do well just because we’ve had such a good year down there. It’s just like up here — the guys have had such a good year and everyone’s battling for each other and want to win.”

Bishop, who played 20 games with the Hurricanes this season, didn’t get to play in that Game 6 when Martinook was deemed good to go, but he did get to experience the PNC Arena crowd from the press box. He said he could feel the arena shaking during the game.

“I think the fans know it helps the players, but I don’t think they realize how much of a spark it gives us when it’s that loud,” he said.

He played in Games 1 and 2 in Brooklyn and could again play Wednesday at home.

“I was up here for a few games during the year and it’s not as intimidating coming up for this, but at the same time it’s a pretty surreal moment coming up and playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time,” he said. “Once you get that first shift under your belt, it’s almost like your first game. You’re good to go then.”

Nedeljkovic, who would only play if things go wrong in Game 3, said you don’t have a choice but to be ready.

“I think Mac said it best in Game 2 there,” Nedeljkovic said of goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who came on in relief in Game 2 and earned the 2-1 win.

“You just grab your mask and go.”