Daccord excited for playoff run with blended Checkers family

Photo: Cleveland Monsters

📝 by Patrick Williams

Wherever Joey Daccord spends next winter, he will miss these Charlotte Checkers.

Next season the Seattle Kraken goaltending prospect could be with the expansion Coachella Valley Firebirds, which will come to life next season as the American Hockey League’s 32nd club.

Or Daccord could be in Seattle. Based on his standout play this season in Charlotte, don’t count out that possibility.

For now, however, Daccord and his fellow Seattle prospects are stationed in Charlotte, part of a one-year shared affiliation with the Florida Panthers while preparations continue for Coachella Valley’s debut.

“It’s worked out great for me,” Daccord said of landing with Charlotte. “I’ve gotten to play a ton. I’ve been back and forth [with Seattle] more than a handful of times now.

“Charlotte’s been great. Everyone here has been awesome. It’s definitely been a unique situation sharing a team where you have guys from both different organizations and coaches from different organizations, but everything’s been great. We’ve really meshed as a group.

“I’m honestly very disappointed that next year I’m not going to be with a lot of these guys.”

So the 25-year-old Daccord wants to make this spring a memorable one in Charlotte as the Checkers chase a Calder Cup championship.

He came to the Seattle organization last summer when the Kraken claimed him in the NHL expansion draft from the Ottawa Senators. Before that move, Daccord had played parts of three pro seasons in the Ottawa system. A 2015 seventh-round draft pick, he turned pro late in the 2018-19 season following three seasons at Arizona State. He found success quickly as a pro, going 15-6-2 in 24 games for the Belleville Senators while fashioning a 2.61 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 2019-20. Last season he spent most of his season on taxi-squad duty with Ottawa, playing eight NHL games before a lower-body injury ended his season prematurely.

During his time with Ottawa, Daccord made the most of the long break that the COVID-19 pandemic forced on everybody.

“The biggest thing that I felt I needed to get to the next level or to help make that jump would be just getting a little bit quicker, a little bit lighter on my feet, a little bit quicker in the net,” Daccord explained.

“We really dedicated that whole [time] to that. My whole team, my strength coaches and goalie coaches, everybody that I worked with, we did an awesome job, and we’ve really put a lot of work into that. I really feel like that’s now a big part of my game and [has] helped me to have success. And hopefully if I get more NHL opportunities, [it] will help me play better.”

This season he really has been able to put that training to work. Along with earning four games with Seattle, he has been a steady force in the Charlotte net. With an injury forcing Christopher Gibson to miss more than three months and Spencer Knight mainly playing with Florida, Checkers head coach Geordie Kinnear has relied on Daccord heavily. In 30 games, Daccord has gone 16-10-2 with a 2.36 GAA (seventh among AHL goaltenders) and .924 save percentage (fourth overall).

Daccord added another line to his resume for this season in winning AHL Goaltender of the Month honors for March, when he posted a 6-1-0 record, a 1.55 GAA and a .956 save percentage. His work in wins against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Texas Stars at the beginning of March helped the Checkers to break even on an eight-game road trip to set up a subsequent charge in which they won seven of nine games (7-1-1-0).

Last Saturday night against the Hershey Bears, Daccord bounced back after having been pulled a night earlier. He earned second-star honors in making 20 saves to carry Charlotte to a 3-1 win that completed a two-game sweep of a division rival. Now the Checkers have won six of their past seven games, and their 11-2-1-0 run since March 2 has them very much in a battle for the Atlantic Division lead.

Photo: Gregg Forwerck

“I think we’re really happy with where we’re at right now,” Daccord said. “Definitely not satisfied, but I think we’re happy with how we’ve progressed through the year. We have an awesome group. I feel like in the second half of the season here we’ve really come together. We have great leadership, great coaching, top to bottom.

“I feel like you could ask any guy on our team, and they would all say we have an amazing group here. So I think we’re just really excited.”

This week the Checkers (37-23-4-0, .609) close out the home portion of their 2021-22 schedule with three meetings with a desperate opponent in the Hartford Wolf Pack. And unlike much of the league having to make up postponed games this month, the Checkers face a relatively light schedule: a five-game road trip wraps up their regular season April 23.

Splitting an AHL affiliation with Florida has also given Daccord an opportunity to work closely with Checkers goaltending coach Leo Luongo, a member of the Panthers’ development staff.

“I didn’t really know what to expect at first, because he doesn’t get paid by Seattle; he gets paid by Florida,” Daccord admitted. “But he’s been unbelievable. He’s hands down one of my favorite goalie coaches that I’ve ever worked with. The whole coaching staff [has been] first-class through and through, but Leo specifically has been awesome to work with, and I feel like he’s really helped my game this year to take it to another level.”

Charlotte’s deep base of goaltending talent has been another source of education for Daccord. Knight, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has put in 11 games with Charlotte. Gibson is in his ninth AHL season and has played 220 games at this level. Right next to Gibson is Antoine Bibeau, an eight-year pro with 202 AHL contests behind him.

That group of varied experiences and outlooks has been a valuable development tool for Daccord.

“I think that’s one of the cool things about the American Hockey League. You see so many guys that are in different parts of their career, and everyone’s been successful at one point whether it’s been in the AHL or the NHL or where they came from beforehand. And every goalie has a different story and has different things that make them successful.

“So definitely learning from those guys has been something that’s been really cool this year.”

With eight games to go in the regular season and a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs that could be clinched as soon as this week, Daccord and his fellow Kraken prospects have an opportunity to make it a memorable finish alongside their Panthers counterparts.

“I feel like we’re kind of hitting our stride just now in the last month or so as we’ve been pushing, making that playoff push,” Daccord said.

“I think we’re really happy with how we’re playing heading into playoffs and honestly really excited to get into playoffs because we feel like we have a team that can make a run.”