Friday, March 31 | 7:00 p.m. | Wells Fargo Arena
MAGIC NUMBER IS 1
The Chicago Wolves can clinch the 18th playoff berth in the franchise’s 23-year history tonight and it’s a simple equation to get it done. Thanks to Charlotte’s 4-1 victory over Cleveland on Thursday night, the Wolves need just one point from Friday’s game to become an official participant in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. If Chicago loses in regulation, then it will have another chance to clinch on Saturday night versus Cleveland at Allstate Arena.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Wells Fargo Arena has been a sanctuary for the Chicago Wolves since the Iowa Wild began playing there during the 2013-14 season. Over the past four seasons, Chicago has accrued a 14-1-1-1 record at Wells Fargo. The Wolves are so good in the Wild’s barn, they collected their franchise record streak for wins on an opponent’s home ice there. Chicago toppled Iowa 12 consecutive times from Feb. 7, 2014, to Nov. 18, 2016 at Wells Fargo Arena. During the Wolves’ slow start to the 2016-17 season, they lost the series-opening contest to the Wild but since have rebounded to collect five straight wins.
On Wednesday, defenseman Jake Walman signed an amateur tryout contract with the Chicago Wolves after signing his entry-level deal with the St. Louis Blues a day prior. On March 24, Walman ended his three-year collegiate career when the Providence College Friars fell to the Harvard University Crimson in the East Regional of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. However, the 21-year-old was the Friars’ top-scoring defenseman during the 2016-17 season with seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points and was named to the Hockey East First All-Star Team for his efforts. Walman also capped his freshman campaign — the 2014-15 season — by helping Providence capture its first national championship.
On paper, the Chicago Wolves should be favored to handle their opponents for the remainder of the regular season. However, it’s a fact that three of those opponents — which they face in seven of their eight games — are trying to scratch and claw their way into the fourth and final Central Division playoff position. Friday night’s opponent, the Iowa Wild, are the farthest from the Calder Cup Playoff bubble, but they’re still not out. Only three points separate them and the fourth-place Charlotte Checkers. Sandwiched between the pair are the Cleveland Monsters. Chicago has handled Charlotte and Iowa fairly well this season but Cleveland, the reigning Calder Cup champion that visits Allstate Arena on Saturday, has given Chicago fits all year.
By the Numbers
- 1: Rookie defenseman Vince Dunn has three goals in the season series against the Iowa Wild. All three of those tallies came Feb. 25 (1) and 26 (2) when the Chicago Wolves twice thwarted the Wild. Dunn’s three-goal weekend was one for the highlight reels as skill and will shined over grit. On Feb. 25, Dunn and Wild forward Kurtis Gabriel took their on-ice argument to the dressing rooms. Determined to get in the last word (and punch), Gabriel approached Dunn outside the Wolves’ locker room. However, it was Dunn who threw the final blow and knocked Gabriel to the ground in a single punch. Gabriel’s antics earned him a six-game suspension. In the five games since returning from suspension, Gabriel has one assist. Since Feb. 26, Dunn has one goal and five assists through 11 games.
- 5: Coming into tonight’s contest, the Chicago Wolves have five defensemen who have surpassed the 20-point threshold. Leading the pack is rookie Vince Dunn with 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points. Chris Butler (25), Morgan Ellis (27), Brad Hunt (29) and Jordan Schmaltz (25) are the other 20-point-plus blueliners. Not since the 2013-14 season — when Taylor Chorney (25), Cade Fairchild (21), Evan Oberg (25) and Brent Regner (24) each recorded 20-plus points — have the Wolves had so many blueliners significantly contribute to the offense. Last season, only Andre Benoit (33), Peter Harrold (24) and Schmatlz (36) passed the benchmark.
- 30: Center Wade Megan is on the edge of glory, looking for his 30th goal of the season. Clinging to a one-goal lead in the American Hockey League goal-scoring race, Megan can become the first 30-goal scorer in the league when his nets his next marker. However, Milwaukee’s Pontus Åberg and San Antonio’s Rocco Grimaldi — the latter was Megan’s teammate last year with the Portland Pirates — are hot on his heels with 28 tallies. Megan recorded his longest goal-less streak of the season March 9-22, but has rebounded and collected a goal in each of his last two games.
- 40: Samuel Blais and Vince Dunn are the Chicago Wolves’ exemplary rookies for the 2016-17 season as both are on the verge of registering 40 points. If they reach the benchmark, they will be the first rookies since teammate Ty Rattie led the Wolves in scoring with 31 goals and 48 points in 2013-14. The 20-year-old Dunn has been a force both on and off the scoresheet for the Chicago blue line this season. While he has piled up 12 goals and 26 assists to lead Wolves rookies and defensemen with 38 points, he also has become a reliable source in pivotal situations. He has spent time a sizable amount of time on the back end during special-team and extra-time situations. Blais leads the rookie class in goal scoring with 22 tallies and is just a point (37) behind Dunn in the first-year team scoring race. The 20-year-old Quebec native is second among all Wolves skaters in goal scoring; one tally ahead of Kenny Agostino, the AHL’s leading scorer, and seven markers shy of Wade Megan, the league’s leading goal-getter.
- 139: On Sunday, Ty Rattie recorded an assist for his 139th point while wearing a Chicago Wolves uniform. That total — comprised of 70 goals and 69 assists — ties him for the No. 18 spot on the Wolves franchise all-time scoring list. Rattie’s next point will move him a point ahead of Joey Crabb and give him sole possession of the ranking. The 24-year-old has played exclusively for the Wolves throughout his American Hockey League career that began in 2013-14. During his rookie campaign, Rattie recorded 31 goals and 17 assists for 48 points that led the franchise in scoring. This season has been rough for Rattie; he has only played 23 contests — AHL and NHL — split between the Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues and Wolves. In that span he has just one goal and four assists for five points. The Wolves are hopeful the former phenom can get back to his roots and contribute more to the offense as part of a deep postseason.
- Chicago dropped its fifth extra-time decision in six games to push its winless streak to a season-high five games.
- Right wing Jordan Caron opened game-scoring near the midway point of the first period while center Wade Megan netted his league-leading 28th goal to force overtime late in the third period.
- Goaltender Jordan Binnington made 16 saves in the loss while Tom McCollum turned aside 30 shots to push his perfect record to 7-0-0.