The Charlotte Checkers are back in PNC Arena to play hockey again, but Saturday won't be as momentous a day.

Which has nothing to do with the Checkers or their AHL game against the Abbotsford Heat.

A year ago, the Checkers had a Jan. 6 game against the Norfolk Admirals in the arena. The NHL was caught up in the lockout, although there were signs of progress the day before the AHL game and hopes of a breakthrough on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Early the next morning came the long-awaited approval of the CBA. The NHL season would begin soon and a lot of happy fans came to PNC Arena to let out a sigh of relief, watch hockey and mentally gear up for what was to come. Excitement rippled through the arena.

"It was a pretty intense game and obviously a fun building to play in," Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said. "I thought it was a great game."

The Checkers, with defenseman Justin Faulk in the lineup, beat the Admirals 3-1 before a crowd of 10,256.

A year later, the NHL is in another stoppage -- the break for the Winter Olympics. Faulk is in Sochi, a member of Team USA, representing the Hurricanes. It's hard to say how many fans will be in the building for the game Saturday and again Sunday at 1:30 p.m. for a second game against the Heat.

But the games are important for the Checkers. They're coming off the AHL All-Star break, which came after an 0-3-1 stretch. And Canes management will be watching.

"This is where the guys want to get to," Daniels said. "This is something they're down in Charlotte working for, and they want to get up to Carolina at some point. And just a taste of playing in a big-league building. This is where they want to perform."

Zach Boychuk wants it. He's had a lot of "tastes" of the NHL and the Canes' former first-round pick wants to be a full-time NHL player, not an occasional callup.

Boychuk has been consistently productive for the Checkers this season with 22 goals and 18 assists in 40 games. The 5-11 forward also has been solid in nine games for the Canes with a goal, three assists and plus-2 rating.

The Canes believe Boychuk has shown more focus and determination in his play this season, with a tougher edge, and Boychuk doesn't disagree.

At 24, Boychuk knew this would be an important season in his career. Last year, he was waived three times -- by the Canes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators -- before being claimed by Carolina and sent back to Charlotte.