ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Charlotte’s Zac Dalpe has been the definition of clutch since returning from the NHL.
Dalpe had two short-handed goals and two assists as the Checkers defeated the Abbotsford Heat 5-1 in American Hockey League action Friday.
Dalpe was reassigned to the Checkers by the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 3 and since then he has scored the winning goal in three of the past six games. He has five goals and three assists in those matches.
“He’s just such a good skater that he can make a lot of things happen with his legs,” said Brett Sutter of his linemate. “If you can get him the puck usually a lot of good things happen.”
Sutter added a goal and three assists for the Checkers (31-17-5), who have won four of five. Matt Beca and Luke Pither also scored for Charlotte, while Justin Peters made 27 saves in the win.
Beca was playing on a line with Dalpe and Sutter that proved to be dangerous all night.
“Our line as a whole, including Matt Beca, played really well for us and made some really good plays so between the two of them, our line played really well,” said Sutter.
Sutter’s goal came on the power play but Dalpe’s pair were shorthanded, against the Heat, who had allowed just two against all year.
“Part of it is playing with speed,” said Dalpe. “I know you’re a man down but when you play with speed and push them up the ice, it forces them.”
Greg Nemisz scored for the Heat (26-21-8), who are winless in six games, while Barry Brust made just 11 saves.
Nemisz opened the scoring for Abbotsford on a 2-on-1 with Roman Horak at 6:06 of the first period. Horak waited until the last moment to slide the puck to Nemisz at the side of the net, and buried it for his first goal of the season.
“That’s a huge relief for him to get that goal,” said linemate Carter Bancks. “I feel like he’s going to start putting some in for us.”
Sutter tied the game at 12:31 when he redirected Dalpe’s point shot.
“We just stuck to the game plan,” said Sutter. “They got one early and we didn’t really change what we were doing, just tied to keep it simple.”
Dalpe put the Checkers up 2-1 at 12:22 of the second period, outwaiting Brust’s aggressive poke check before finding the open net.
“We had a forward playing back on D so sometimes the communication isn’t great, guys are trying to sort it out,” said Abbotsford’s Ben Street. “Our entries weren’t good and they got a lot of pressure on us on the breakout.”
Dalpe scored again 71 seconds into the third period. After the Checkers were served a penalty for too many men on the ice Sutter cut through the Abbotsford defence and slid the puck to Dalpe, who beat Brust just under the glove, for his 18th goal of the season.
“They came hard out of the gate but we stuck with it,” said Sutter. “It was a pretty physical game and some guys stepped up with some hits and that kind of gave us some momentum and then our special teams were really good.”
Beca made it 4-1 at the 10-minute mark of the third, converting his own rebound after being set up by Sutter and Dalpe on an odd-man rush.
Sutter, who played for the Heat in their inaugural ’09-’10 season, has two goals and eight assists in his past seven games.
“They’re both skilled guys and they made clutch plays,” said Street of Sutter and Dalpe. “Even when those guys are killing a penalty they’re taking care of their own end but thinking offence too a little bit and that’s something we have to be more careful with.”
At 11:40 Chris Terry threw a puck towards the net before Pither deflected it past Brust for his sixth of the season to round out the scoring.
The two teams face-off again Saturday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“Obviously they’re going to come out a lot harder tomorrow so we’re ready for it,” said Dalpe.
Notes: Blair Jones was making his Abbotsford debut after clearing waivers and being assigned to the Heat by the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Roman Horak also was reassigned to the Heat, while Akim Aliu was called up the other way.