By Paul Branecky || AHL On The Beat Archive
If it seems like Chris Terry has scored a lot of game-winning goals this season, it’s because he has. More than anyone else, actually.
The fourth-year forward notched his seventh game-winner of the season on Feb. 23 putting him in sole possession of first place in the AHL. Like many of the six before it, it was as clutch as clutch can be – the game’s only goal with 4:26 remaining in regulation time.
It was the kind of goal the Checkers have come to expect from their leading scorer, who has 28 points (12g, 16) in his last 25 games dating back to Dec. 30. Opponents held him off the score sheet in just six of those games.
“He wants the puck and wants to be out in those situations,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “He doesn’t panic and he doesn’t get nervous. He’s a very gifted player.”
“I don’t let that pressure get to me,” said Terry, whose latest winner allowed him to hit the 20-goal mark for the second time. “It’s really about sticking to what I’m doing and what’s working.”
Though game-winning goals are admittedly an imperfect statistic – a fluke goal to make the score 5-0 in the first period could end up being the winner if the other team comes just short of a comeback, to give one example of its flaws – exactly zero of Terry’s goals this season fall into that category.
All seven were either scored in the third period or later, including two in overtime, or put the Checkers ahead in what had been a tie game. For good measure, Terry also has one shootout-winning goal, which does not count towards his game-winning goal total.
One of Terry’s most memorable goals came against Chicago on Feb. 14, as he had previously done the opposite of what he usually does. His delay-of-game penalty for taking a few skating strides with the puck closed in his glove with less than three minutes remaining put the Wolves on the power play, where they promptly tied the game.
After exiting the box, Terry, who likened the penalty to traveling in basketball, seemed to find an extra gear. He would have ended the game in regulation if not for an outstanding save by Chicago goalie Matt Climie, but instead settled for a walk-off one-timer in the extra session.
“At the time I didn’t think [the penalty] was that bad, but after watching it again it was a pretty boneheaded play,” said Terry. “I knew right away that I wanted to be that guy that made up for it.”
“He’s a very honest player,” said Daniels. “He knew he made a mistake and wanted to come back from it.”
Not everyone has that kind of drive and knack for coming through in big situations. That, along with his overall ability finish his chances, hasn’t gone unnoticed. Even those in charge of turning the Checkers into NHL players know that side of Terry’s game is one that does not need fine tuning.
“You can’t teach what he has on scoring goals,” said Cory Stillman, the Carolina Hurricanes’ director of forward development who scored nearly 300 of them during his own 1,000-game NHL career.
Aside from raw skill, Stillman, making one of his periodic visits to Charlotte to help run a Checkers practice, said that he has also been impressed with Terry’s persistent approach since joining the organization as a fifth-round draft pick in 2007.
Despite ranking among the top scorers on the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate over the last four seasons, Terry has yet to make his NHL debut but hasn’t seen his play drop off as a result. At the present time, he’s one of the few healthy holdovers left from the first half of the season, with 12 players from October’s opening night roster either injured or in the NHL.
How patient Terry will have to be moving forward remains to be seen, though Stillman suggested that the 23-year-old is on the right track. His advice to Terry now is simple.
“Continue to do it,” said Stillman. “He’s done it year after year, but he’s getting better too. If he continues to play the way he is, I think his opportunity will come quite soon.
“If you produce like that for that long, eventually you get your shot.”