Friday, Dec. 2 | 7 p.m. | At Rockford
Clash for the Cup
The Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs met less than a week ago for Game 3 of 12 during the 2016-17 season. This marks the sixth season in which these in-state rivals compete for bragging rights and the Illinois Lottery Cup. The Cup champion is based on wins — with the tiebreaker being total points — in head-to-head games. Chicago claimed the Cup in 2013-14 on its way to the AHL’s Midwest Division title. However, last season Rockford took home the Cup with a 7-2-3-0 record against the Wolves. Through three games this season, Chicago has a 2-point lead with two regulation wins to Rockford’s one. The IceHogs took the first game of the series at BMO Harris Bank Center with a 3-2 victory in a goaltender duel between Jordan Binnington (34 saves on 37 shots) and Lars Johansson (25-27). The Wolves have won two straight at Allstate Arena against Rockford. On Oct. 29, in their widest margin of victory this season, they topped the IceHogs 7-3. Almost a month later on Nov. 26, the Wolves edged the IceHogs 3-2 for their second victory of the season series.
Blue Line Shuffle
This season, the Chicago Wolves have carried as many as 11 defensemen on the active roster. Generally, through the first 20 games, the top two defensive pairings have been static. Captain Chris Butler and Wolves leading scorer Brad Hunt have been the No. 1 pairing almost every game. Fifth-year AHLer Morgan Ellis and rookie Vince Dunn have been the team’s second duo for the majority of the contests — second-year professional Jordan Schmaltz has also spent time on that pair with Ellis — while the third pair has been a rotating combination that has included Petteri Lindbohm, Kevin Tansey, Scooter Vaughan and Gus Young. On Nov. 19, the Wolves received defenseman Reid McNeill in a National Hockey League trade between the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. McNeill began the initial shift in lines, taking Dunn’s spot in the second pairing, and Dunn sat a few games before moving to the third line with Schmaltz. The Wolves’ 20th contest of the year — Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Texas Stars — was the first tilt Ellis did not skate in this season. In that game, Schmaltz bumped up to the second set, and Dunn shifted to the third duo with Lindbohm, who was returned on loan to the Wolves on Nov. 24. Vaughan has skated in two of the last three games at the forward position. Tansey and Young were returned on loan to the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks on Nov. 14 and Nov. 29, respectively. Currently, the Wolves have nine available defensemen.
Dowell it Out
On Monday, the American Hockey League announced a two-game suspension for Rockford forward Jake Dowell. The suspension means he’ll miss tonight’s contest against the Chicago Wolves. Coincidentally, he earned the suspension in the clubs’ last meeting on Saturday, Nov. 26. The Wolves skated away with a 3-2 win over their in-state rival and took a 2-point lead in the head-to-head battle for the Illinois Lottery Cup. At the 18:28 mark of the second period, Dowell earned a check to the head match penalty for a hit on Wolves center — and leading goal scorer — Wade Megan. Following tonight’s tilt, the teams will square off in Game 5 of the 12-contest season series on Sunday, Dec. 18 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 1: In two of the last four games, wing Kenny Agostino has turned in 3-point performances. On Nov. 30, Agostino led the offensive charge with a goal and 2 assists as the Wolves topped the Texas Stars 4-3 for the team’s fifth victory of the season on home ice at Allstate Arena. His go-ahead power-play tally — the 24-year-old’s team-leading sixth of the season — at 14:57 of the third period stood as the game-winner. Previously on Nov. 23, in the Wolves’ 4-2 win over the Charlotte Checkers at Bojangles’ Coliseum, Agostino (G, 2A) and linemateWade Megan (2G, A) both tallied three points. Agostino, Megan and linemate Landon Ferraro accounted for all four the Wolves’ goals, as well as nine of the clubs’ 11 points in the contest.
- 3: In two of the three Chicago-Rockford tilts so far this season, three has been the number of goals needed for victory. Rockford edged the Wolves 3-2 in the series’ opening game on Oct. 28 at BMO Harris Bank Center. On Nov. 26 at Allstate Arena, the Wolves captured their second victory of the series — their first came on Oct. 29 in a 7-3 romp on home ice — by the same margin. Goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Lars Johansson have started both of those contests for their respective teams. In the Wolves’ 7-3 victory, Pheonix Copley and Mac Carruth received the starting nods for Chicago and Rockford, respectively. Johansson did see 18:17 of playing time while Carruth was getting equipment repairs.
- 8: Center Wade Megan has collected 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points over the last 7 games. During that time, the 26-year-old had a 3-point performance against the Charlotte Checkers, registering 2 goals and an assist in the Wolves’ 4-2 win at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Nov. 23. He followed that up with a goal and an assist in the Wolves’ 3-2 triumph over in-state rival, the Rockford IceHogs, on Nov. 26. His third-period tally at 17:35 served as the game-winner after the IceHogs snuck in a goal with less than a second on the clock.
- 10: Part of Kenny Agostino’s success is shooting the puck. In the Wolves’ 4-2 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Nov. 23, Agostino set a team-high with 10 shots on goal. Through 20 games, he is the team’s leading shot taker with 56 shots on net. The 24-year-old also leads Wolves skaters with 6 power-play goals, and he is one goal behind linemate and center Wade Megan, who leads the team in overall goal scoring with 8 markers.
- 122: This season, defenseman Brad Hunt is driving the Wolves offense with 6 goals and 16 assists for 22 points through 20 games. The seasoned blueliner has collected 12 (G, 11A) of his 22 points while playing on the Wolves’ top power-play unit. He also leads the team with 11 power-play assists and a +7 plus/minus rating. Hunt’s 22 points make him the league’s top point-producing defenseman as well. The next-closest defenders are the Toronto Marlies’ T.J. Brennan (5G, 11A) and Tuscon Roadrunners rookie Kyle Wood (4G, 12A) with 16 points through 19 and 14 games, respectively.
Recent Games Recap
- The Wolves cashed in twice on the power play to slide by the Stars for their third victory versus Pacific Division opponents.
- Wing Kenny Agostino (G, 2A) nabbed his second 3-point performance in four games.
- Forwards Landon Ferraro, Brett Sterling and defenseman Brad Hunt also tallied.
- Goaltender Jordan Binnington made 21 saves for his sixth win of the year.
- Special teams helped lift Manitoba over Chicago in the clubs’ first meeting of the season.
- Part-time defenseman Scooter Vaughan nabbed his first point of the season, a goal, in his second game as a forward.
- Goaltender Jordan Binnington turned aside 26 shots in the loss.
FOLLOW THE ACTION
Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. on The U Too presented by the Illinois Office of Tourism. The U Too is found over the air at WCIU-DT 26.2. Cable subscribers get the channel on Xfinity 230 and 360, RCN 35 and WOW 170 while Dish Network customers find the games on Ch. 48.
Join the conversation. Follow @Chicago_Wolves for live game updates.