Wolf Pack Down Defending Champs in OpenerOct 5, 2019
By Micah Collins
Matt Beleskey scored twice, Vinni Lettieri had a goal and an assist, and Danny O’Regan added three assists Saturday night at the XL Center, as the Hartford Wolf Pack defeated the defending Calder Cup-champion Charlotte Checkers, 5-3, in the AHL season opener for both teams.
“We didn’t look great from the start, but we were able to settle it down,” said Wolf Pack head coach Kris Knoblauch, who was making his debut behind the Wolf Pack bench. “We didn’t get rattled, we responded.”
The Checkers were the first to jump on the board, as Janne Kuokkanen snuck a shot through the legs of Wolf Pack goaltender Igor Shesterkin (26 saves) 1:18 into the first period. Shesterkin would prove to be unbeatable for the rest of the period, making an impressive series of saves from in close around the 14-minute mark.
Just a 2:45 after Charlotte’s goal, the Wolf Pack evened the score when Joey Keane put away the first goal of his professional career. O’Regan and Boo Nieves assisted on the goal.
The Wolf Pack were able to capitalize on some good offensive zone pressure at 12:06, when Vincent LoVerde pinched in to the top of the right circle to wire a shot over Charlotte goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic’s blocker to put Hartford up, 2-1. The Wolf Pack would hold on to the one goal lead for the rest of the period.
The Pack didn’t slow down going into the second, as Beleskey capitalized for his first of the game on the power play 1:34 into the period, collecting his own rebound after tipping a shot by O’Regan. Lettieri also picked up an assist.
Later in the frame, the Wolf Pack found themselves trapped in their own zone for the better part of five minutes, but were able to escape without giving up a goal thanks to the strong play of Shesterkin.
Lettieri found twine with 2:20 left in the period, off an assist from newly-named captain Steven Fogarty. The goal would stand as the last one for the middle frame, sending the Wolf Pack to the dressing room up 4 to 1.
The momentum continued for Hartford going into the third period, with Beleskey scoring his second of the game just 24 seconds into the final frame, with assists from LoVerde and O’Regan.
“I thought we had a balanced attack,” Beleskey said. “We have four good lines that can go, good defense. We have lots of talent, lots of guys that like to work. I thought our veterans really led the way tonight.”
Knoblauch agreed, saying, “I hope the young guys were watching. Not that the young guys played bad, they did good. But there’s a learning curve. You need your leaders to lead, and they did that tonight.”
The Checkers finally stopped the bleeding at 4:18, when David Gust got a puck over the catching glove of Shesterkin. Roland McKeown and Hunter Shinkaruk assisted on the goal.
Charlotte was able to find the net again at 9:38, when Julien Gauthier stuffed in a rebound of a Brian Gibbons shot. Morgan Geekie also assisted on the goal.
That would be it for the scoring, even though the Checkers pulled Nedeljkovic with two minutes left to try to close the two-goal gap.
“It’s a strong start to the season,” said O’Regan. “We have a good team playing hard, playing the right way. [Shesterkin] played a great game. Good teams have good goalies, and he stood strong.”
The Wolf Pack are right back at the XL Center on Sunday, hosting the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in a 3:00 PM game. That is the season’s first chance to take advantage of the Wolf Pack’s “Click It or Ticket Hat Trick Pack”. The Hat Trick Pack includes two tickets, two sodas and one large popcorn, all for just $40.
Tickets for all 2019-20 Wolf Pack home games are on sale now at the Sunwave Gas & Power Ticket Office at the XL Center, on-line at www.hartfordwolfpack.com and by phone at (877) 522-8499. Tickets purchased in advance for kids 12 or younger start at just $10 each, and all tickets will have a $3 day-of-game increase.
To speak with a Wolf Pack representative about season or group tickets, or any of the Wolf Pack’s many ticketing options, call (860) 722-9425, or click here to request more info. To visit the Wolf Pack on line, go to www.hartfordwolfpack.com.
Charlotte Checkers 3 at Hartford Wolf Pack 5
Saturday, October 5, 2019 - XL Center
Charlotte 1 0 2 - 3
Hartford 2 2 1 - 5
1st Period-1, Charlotte, Kuokkanen 1 (Priskie), 1:18. 2, Hartford, Keane 1 (O'Regan, Nieves), 4:03. 3, Hartford, LoVerde 1 (Newell, Fontaine), 12:06. Penalties-Gauthier Cha (double minor - high-sticking), 5:31; Day Hfd (interference), 17:17; Forsling Cha (tripping), 19:40.
2nd Period-4, Hartford, Beleskey 1 (O'Regan, Lettieri), 1:34 (PP). 5, Hartford, Lettieri 1 (Fogarty), 17:40. Penalties-Luostarinen Cha (holding), 13:40; Gibbons Cha (slashing), 14:37; Keane Hfd (slashing), 14:37.
3rd Period-6, Hartford, Beleskey 2 (LoVerde, O'Regan), 0:24. 7, Charlotte, Gust 1 (McKeown, Shinkaruk), 4:18 (PP). 8, Charlotte, Gauthier 1 (Gibbons, Geekie), 10:22. Penalties-Lettieri Hfd (high-sticking), 3:57.
Shots on Goal-Charlotte 8-10-11-29. Hartford 8-10-5-23.
Power Play Opportunities-Charlotte 1 / 2; Hartford 1 / 4.
Goalies-Charlotte, Nedeljkovic 0-1-0 (23 shots-18 saves). Hartford, Shesterkin 1-0-0 (29 shots-26 saves).
Referees-Jordan Deckard (14), Alex Garon (64).
Linesmen-Brent Colby (7), Mike Baker (11).