Welcome to Wolves Insider: a weekly report that reviews Chicago Wolves highlights and previews what’s next during the team’s 25th anniversary season.
LET’S GET THIS 25TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON STARTED!
After months of preparation and anticipation, the 2018-19 American Hockey League season finally has arrived for the Chicago Wolves. The organization opens its 25th season on Friday, Oct. 5, with a visit to the Colorado Eagles. It’s a milestone occasion for the Eagles as well as they begin their first AHL season after spending the previous seven years in the ECHL.
The Wolves will play two games in Colorado before returning to the Chicago area for the 25th home opener on Saturday, Oct. 13, against the Grand Rapids Griffins at Allstate Arena. As part of the team’s silver anniversary celebration, all fans receive free parking all season courtesy of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Kia dealers. Wolves all-time leading scorer Steve Maltais, who produced 454 goals and 497 assists in 11 seasons, will perform the ceremonial puck drop prior to the home opener.
LOOKING TO GO BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK
Head coach Rocky Thompson and assistant coaches Chris Dennis and Bob Nardella welcome back the majority of the roster that captured the AHL’s 2018 Central Division title — making the Wolves the only team in the AHL to defend its division crown.
The Wolves’ forward lines features returning standouts such as Brandon Pirri (29 goals in 53 games), T.J. Tynan (60 points in 70 games), Tomas Hyka (48 points in 52 games) and Stefan Matteau (15 goals in 60 games). The coaches also are eager to discover what newcomers such as Gage Quinney and Brooks Macek can accomplish. Quinney posted 15 goals and 19 assists for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins while Macek has spent five professional seasons in Germany — highlighted by his 2 goals and 2 assists for Germany’s silver-medal team in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
The team’s defensive corps boasts returnees Zac Leslie, Griffin Reinhart and Kevin Lough, but also features two of the Vegas Golden Knights’ top prospects in 2017 first-round pick Erik Brännström and 2017 second-round pick Nic Hague. Both rookies will be among the AHL’s youngest players as both are just 19 years old.
Chicago’s goaltending is in the capable gloved hands of Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk, who teamed up to play 43 games for the Wolves and 20 for the Vegas Golden Knights last season.
The Wolves’ mission every year is to be the league’s Last Team Standing. Chicago has stacked up four league championships, nine division titles and more than 1,000 victories in its first 24 years. The Wolves have accomplished these feats by boasting high-quality rosters year-in and year-out. Of the 605 players who have suited up for the franchise over the years, 349 of them have played in the NHL (58 percent). That includes 37 of the 54 Wolves goaltenders (69 percent).
The last time the Wolves played an official game, Lagace shattered the franchise record for single-game saves with 72 stops in the team’s triple-overtime loss to the Rockford IceHogs in Game 3 of the 2018 Central Division Semifinals. Lagace played all 117 minutes, 22 seconds of the longest contest in Wolves history. He then joined the Vegas Golden Knights and dressed for their final eight postseason games, including all five 2018 Stanley Cup Final contests.
In just 57 games last season, the 27-year-old sniper stacked up 29 goals for the Wolves. That shared the team lead with Teemu Pulkkinen and seventh place among all AHL players. Pirri has been a proven scorer throughout his career. In 295 AHL contests, he owns 97 goals and 155 assists. He also has delivered 60 goals and 41 assists in 228 NHL appearances, which includes 3 goals in a pair of games for Vegas last season.
The Orland Park native enjoyed a banner 2017-18 season in his first year with the Wolves. Tynan produced 15 goals and a team-leading 45 assists and earned a spot in the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic. Tynan’s career-high 60 points gave him 195 points for his four-year AHL career. The 26-year-old also has appeared in three games for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Wolves played just one preseason game and earned a 4-1 win over the Milwaukee Admirals at UWM-Panther Arena
Forwards Tomas Hyka and Gage Quinney set up each other to give the Wolves a 2-0 lead in the second period, then rookie defenseman Erik Brännström scored late in the second period and forward Brooks Macek added an empty-net goal in the final two minutes.
- Goaltender Max Lagace posted 32 saves to earn the win.
|Friday, Oct. 5||at Colorado||Budweiser Events Center||8 p.m.||Watch|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Colorado||Budweiser Events Center||8 p.m.||Watch|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||vs. Grand Rapids||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Sunday, Oct. 14||vs. Milwaukee||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Tickets|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||at Grand Rapids||Van Andel Arena||6 p.m.||Watch|