The Chicago Wolves don’t play their first Western Conference Quarterfinals game until 6 p.m. Friday, but they’ve already set a team record: Most planes required to get the team to the game.
Because the Wolves didn’t learn the identity of their playoff opponent until 9:45 p.m. last Saturday, assistant general manager Bill Bentley and hockey operations assistant Norine Gillner had to go to ridiculous lengths to book the team’s trip to Rochester.
Turns out Rochester is a hot destination this time of year. Bentley and Gillner had to spread the Wolves traveling party between an unprecedented SIX flights that went from O’Hare to Rochester on Thursday. General manager Wendell Young and several others were on the 6:30 a.m. flight. The players were split between three subsequent flights, which meant a few Wolves didn’t get to participate in Thursday’s practice in Hoffman Estates.
The coaches were slated to depart at 5:10 p.m. while two members of the TV production crew had the 7:39 p.m. flight.
That wasn’t the only problem. The Wolves’ usual bus company didn’t have any availability. Their traditional hotel choices were booked up as well.
But fear not. This story should end well. For the trip back to O’Hare on Sunday, the team is only split between three flights. For now.
THE BASTIEN AND THE CALDER
Even casual hockey fans know it’s an advantage to have a great goaltender. The Wolves’ Jake Allen proved to be the AHL’s finest this year as he led the league in wins (33), goals-against average (2.03) and save percentage (.928).
Not only did Allen win goaltending’s Triple Crown, he claimed the Aldege “Baz” Bastien that goes to the league’s most outstanding goaltender according to a vote by the players, coaches and media.
If you’re a Wolves fan, then you’d like to think there’s a trend of Bastien Award winners going on to lead their team to the Calder Cup championship. Alas, this hasn’t happened since 1997 when Jean-Francois Labbe backstopped the Hershey Bears to the title.
In the subsequent 16 AHL postseasons, only two goaltenders have sparked their team as far as the Calder Cup Finals: Cory Schneider took Manitoba to the 2009 finals, where the Moose lost to Hershey, and Martin Biron paced Rochester to the 1999 finals and a loss to the Providence Bruins.
TIME TO TURN ON THE POWER
There’s no getting around the official numbers. During the 2013-14 regular season, the Chicago Wolves ranked last out of the American Hockey League’s 30 teams on the power play. They converted just 12.6 percent of their power-play chances.
To put that into perspective, the Texas Stars led the AHL by converting 25.3 percent of their chances with the man-advantage — which means they were twice as proficient as the Wolves.
Yet, when you look at the regular-season standings, the Stars (106 points) finished with just six more points than the Wolves. Imagine how the postseason might play out if and when the Wolves click more regularly on the power play.
“I think for the first couple months, we were trying to be too cute with the puck,” said center Keith Aucoin, a staple on the power play. “The last half of the season, we wanted to simplify and get pucks to the net and get rebounds and that’s what we did. That’s been a big help.”
Then Aucoin smiled.
“The best part of the playoffs is you’re back to Square 1, so you’re zero for zero on the power play. Hopefully we can have the best power play in the playoffs.”