The Chicago Wolves can’t wait to start the Central Division Finals against the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Wolves host Game 1 of the best-of-seven series on Wednesday, May 3, at Allstate Arena.
But before we start breaking down the matchup between the Wolves and Griffins, it’s important to reach back and review something for a moment.
On April 4, a little more than a week before he was named the American Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player, forward Kenny Agostino tried to explain what makes the Wolves successful.
“If you look at our team, it’s the deepest team I’ve ever been a part of,” Agostino said. “You look at our forwards. We have guys outside the lineup who would be playing regularly on most other teams in this league. Our depth is pretty ridiculous. Wherever you play in this lineup, you’re playing with good players. We talk about it sometimes during games. You see anyone can stand out one night.
“Look at a guy like ‘Gervy’ (rookie forward Bryce Gervais). The guy is our unsung hero and he’s got 12 goals this year. Talk about a guy who figured it out early. That’s a tribute to our captains. He understands the mental aspect of pro hockey. It’s so easy for a rookie who’s in and out of the lineup to check out, but he’s a great example of the structure and the attitude of our team – how we’re even-keel. I mean, 12 goals for a rookie and he’s not consistently in the lineup.”
Now, when he volunteered these words, Agostino had been asked a question about his big numbers this season – but he quickly steered his thoughts toward his teammates. So one wondered whether he just didn’t want to talk about himself – or he truly had the right take on the team’s depth.
Well, now everyone knows the answer: Every word out of Agostino’s mouth was 100 percent true.
The last three weeks have proven that because the Wolves needed every bit of their depth to get past the Charlotte Checkers in the Central Division Semifinals.
Here are the regulars the Wolves didn’t have for Game 5 on Wednesday: center Wade Megan (injured since Game 3), center Brad Malone (injured in April) forward Brett Sterling (injured in April), forward Scooter Vaughan (injured in April), defenseman Reid McNeill (injured since late March), defenseman James Wisniewski (injured in Game 4) and defenseman Petteri Lindbohm (recalled to the NHL earlier in the day).
That’s seven out of the 18 skaters usually in the lineup –a list that features the AHL’s leading goal-scorer this season, a guy who led the AHL in goals a few years back, a guy who has played more than 500 NHL games, a guy with more than 160 NHL games on his resume and other key components to the team.
So who stepped up in their place to help the Wolves win Game 5?
- Center Adam Musil, a 20-year-old who was playing junior hockey in Alberta, Canada, three weeks ago, scored the game-winning goal.
- Defenseman Jake Walman, who was playing for Providence College a month ago, set up Agostino’s power-play goal that set the tone in the opening two minutes. Oh, and Walman also scored the game-winning goal in Game 3.
- Defenseman Kevin Tansey and forward Conner Bleackley stepped up to play their first playoff games as pros.
- Forwards Gervais and Ty Loney fulfilled their roles as energy guys and penalty-killers – and Charlotte didn’t score a power-play goal the entire series.
Will the Wolves get all of their injured players back for the Central Division Finals against the Griffins? That remains to be seen. What’s a certainly is that the Wolves won’t feel shorthanded no matter who’s on the ice.
“I think the whole team is committed to winning,” said Wolves head coach Craig Berube. “They do all the little stuff right. Block shots. Get pucks out. Get pucks in. Good sticks. That’s why we win.”