Before the Calder Cup playoffs began, wise Wolves center Keith Aucoin spent time analyzing the team’s power play that ranked 30th among the AHL’s 30 teams during the regular season.
“The best part of the playoffs is you’re back to Square 1, so you’re zero for zero on the power play,” Aucoin said. “Hopefully we can have the best power play in the playoffs.”
As the Wolves prepare for the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinals against Toronto that begin Friday at Allstate Arena, Aucoin’s hope isn’t too far from reality. After converting just 12.6 percent of their power plays during the regular season, the Wolves clicked on 25.9 percent (7 of 27) against Rochester in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. That’s good for fifth place among the 16 AHL playoff teams.
“I really can’t put my finger on it,” said Wolves head coach John Anderson, who directly oversees the team’s power play. “I really think our power play has been better probably since the end of January. We weren’t great, but we weren’t as bad as we were the first three months.”
Anderson’s recollection jibes with the stats. Using Feb. 1 as an arbitrary end point, the Wolves were 23 of 206 (11.2 percent) on the power play from October through January and 20 of 136 (14.7 percent) during their final 32 regular-season games. Throw in the fact that power-play staples such as left wing Dmitrij Jaskin (in the NHL) and defenseman Brent Regner (injured) missed a good chunk of the final 32 games and it’s no wonder the Wolves showed even more improvement against Rochester.
Jaskin and Regner each scored 2 goals on the power play against the Americans. Regner posted just one power-play goal in 63 regular-season games.
Anderson likes the way his defensemen — Regner and Mark Cundari and Joe Corvo and Evan Oberg — have been shooting the puck on the man-advantage. That quartet appeared in the same game exactly twice all season (March 8 and March 15) prior to the playoffs.
“We didn’t have that all year,” Anderson said. “All those little things add up. Once you get a regular power play where your best players are playing in that situation, I think it’s going to improve.”
In the Wolves coaching office at the practice rink in Hoffman Estates, there’s a nice HD television mounted on the wall that’s always turned on. As near as anyone can tell, the TV only gets two channels: The hockey channel and the fishing channel. Those are the things John Anderson likes best and so that’s what the coaches watch.
While the playoffs are almost all hockey all the time for the Wolves staff, Anderson planned to escape to Waukegan after Wednesday’s practice for a little fishing. He wasn’t the only one.
Equipment manager Craig Kogut has been with the Wolves since the beginning. Anyone who knows Kogut knows he’s all about fishing in the offseason. Throughout the summer, he drives a boat that can be seen a mile away because it’s decked out in Chicago Wolves colors and logos.
Kogut, his son, D.J., and his daughter, Lisamarie, were headed to the Fox Chain O’Lakes Wednesday afternoon to compete in the weekly Blarney Bassmasters competition. The Koguts ranked among the top quarter of the competitors after the first two weeks.
After Wednesday’s optional practice, Craig was telling goaltender Matt Climie and a few others about his fishing expedition on Monday. With a tone of mock indignation, Craig declared that D.J. caught 10 fish while he didn’t get a nibble for the first three hours before finishing with one fish for the outing.
Climie, a mischievous sort, alternated between sympathizing with Kogut and chiding him for being outdone by his son.
“At some point,” Climie concluded with a grin, “10 is 10 and one is one.”