CHICAGO WOLVES (9-5-1-1) at ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (8-7-1-3)
GIVING THANKS FOR HOCKEY
After spending Thanksgiving dinner together at the Drake in Chicago — a tradition hosted by owners Don Levin and Buddy Meyers since the franchise began in 1994 — the Chicago Wolves return to the ice for three games in a 48-hour span. The Wolves and the Rockford IceHogs are among the seven AHL teams playing three games in three days over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Wolves and IceHogs enter tonight’s game tied for third place in the Central Division with 20 points apiece (the Milwaukee Admirals lead the way with 25 points), but the divisional standings look much different if you examine points percentage and goal differential.
The Iowa Wild are second with 21 points, but they pace the Central in points percentage (.706) and goal differential (+24). The Wolves share second with Milwaukee in points percentage (.625) and own second in goal differential (+10). Rockford ranks sixth in points percentage (.526) and goal differential (-6).
All that having been typed, Rockford claimed the first game of this year’s Illinois Lottery Cup rivalry with a 4-3 win over the Wolves on Nov. 10. Since that time, though, the IceHogs have earned just 1 point in four games.
staying OFFENSIVE (while making changes)
The Wolves boast the AHL’s No. 4 offense with 3.88 goals per game as three of the league’s top 10 point-getters have called Chicago home. Left wing Daniel Carr (9A, 13G) shares the league lead with Rochester defenseman Lawrence Pilut with 22 points apiece. Carr owns at least a piece of two other AHL categories as he owns plus/minus rating (+18) and shares the lead in power-play goals (6), but he’s out of the picture for now as he was recalled from loan by the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
While Carr moves to Vegas, right wing Tomas Hyka returns after producing one goal and three assists in 17 games for the Golden Knights. Hyka posted three assists in the Wolves’ first two games this season. Right wing Brooks Macek, Carr’s linemate since Hyka moved to Vegas, shares third place in the league with 21 points. Macek is knotted with Rochester center Zach Redmond and Charlotte center Janne Kuokkanen in points, but he continues to lead the way in goals (14) and shooting percentage (47.1).
Left wing Brandon Pirri is in the middle of one of his characteristic hot streaks. He handed out three assists in the Wolves’ Nov. 10 loss to Rockford, which triggered a four-game point streak that has featured three goals and four assists. Pirri has pushed into a tie for eighth place in points (20) and assists (13) — and no one has taken more shots this season. Pirri’s 69 shots rank one ahead of Rockford rookie Dylan Sikura.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: The Chicago Wolves are always ready to go during the first 20 minutes. Through 16 games, the Wolves have taken a deficit into the first intermission just once this season — Oct. 20 at Grand Rapids when a 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes turned into a 5-3 loss. The Wolves are outscoring opponents 23-11 in the first period, which is the best margin in the AHL. Charlotte ranks second at +8.
6: On the other hand, the Wolves have been outscored by 6 goals (25-19) during the middle stanza. That ranks as the fourth-worst differential in the Western Conference as only Stockton (-16), Texas (-9) and Colorado (-7) have fared worse. In the Eastern Conference, Binghamton somehow has fashioned a .500 record despite being outscored 23-9 in the middle stanza.
12: Nineteen-year-old defenseman Erik Brännström owns 12 points in 14 games this season. Not only does he share 11th place among all AHL defensemen in points, he ranks second among all rookie blue-liners as he’s only chasing Utica’s Olli Juolevi (13 points in 18 games).
14: Brooks Macek continues to lead the AHL with 14 goals as the 26-year-old from Winnipeg has maintained nearly a goal-per-game pace over the season’s first six weeks. As word has gotten out about Macek, teams are making it tougher on him to find room to deliver. Not only has Macek gone with a goal in the last three games (the first time that has happened this season), he has only gotten free for three shots on goal over that stretch. His 14 goals are not a franchise record for most goals after 16 games: Steve Maltais produced 22 goals in the Wolves’ first 16 games of 1995-96 and Rob Brown notched 15 in the first 16 games of 1996-97.
19: The Wolves have two 19-year-old defensemen in Erik Brännström and Nic Hague. There are only six teenage blue-liners in the AHL and the Toronto Marlies are the only other team with a pair. The Marlies’ 18-year-old Rasmus Sandin, an NHL first-round pick in June, is the only defenseman younger than Brännström. There are just 13 teenagers in the AHL overall.
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 Oct. 5, they became the 351st, 352nd and 353rd players (out of 615 Wolves all-time) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.4 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).
6,532: This is the number of days between Brooks Macek’s five-assist effort on Nov. 7 at Milwaukee and the previous five-assist game by a Wolves player. Rob Brown, who holds the team’s single-game (6) and single-season (91) assist records, handed out five assists on Dec. 19, 2000, in a 7-5 victory at Kansas City.