Saturday, April 21 | 7:00 p.m. | Allstate Arena | Facebook | The U Too
WHERE RIVALRIES ARE BORN
The Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs first met in the postseason as the No. 1 and 2 Western Division playoff seeds, respectively, during the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs. It marked the final chapter of the IceHogs’ first season in the American Hockey League. Both Chicago and Rockford handled their opening-round opponents and set up an intrastate showdown that lasted seven games and included the Wolves rallying from a three-games-to-two deficit to win the series. For the Wolves, it marked the turning point toward the franchise’s fourth championship in 11 seasons.
2008 CALDER CUP REWIND
The last time — and the first time — the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs met in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it was a clash of the Western Division titans. The No. 1 and 2 seeds breezed through the first round — Chicago sunk Milwaukee in six games while Rockford ousted Houston in five — to set up a battle of attrition between the division’s finest. The series was one for the ages — the Wolves outscored the IceHogs 11-4 at Allstate Arena to take a 2-0 lead in the series. However, the IceHogs flexed their muscles and took the next three games — including one at Allstate — to gain a 3-2 series lead. Backs against the wall and mustaches on their faces, the Wolves delivered and stole a game, 4-3, in Rockford before returning to Rosemont and finishing the series with a decisive 4-1 victory. The Western Division Final would be Chicago’s longest of that postseason. After roasting the IceHogs, the Wolves drove through the conference and championship finals with a combined 8-3 record.
Between the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs rosters, there is only one player who can give a first-hand account of the clubs’ first postseason encounter: Brett Sterling. The 33-year-old left wing was in his sophomore season when the Wolves and IceHogs met in the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs. Sterling appeared in all seven games of the series and collected five (G, 4A) of his nine (4G, 5A) postseason points in that series. One of then-24-year-old Sterling’s four assists was the primary helper on Darren Haydar’s second-period goal in Game 7 that went on to stand as the series-winner.
Saturday marks the beginning of the Chicago Wolves’ 19th bid for a championship. Through their first 18 postseasons, the Wolves own a 128-96 record and have reached six championship finals. Along with their postseason appearances, Chicago has captured nine division titles and six conference trophies. Since the franchise’s formation in 1994, the Wolves have claimed four championships: two Turner Cups (1998, 2000) and two Calder Cups (2002, 2008).
NOW THE WHOLE TEAM IS HERE
The Chicago Wolves entered the 2017-18 season with high hopes, but those hopes were quickly beaten down as Chicago opened the season with a 6-12-4-1 record. At one point, the Wolves were dead-last in the American Hockey League standings. However, sparked by a Michael Leighton shutout on Dec. 9 at Cleveland, Chicago began to shift its fortunes and since then, the team owns a 36-11-3-3 record (.736) that catapulted the Wolves into the league’s top 10. With a 6-4 victory at Rockford on April 13, the Wolves secured their ninth division title — the most of any team since Chicago joined the AHL in 2001.
By the Numbers:
- 0: Center Brandon Pirri has appeared in 523 professional games. However, none of those games are postseason contests. Although the 27-year-old Pirri is in his eighth pro season and has played for five National Hockey League teams — including the Chicago Blackhawks — he has never appeared in the postseason. At the American Hockey League level, Pirri spent four seasons with the Rockford IceHogs and they missed the playoffs in each of those seasons. His rookie campaign (2010-11) was the first the IceHogs missed the postseason since joining the AHL in 2008. His first season as a full-time NHLer (2014-15) with the Florida Panthers was the IceHogs’ first trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs in four years. During his time in the NHL, several of his teams made the Stanley Cup Playoffs but Pirri was marked a Black Ace for those occasions. His most recent Stanley Cup postseason stint was the 2017 rendition with the New York Rangers, who fell to the Ottawa Senators in Round 2.
- 3: The Chicago Wolves have three returning players from last year’s Calder Cup run: Bryce Gervais, Brett Sterling and Scooter Vaughan. For Sterling, it wasn’t his first rodeo, but for Gervais and Vaughan it marked their first American Hockey League postseasons. The trio enters the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs with a combined 16 games under their belts from the 2017 edition. Chicago’s second-most fruitful goal-scoring rookie in the 2016-17 regular season — he and Vince Dunn shared the honor with 13 goals — Gervais appeared in eight games while Sterling and Vaughan each played four.
- 6: The Chicago Wolves roster is bursting with veteran players and none are more seasoned than 33-year-old Jason Garrison. The longtime NHL blueliner has appeared in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games in addition to seven Calder Cup Playoff contests. Of his 48 NHL postseason matches, 23 of them came during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Tampa Bay Lightning met the Chicago Blackhawks in the Cup Final. Garrison appeared in all six games as the Lightning fell four games to two against the Blackhawks.
- 12: Between the three goaltenders on the Chicago Wolves roster, they have a combined 12 Calder Cup Playoffs games to their names. Of the netminders, Kasimir Kaskisuo owns the most postseason experience with 10 games during the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs with the Toronto Marlies. Ultimately, the Marlies fell to the Syracuse Crunch in seven games of the North Division Finals. In that time, Kaskisuo earned a 5-3 record along with a 2.62 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. Max Lagace owns the other two games from his time with the Texas Stars. He collected one loss, a 2.74 goals-against average and .886 save percentage. Likely to make his Calder Cup Playoff debut against the Rockford IceHogs is Oscar Dansk — the 2018 postseason is Dansk’s first in North America.
- 62: The Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs began their storied rivalry 10 years ago. As many rivalries are, the slow, smoldering burn over 10 games of the regular season was quickly fanned into a full-fledged hatred. Over the course of the decade, the Wolves and IceHogs badgered and bludgeoned each other and wrote a story that has included everything from bench brawls to players crawling across concrete to continue a confrontation. However, through all the blood and sweat, the hockey has been evenly matched — through 10 years and 124 regular-season games each team owns 62 victories.
Central Division Semifinals
2018 Calder Cup Playoffs
|Saturday, April 21||vs. Rockford||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Sunday, April 22||at Rockford||BMO Harris Bank Center||4 p.m.||Watch|
|Thursday, April 26||vs. Rockford||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Sunday, April 29*||at Rockford||BMO Harris Bank Center||4 p.m.||Watch|
|Monday, April 30*||vs. Rockford||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
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April 14, 2018
2017-18 Regular-Season Series
6-6-0-0 Rockford | 6-2-3-1 Chicago
|11/19/2017||BMO Harris Bank Center||SOL, 3-4|
|11/25/2017||Allstate Arena||W, 4-3|
|12/01/2017||BMO Harris Bank Center||OTL, 3-4|
|12/12/2017||BMO Harris Bank Center||W, 2-1|
|12/22/2017||BMO Harris Bank Center||OTL, 2-3|
|12/30/2017||Allstate Arena||W, 6-2|
|02/03/2017||Allstate Arena||W, 7-4|
|03/11/2018||Allstate Arena||OTL, 1-2|
|03/17/2018||Allstate Arena||L, 2-3|
|03/24/2017||BMO Harris Bank Center||L, 3-5|
|04/13/2018||BMO Harris Bank Center||W, 6-4|
|04/14/2018||Allstate Arena||W, 5-4|