Saturday, Oct. 6 | 8 p.m. | Budweiser Events Center | AHLTV | Facebook Live
WHAT A WAY TO START
The Chicago Wolves opened their 25th anniversary season Friday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Budweiser Events Center. AHL commissioner and CEO Dave Andrews showed up to welcome the Colorado Eagles as the AHL’s 31st team. Oh, and the Eagles held a pregame ceremony to lift their 2018 Kelly Cup banner to the rafters. The emotional deck was stacked against them.
All of that pomp and circumstance led to an uneven start for the Wolves, but a magical finish. Just 48 seconds into overtime, 19-year-old defenseman Erik Brännström fired home the game-winning goal and the rest of the team mobbed him on the ice to celebrate their 3-2 triumph.
ICYMI: @brannstromerik delivers the GWG in OT!#Wolves25#LastTeamStanding pic.twitter.com/cbznJ8hDaj
— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) October 6, 2018
After the Wolves’ first win in a road opener since 2013, these teams had to rest quickly in order to get after it again tonight in their last meeting for six months. What’s at stake? Well, the Wolves haven’t won their first two road games in a season since 2007-08 — which happens to double as the last time the Wolves were the last team standing at the end of the year.
ALL ABOARD THE #BRANNWAGON
Rookie defenseman Erik Brännström never had played a professional game on North American soil until Friday night, but he certainly didn’t shy away from the moment. Brännström produced the game’s first goal with a rocket from the top of the left circle midway through the second period, then scored from slightly closer during the 3-on-3 overtime period.
Of the eight players who scored 2 goals on the AHL’s Opening Night, Brännström was the only defenseman and one of just two rookies to accomplish the feat (San Jose’s Dylan Gambill being the other). In short, he lived up to the hype that accompanied the 2017 first-round draft pick when he was assigned to the Wolves by the Vegas Golden Knights last week. The 19-year-old scored four points in five exhibition games for Vegas, which doesn’t include his highlight-reel, game-winning shootout goal. Vegas fans have dubbed him “Brannwagon” as they’re all aboard with his skills and abilities. They’ve even created T-shirts to celebrate the Eksjo, Sweden native.
THE MEN IN THE NET
The Chicago Wolves feature the same two goaltenders on their roster at the start of this season as they did at the start of last season: Oscar Dansk and Max Lagace.
When the Wolves started last season at Texas, head coach Rocky Thompson opted to start Lagace on Opening Night and Dansk the following evening. Neither game resulted in a win. This time around, Thompson tabbed Dansk to start the opener and the 24-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden, was up to the task. Dansk posted 27 saves in Friday night’s win, including a few point-blank rejections during a critical part of the third period.
While Thompson never reveals his goaltending plans, it’s not crazy to expect Lagace to get the call tonight. In Lagace’s last appearance with the Wolves, he shattered the franchise record for single-game saves when he made 72 stops during the team’s triple-overtime loss to the Rockford IceHogs in Game 3 of the Central Division Semifinals.
By The Numbers
3: The Wolves hit the ice Friday night with three players wearing the “A” on their sweater: forwards Curtis McKenzie, Brandon Pirri and T.J. Tynan. Each player picked up a point in the Wolves’ 3-2 overtime win. If last year’s captaincy provides any sort of predictive power, then it could be a while before the Wolves have an official captain. Paul Thompson was given that power in late November last season. Thompson, by the way, recently was named captain for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
12: Forward Alex Gallant picked up 12 penalty minutes during Friday’s opener, which shared second place among all AHL players who competed on the Opening Night of the league’s 83rd season. Gallant seems a candidate to stay among the leaders all year in PIMS. Last season with the Syracuse Crunch, Gallant paced the league with 194 penalty minutes despite playing in only 38 games.
27: The Wolves boast one of the youngest squads in their history. Forwards Curtis McKenzie and Brandon Pirri are the grandpas of the crew and they’re just 27 years old. That’s unprecedented for a franchise like the Wolves, which has shown the willingness and ability to grab players in their 30s who can still contribute at a high level such as Brett Sterling, Keith Aucoin, Darren Haydar, Jason Krog, Andre Benoit and more. In fact, this marks the first time in franchise history that the Wolves didn’t have at least one 30-year-old playing on Opening Night.
50: With a pair of assists Friday night, Tomas Hyka produced the 49th and 50th points of his AHL career. That’s a pretty good number considering Hyka has played just 51 games at this level since making his North American professional debut last season. The 25-year-old from Czech Republic has been a revelation after being the third player to sign with the nascent Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Not only did Hyka put up 15 goals and 33 assists in 50 games for the Wolves last year, he added 1 goal and 2 assists in 10 appearances for Vegas.
300: Center T.J. Tynan participated in his 300th professional game Friday night and made the most of it. The 26-year-old from Chicago’s south suburbs (Orland Park, to be exact) gave the Wolves a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal late in the second period. That gives Tynan 16 goals during 71 games in a Wolves uniform and 47 goals in 297 AHL contests for his career. Tynan also has appeared in three games for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
353: 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 Daniel Carr, Curtis McKenzie and Zach Whitecloud made their Wolves debuts on Friday night, they became the 351st, 352nd and 353rd players (out of 614) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 58.4 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).