Friday, Oct. 5 | 8 p.m. | Budweiser Events Center | AHLTV | Facebook Live
THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON
After months of preparation and anticipation, the 2018-19 American Hockey League season finally has arrived for the Chicago Wolves. Tonight marks the start of the franchise’s 25th season overall and 18th year as part of the American Hockey League.
It seems fitting to open the year against the Colorado Eagles because it’s a milestone occasion for them as well. The Eagles are making their AHL debut as they were welcomed as the league’s 31st team earlier this year.
Just as the Wolves are known for being four-time league champions, the Eagles enter this year riding the momentum of back-to-back championships in the ECHL. They have become partners with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche this season, so their roster does not bear much resemblance to the group that claimed the 2018 Kelly Cup. Only six Eagles return, but a good chunk of Colorado’s Opening Night roster played for San Antonio last year as the Rampage served as the Colorado Avalanche’s NHL partner. That group includes former Wolves forward Andrew Agozzino (18 goals, 36 assists in 2016-17).
THE BAND’S BACK TOGETHER
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 — the Wolves being the only team in the AHL to defend its division crown. Fourteen of the 24 players on the Opening Night roster saw action for the Wolves last year.
The Wolves’ forward lines feature 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). Forwards Reid Duke, Keegan Kolesar, Ryan Wagner and Tyler Wong are expected to carve out larger roles this year after making their professional debuts last season.
The team’s defensive corps boasts returnees Nic Hague, Zac Leslie, Griffin Reinhart and Kevin Lough, while Chicago’s goaltending is in the capable gloved hands of Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk. They teamed up to play 43 games for the Wolves and 20 for the Vegas Golden Knights last season.
The Wolves ranked sixth in offense last season with 3.21 goals per game, but there’s potential to be even stronger this year with the addition of forwards Curtis McKenzie, Daniel Carr, Brooks Macek and Gage Quinney.
McKenzie captained the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Final as he led all postseason scorers with 11 goals in 22 games. He also scored 25 goals in 51 regular-season games. Carr split last season between the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens (6 goals in 38 games) and the AHL’s Laval Rocket (11 goals in 20 games).
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 blue line boasts an infusion of talent, too, as Vegas 2017 first-round pick Erik Brännström, Dylan Coghlan and Zach Whitecloud join the core. Brännström will be among the AHL’s youngest players as he turned 19 on Sept. 2.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: The Wolves were the only team in the American Hockey League to defend their division title last season. When Chicago clinched the Central Division, it marked the franchise’s ninth division crown. The Wolves have earned five AHL division titles since Wendell Young was hired as general manager in August 2009: the 2010 West, 2012 Midwest, 2014 Midwest, 2017 Central and 2018 Central.
7: The Opening Night roster features seven AHL rookies: centers Reid Duke and Matthew Weis, right wing Ryan Wagner and defensemen Erik Brännström, Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud. While Duke, Wagner and Hague made their Wolves and professional debuts during the final month of last season, the others have yet to play a professional game in North America with the exception of Whitecloud. The 21-year-old from Brandon, Manitoba, made his pro debut on April 5 in the Vegas Golden Knights’ next-to-last game of the regular season and posted a +3 plus/minus rating. Right wing Brooks Macek also awaits his North American pro debut. The 26-year-old already has five pro seasons under his belt, but all of them came in Germany where he also earned a silver medal in the 2018 Olympic Games.
10: The Wolves’ Opening Night roster boasts 10 players with NHL experience: Forwards Daniel Carr, Tomas Hyka, Curtis McKenzie, Stefan Matteau, Brandon Pirri and T.J. Tynan, defensemen Griffin Reinhart and Zach Whitecloud and goaltenders Oscar Dansk and Max Lagace. Pirri has seen the most NHL action with 60 goals and 41 assists in 228 games. Hyka, Matteau, Pirri, Whitecloud, Dansk and Lagace all saw time last season with the Vegas Golden Knights — with Lagace posting a 6-7-1 record and 3.92 goals-against average in 16 games and Dansk notching a 3-0-0 record and 1.78 GAA in four games.
48: Since the Chicago Wolves were founded, 48 National Hockey League first-round draft choices have suited up for the team. That list includes a pair of No. 1 overall picks in center Patrik Stefan (1999 by the Atlanta Thrashers) and goaltender Rick DiPietro (2000 by the New York Islanders). The most recent first-rounder to debut with the Wolves is defenseman Griffin Reinhart, who was the No. 4 selection in the 2012 draft. Center Stefan Matteau and defenseman Erik Brännström are the other first-round picks on the Opening Night roster.
60.4: The Wolves have produced a .604 winning percentage on Opening Night, which almost matches the franchise’s .596 winning percentage in all games since the inaugural contest on Oct. 1, 1994. The Wolves own a 12-7-2-3 mark in season openers, which includes a 6-6-1-3 showing on the road. This marks the third year in a row that the Wolves have opened away from Allstate Arena. The last time the Wolves opened a season with a road win was Oct. 4, 2013, with a 2-1 victory at San Antonio. Overall, the Wolves boast a 1,029-661-20-77-114 record — which works out to 2,269 points in 1,905 regular-season games.
350: If you’ve suited up for the Wolves, chances are better than 50/50 that you’ve also played in the National Hockey League. When St. Louis Blues forward Jordan Kyrou made his NHL debut Thursday night, he became the 350th player (out of 605) who has competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.9 percent overall success rate is even higher among goaltenders. Of the 54 players who’ve tended the net for the Wolves over the years — starting with original goaltenders Ray LeBlanc and Wendell Young and continuing through current Wolves Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk — 37 boast NHL experience (68.5 percent).