CHARLOTTE — Sensing some of his Charlotte Checkers teammates were having fun with it, Zac Dalpe started up his own Twitter account in early March.
The forward has tweeted about rough plane rides and tough hockey games. He has tweeted his apologies to Checkers fans at times for poor play. He also has tweeted on how much he has enjoyed living and playing in Charlotte this season.
Not that Dalpe wants to be back living and playing in Charlotte next season.
"I wouldn't mind Raleigh," he said this week, smiling.
Dalpe would like to think he will have a place on the Carolina Hurricanes' roster next year, in the NHL. So do such Checkers as Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk, Bobby Sanguinetti and others.
The Checkers are competing for the Calder Cup, in the American Hockey League playoffs, but the players also have their futures in mind. They're aware of the heavy presence of so many from the Hurricanes organization in the arena and closely watching them, on a bigger stage than the regular season, from general manager Jim Rutherford to coach Paul Maurice to Ron Francis, the Canes' associate head coach and the team's director of player personnel.
"They're always being watched, and obviously they're a little more under their microscope this time of year," Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said this week. "The Hurricanes want to see which players step up, or which players drop off or stay the same.
"This is the time of year where the stakes are a little higher, the pressure is a little more. It's not going to make or break whether they make the Carolina Hurricanes or not, but it can definitely help them. They'll be watched, to see how they handle these tougher situations."
That's fine with Dalpe - or ZacDalpe22 in the twittersphere.
"I think at this time of the year you find out who really wants to win," Dalpe said. "Having them here to watch, it does push you a little more to do well. It's not necessarily a pressure thing, but more to challenge yourself a bit."
Dalpe, 21, responded with two goals and three assists in the first two games of the Checkers' first-round series against the Hershey Bears, the two-time defending Calder Cup champions. Charlotte won the opening game of the best-of-seven series but lost the next two games before Wednesday night's 3-2 win tied the series again.
Something to prove
"This is where the best players rise up," said Boychuk, the Canes' first-round draft pick in 2008. "You can put up 100 points in a season and then in the playoffs suddenly lose in the first round and it's like, are you really that good a player? I feel like I want to prove I'm a big-game player."
Boychuk rifled a one-timer for his second goal of the playoffs Tuesday in the Checkers' 3-2 loss to the Bears in Game 3. It was the kind of shot, with the quick release, that he used to score 22 goals for the Checkers, that might get him back in the Canes' lineup next season.
Boychuk played 23 games this season for Carolina and has 56 games of NHL experience. At 21, the 5-foot-10 winger believes he's ready to make the jump and stick.
"I feel like I've improved from last year to this year," Boychuk said. "Comparing my NHL games this year to last year, it's like night and day. My goal in the AHL when I came down was to have a good year, put up points and contribute. I want to continue it in the playoffs."
Time to shine
Sanguinetti, a defenseman traded to Carolina in June from the New York Rangers, went into the Hurricanes' preseason training camp in September intent on gaining a roster spot. Assigned to Charlotte instead, he would miss 47 games after hip surgery but was able to return March 16.
Limited to 31 games in the regular season, Sanguinetti, 23, realizes the playoffs offer the chance to make up for some lost time, to contribute and impress the higher-ups. He's a puck-moving defenseman who can be used on the power play.
"But I think the main thing is to make that push at the Calder Cup and have a good run in the playoffs," he said. "All the other stuff will take care of itself. The big thing is the opportunity. The rest is up to you."
Bowman, 22, began the season with the Canes but played 51 games in Charlotte. Recalled by Carolina on March 10, he was part of the harried push for the Stanley Cup playoffs that ultimately fell one victory short - an agonizing end to the season for the Hurricanes.
Bowman was soon back with the Checkers, in the AHL playoffs.
"If we have success in the playoffs as a team, it will only help the individuals in the room," he said. "That, I think, will help the organization believe we're ready to move on."
On to Raleigh, to the Hurricanes. Something ZacDalpe22 hopes to be tweeting about.
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