There’s no way to get around the results or to pretend they don’t exist. The Toronto Marlies came into Allstate Arena last weekend and took the first two games of the Western Conference Semifinals.
But the Chicago Wolves didn’t spend Sunday and Monday cowering in a corner, driving themselves crazy over the losses, and wondering whether to bother to board the planes headed to Toronto on Tuesday for Games 3 through 5 at the Ricoh Coliseum. That’s not the nature of professional athletes and coaches in general — and especially not that of Wolves head coach John Anderson and this group of players.
When asked the secret to turning around this best-of-seven series, Anderson started with this brilliant idea ripped straight from Toronto’s efforts in Games 1 and 2 over the weekend.
“Score the first three goals,” Anderson said with a grin camouflaged by his Fu Manchu. “That’s how they changed those games. When you’re up, you tend to play a little more at ease. When you’re down, you’re squeezing your stick a little harder and you want to do too much at times.”
Toronto bolted to a 3-0 lead in the opening 25 minutes of Game 1, but needed just 15 minutes to obtain a 3-0 lead in Game 2. Some ill-timed penalties and uncommon defensive breakdowns helped the Marlies earn those crucial early margins, which is oddly comforting because it’s a reminder the Wolves didn’t show their best in those games.
“I think everybody wants to do so well, I think maybe we’re psyching ourselves out a little bit off the start,” said defenseman Taylor Chorney, the Wolves captain. “I think if we can just settle down and play our game right away, I think we should be fine. “
Some of the Wolves got together on Sunday and rehashed the games briefly, but nobody believes there’s a need verbalize such plans as “let’s score the first goal” or “let’s not make defensive mistakes.” After Monday’s practice, the team engaged in a video session where the coaches used the mistakes as teachable moments and used the good footage to praise them.
“If you look at the end of the first period of Game 2, we started bringing it,” Anderson said. “I thought we had a lot of puck control in their zone. We’re getting tackled in front of the net, but if they’re going to let it go, that’s OK. We can be a little more opportunistic. Their goaltender (former Wolves player Drew MacIntyre) has been playing well, but I think we can still slip a couple by them.”
AUCOIN SUMS IT UP
Keith Aucoin, who has 16 points and 71 assists in 90 career American Hockey League postseason appearances, needs just 1 point to tie former Wolves great Steve Maltais for 10th place on the AHL’s all-time playoff scoring list.
Long story short, the 35-year-old Aucoin has been a champion at every level of hockey and has been a part of teams that dominated from the start and part of teams that needed a little time to get going.
“My second year at Hershey (2010) when we won the Calder Cup, we lost the first two games at home in the Finals,” Aucoin said. “Then we won four straight. So I’ve been on a team that’s done it before. It’s just about playing our game and believing in what you’re doing.”
“SHIELDSY, THIS IS DELICIOUS”
Captain Taylor Chorney was answering some questions in the players lounge after Monday’s practice when defenseman David Shields started filling a blender with ingredients for a protein shake. Chorney, playing the we-were-blueline-partners-for-most-of-this-season card, asked Shields if he minded adding some more contents to the blender so he could enjoy some shake as well.
Shields complied. Tossed in more powder, more banana, more water. Hit some buttons and made approximately 40 ounces worth of beige-looking goodness. Then, out of nowhere, as if the sound of the blender compelled them to drop whatever they were doing, fellow defensemen Evan Oberg and Brent Regner walked into the room requesting some too.
With a look that could have been described as exasperated, Shields split the 40 ounces of beige-looking goodness into four cups and it took them about four seconds to drink it. Everyone marveled at Shields’ way with a blender.
“Shieldsy,” Chorney declared, “this is delicious!”
Regner stage-whispered that Shields ought to make everybody some more. Probably best he didn’t hear.