American Hockey League

Checkers’ Jurco leading by example

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Tomas Jurco is a big reason the Charlotte Checkers are one win away from claiming the Calder Cup championship.

Jurco ranks second in scoring in the American Hockey League playoffs with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 17 games for the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, who lead the best-of-7 Calder Cup Finals against Chicago 3-1 after a 5-3 win in Game 4 on Thursday. Chicago, the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, will host Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NHLN).

The line of Jurco, Patrick Brown and Martin Necas had six points in Charlotte’s 4-1 road win in Game 3; Brown and Necas each had a goal and an assist, and Jurco had two assists. Necas had a goal and an assist in the Game 4 win, and Jurco contributed an assist.

“Everybody thinks that [Jurco] and [Necas] are ‘skill’ guys, but they work their tails off,” Brown said. “They forecheck hard. They finish their hits. [Jurco] is a great net-front guy, and [Necas] plays around the net, so we’re just trying to outwork the other team out there. They can still [make a skilled play] when it’s there, but we score a lot of greasy goals.”

Selected by Carolina with the No. 12 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, Necas arrived in Charlotte as a 19-year-old after two seasons with Brno in the Czech Extraliga with. He had 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 64 regular-season games with Charlotte and two points (one goal, one assist) in seven games with the Hurricanes.

Necas is tied for fourth in playoff scoring among rookie with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 17 playoff games. Brown, who had no points in eight Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Hurricanes, returned to Charlotte for the Eastern Conference Final against Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs). He had 35 points (19 goals, 16 assists) in 70 regular-season games as Charlotte’s captain.

Charlotte acquired Jurco in an AHL trade from Springfield (Florida Panthers) on Feb. 25. After having 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 29 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017-18, back surgery kept Jurco sidelined until Jan. 3, when the 26-year-old signed an AHL contract with Springfield.

Adding Jurco quickly sparked Necas, who went 21 games without a goal in the second half of the season. Necas had 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in his final 19 regular-season games, and Jurco had 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) after the trade. Charlotte finished the regular season 15-3-1-0 after acquiring Jurco and won the AHL regular-season championship with 110 points and a league-best 51 wins.

“[Necas] is so mature,” Jurco said. “I just want to be there for him.”

Jurco can relate to that development process. The Detroit Red Wings selected him in the second round (No. 35) of the 2011 NHL Draft. He has played 201 NHL regular-season games and won the Calder Cup in 2013 with Grand Rapids.

“[Jurco] has taken him under his wing and helped him with this game,” Charlotte coach Mike Vellucci said. “Just freeing him up mentally, just making sure that he’s having fun.

“Now Marty looks like he’s having fun. And he’s not putting any pressure on himself to make the NHL. He’s going to be an NHL player, no doubt about it. But just to play his game and learn North American-style hockey.”

Learning to buy time on the smaller North American ice surface was one major task for Necas. Vellucci worked closely with him throughout the season watching video as the prospect learned the nuances of the AHL game.

“Now he is letting me play a little bit more because he knows that I learned something,” Necas said. “He’s a great coach, and it’s good to be here.”

Vellucci, who is also the Hurricanes’ assistant general manager and director of hockey operations, tapped into his network of contacts regarding Jurco. He spoke with Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill and former general manager Ken Holland as well as Blackhawks management.

“The reports all came back that he’s wants to win,” Vellucci said. “He wants to play in the NHL, and he’s coming off a major injury, and I think he’s going to prove people wrong. So I just did my homework. … He has done his share because he has been a great leader.”

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