On Sunday, the St. Louis Blues were eliminated from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the surging Nashville Predators. While everyone packed their bags for a flight back to St. Louis, Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford and Jordan Schmaltz packed their bags and hopped a private flight to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to help the Chicago Wolves battle the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 4 of the Central Division Finals.
Though the trio had a chance to mingle during morning skate with Wolves who have been together for the first eight games of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs, they didn’t have much time to reignite their chemistry with the pack.
While Sanford – making his Wolves debut – skated on the wing of a line centered by Barbashev and flanked by Ty Rattie, Schmaltz reprised his spot as part of Chicago’s top defensive pairing with team captain Chris Butler.
Since the team’s Game 4 story was more of a nightmare than a fairytale, Chicago and Grand Rapids meet in Game 5 on Saturday at Allstate Arena and the Wolves are looking to avoid elimination from the playoffs.
Barbashev, Sanford and Schmaltz have practiced with the Wolves for three days since they joined the Calder Cup push. Because Barbashev and Schmaltz are returning to their old stomping grounds, they’ve been sure to help ease Sanford’s transition to his fourth team in his rookie campaign (Sanford played for the NHL’s Washington Capitals and AHL’s Hershey Bears before being traded to St. Louis on Feb. 27).
“They’ve introduced me to all the guys, and helped me remember names and have shown me around,” Sanford said with a laugh.
While the 22-year-old has had an easy transition off the ice, he’s hoping he and Barbashev can fan the flames of their on-ice chemistry to get the Wolves back in gear.
“Of course, it’s different. Here, there’s a lot less time and structure out there; as soon as you get the puck, you have a guy right on you, but we’ve done a good job carrying our chemistry from St. Louis to the first game here.
“We put up some points together and had a lot of good games,” Sanford said, speaking of the nearly 10 games in which he and Barbashev skated on the same line at the NHL level.
MUSIL RETURN ON THE HORIZON
After skating in just two regular-season games for the Wolves, Adam Musil surprised everyone during the Central Division Semifinals and averaged a point per game with three goals and two assists. The 20-year-old collected two game-winning tallies and a short-handed marker and logged a +3 plus/minus rating. He finished the best-of-five series as Chicago’s leading scorer.
The rookie also shined in the faceoff circle and clocked in with a 51 percent success rate on the dot. His ability gave the Wolves four strong centers with Andrew Agozzino, Alex Friesen and Wade Megan also achieving better than a 50 percent success rate in the faceoff circle.
However, Musil was a victim of the injury bug and has yet to appear in a Round 2 contest against the Grand Rapids Griffins. But it seems a return may be on the horizon for the Delta, British Columbia, native. Musil, like any hockey player, can’t wait to get back to game and his team.
“I’ve been feeling good, so that’s positive,” Musil said. “Obviously, you want to be out there with the guys, so I’m looking forward to getting back.”
The Wolves coaching staff is just as eager to see him back in the fray.
“We knew he had the background, with his dad (Frank Musil) playing professional hockey, he’s physically strong, but his details of the game are very good,” said Wolves assistant coach Daniel Tkachuk. “He plays the right way; he’s a very easy guy to play with. He’s reliable, he knows where to be, he knows the certain aspects that really help a team win.”