Thursday, April 20 | 6:00 p.m. | Bojangles’ Coliseum
The Calder Cup Awaits
Thursday night marks the start of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs as the Chicago Wolves and Charlotte Checkers (and the Toronto Marlies and Albany Devils) kick off what should be a thrilling eight weeks of American Hockey League postseason action.
The Wolves know what it takes to negotiate the playoffs as the team hoisted four cups in its first 22 seasons (1998 and 2000 Turner Cups in the IHL; 2002 and 2008 Calder Cups in the AHL). This Wolves squad has earned the franchise’s 18th playoff berth in 23 years and enters the Central Division Semifinals on a high after rallying past the Grand Rapids Griffins in the final two weeks to claim the Central Division title.
This Craig Berube-led team has proven it never goes down easy — and it’s more than willing to play more than 60 minutes if that’s what it takes. From Feb. 4 to the end of the regular season on April 15, the Wolves played 29 games. They won 13 and lost just three in regulation — while 13 others required extra time to decide.
2-3 FORMAT noT EASY as 1-2-3
The Chicago Wolves have won three division titles in the last six years (2012, 2014, 2017). On each occasion, they have faced an opponent in the first round that required them to open on the road in accordance with the AHL’s scheduling rules that call for a 2-3 format between teams that are located more than 300 miles apart. In the Wolves’ case, this seems to lead to remarkably competitive and dramatic series.
In 2012, the higher-seeded Wolves opened in San Antonio and dropped the first two games to force them to pull off the sweep at home in order to advance. Chicago delivered victories in Games 3 and 4 at Allstate Arena, but lost a Game 5 thriller that required 25 minutes and 28 seconds of overtime to decide.
In 2014, the higher-seeded Wolves opened in Rochester and enjoyed a Game 1 victory thanks to a Dmitrij Jaskin overtime goal, but the Amerks grabbed Game 2 to set the tone for a five-game thriller that required a Game 5 rally for the Wolves to emerge victorious.
ATOP THE SCORING CHARTS
The Chicago Wolves swept the AHL’s scoring title as left wing Kenny Agostino led the 30-team league in points (83) and assists (59) while center Wade Megan paced everyone in goals with 33. The frequent linemates became the first teammates to pace the AHL in points and goals since the Hershey Bears’ Keith Aucoin led in points and Alexandre Giroux led in assists in 2009-10. That Hershey squad, by the way, went on to capture the Calder Cup.
By The numbers
- .76315: The Chicago Wolves’ 27-7-3-1 home record that accumulated a .76315 win percentage stands are the best home winning percentage in franchise history. Prior to this season, the 2004-05 squad accrued a 28-7-4-1 record, which checked in as a .7625 win percentage. So, yeah, not even close.
- 0: The Chicago Wolves and Charlotte Wolves have faced each other zero times in the postseason, and tonight marks the first time the two teams will meet each other in Calder Cup Playoff action. Since Charlotte joined the American Hockey League during the 2010-11 campaign, the Wolves hold a 23-9-2-2 record against Charlotte. This year, Chicago posted a 6-1-0-1 record versus the Checkers while outscoring them 30-20.
- 14: Chicago’s playoff roster includes 14 players who’ve never appeared in a professional postseason game. Well, technically, that number should be 13 because rookie goaltender Ville Husso showcased his skills in Finland’s top professional league the last two seasons. Either way, the Wolves’ list of playoff neophytes features lineup mainstays such as Kenny Agostino, Andrew Agozzino, Samuel Blais, Vince Dunn, Bryce Gervais, Mackenzie MacEachern, Tage Thompson and Jake Walman . All but Agostino and Agozzino are in their first full year of professional hockey. For Thompson and Walman, they’re in their first full months of pro hockey. Thompson, a first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, joined the Wolves on March 9 after completing his sophomore year at the University of Connecticut. Walman came aboard on March 29 after wrapping up his junior year at Providence College.
- 33: In the Chicago Wolves’ regular-season finale against the Charlotte Checkers on April 15, center Wade Megan netted his 33rd goal of the season to earn the Willie Marshall Award as the league’s leading goal-scorer for the 2017-16 season. Megan spent nearly the entire season neck-and-neck for the league goal-scoring lead and ,on the final day of the season, he broke out of a tie with the Hartford Wolf Pack’s Nicklas Jensen to become the first Wolves player since Jason Krog in 2007-08 to earn the honor.
- 83: It’s been a career year for Kenny Agostino and he capped it by leading the American Hockey League with 83 points and 59 assists. Agostino set career records in all three major offensive categories, which also included 24 goals in 65 regular-season games. The 24-year-old also logged a +24 plus/minus rating that marked his best season rating by a +23 margin. Agostino finished the 2016-17 regular season just three games shy of 200 career AHL contests and 17 points shy of hitting 200.
- 1,487: The Wolves roster features 14 players who have appeared in a total of 1,487 National Hockey League regular-season games. Defensemen James Wisniewski and Chris Butler own the bulk of that experience as Wisniewski has 552 NHL games on his resume and Butler has 387. Both of them also appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — Wisniewski most recently with Columbus in 2013-14 and Butler with Buffalo in 2010-11. Left wing Jordan Caron earned nine games of Stanley Cup action for Boston split between 2011-12 and 2013-14. Kenny Agostino and Wade Megan are among the handful of players who spent some time with the St. Louis Blues this season — and both had the distinction of scoring in their first NHL game of the year. Agostino accomplished the feat on Feb. 6 at Philadelphia while Megan scored in the first period of his NHL debut on Dec. 22 at Tampa Bay.
Last Two vs. Charlotte
- The Wolves knocked off the Checkers for their fourth division title in eight years.
- Center Wade Megan netted his 33rd goal of the season that earned him the Willie Marshall Award as the league’s top goal-scorer for 2016-17.
- Veteran Jordan Caron and rookie Samuel Blais both scored to erase Chicago’s 3-1 deficit in the latter half of the third period.
- In the 3-on-3 overtime, Andrew Agozzino tallied the power-play goal for the win.
- Goaltender Jordan Binnington stopped 31 shots to end the regular season with 16 victories.
- Chicago defeated Charlotte for its third consecutive victory at Allstate Arena in the season series.
- Rookies Vince Dunn and Bryce Gervais scored while first-year Jake Walman netted his first professional goal in just his second career game.
- Centers Alex Friesen and Brad Malone also tallied.
- Rookie netminder Ville Husso made 36 saves for the victory.