GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (8-7-0-2) at CHICAGO WOLVES (10-5-1-1)
the force is with us
The Chicago Wolves proved they didn’t overindulge on Thanksgiving when they stuffed the net for a season-high seven goals in a 7-2 Illinois Lottery Cup victory on Friday night at Rockford.
The Wolves put up a lucky No. 7 on the scoreboard for the first time since March 18 at Allstate Arena against Iowa. Remarkably, prior to Friday night, the Wolves’ last 11 games scoring at least seven goals had come on home ice. The last time Chicago scored seven or more on the road occurred March 27, 2015, when Magnus Paajarvi registered a hat trick in an 8-4 win at Milwaukee.
Perhaps the best news for the Wolves was the fact the seven goals were spread among seven skaters. Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud not only delivered his first goal as a professional, he added two assists to register his first multi-point game. The Wolves’ group of defensemen entered the night with nine goals in the team’s first 16 games, but Whitecloud, fellow rookie Nic Hague and Zac Leslie (playing as a forward) scored Friday to push the unit’s total to 12. All in all, great prep for Star Wars Night tonight.
hyka picks up where he left off
It’s a bit of a brainteaser: How do the Chicago Wolves lose the No. 1 scorer in the American Hockey League, yet score a season-high seven goals in their first two periods without him?
Left wing Daniel Carr was recalled from loan by the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday and played 12 minutes, six seconds in their 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday. In the other half of that transaction, right wing Tomas Hyka returned to the Wolves. It didn’t take him long to reassert himself as an offensive threat. In the first period, Hyka raced into the offensive zone, spun and delivered a perfect backhand pass to set up Zach Whitecloud’s first pro goal.
In the second period, Hyka rifled home a one-timer from the top of the left circle for his first goal for the Wolves in 14 appearances — since March 22, 2018, at Cleveland. The 25-year-old from Mlada Boleslav owns 53 points (16G, 37A) in 53 regular-season games for the Wolves.
This weekend’s three games in a 48-hour span serve as the first of five 3-in-3s for the Wolves this season. The Wolves had just three 3-in-3s last year during Rocky Thompson’s first season as the Wolves, but the team showed an aptitude for these marathon weekends. The team posted a 6-2-1-0 mark during their 3-in-3s, which included a sweep Dec. 15-17 that began with a 6-3 win at Grand Rapids.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Rookie center Matthew Weis earned his first professional point on Friday night at Rockford when he helped to set up Zac Leslie’s second-period goal. The 23-year-old Weis turned pro this summer after wrapping up his college career at The Ohio State University. He became the 21st Wolves skater this season to get on the scoresheet.
3: Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud played in just his 16th professional game Friday night, but it might take a little while for Brandon, Manitoba, native to outdo what he achieved during the 7-2 win at Rockford. Not only did the 21-year-old produce the first goal and the second and third assists of his nascent pro career, he earned a +5 plus/minus rating. He joins fellow defensemen Nic Hague and Zac Leslie with a +5 effort this season (theirs happened on Oct. 6 at Colorado). They’re the first Wolves to reach the +5 mark since forward Jeremy Welsh on April 7, 2015.
12: With his pair of assists Friday night, Zach Whitecloud became the 12th Wolves player this season to rack up a multi-assist game. He joined Brooks Macek (5 assists), Brandon Pirri (3 assists), Daniel Carr (3 assists), Curtis McKenzie, Reid Duke, Nic Hague, T.J. Tynan, Erik Brännström, Dylan Coghlan, Gage Quinney and Tomas Hyka.
14: As the Wolves’ offense continues to evolve, the team isn’t as reliant on the Daniel Carr-Gage Quinney-Brooks Macek line. Despite not scoring in the last four games, 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 seven weeks. His 14 goals are not a franchise record for most goals after 17 games: Steve Maltais produced 23 goals in the Wolves’ first 17 games of 1995-96 and Rob Brown notched 15 in the first 17 games of 1996-97.
22: Look who’s back near the top of the AHL’s scoring race: Brandon Pirri produced one goal and one assist Friday night to move to 22 points for the game — good enough to tie Daniel Carr for the team lead and to move within one point of AHL co-leaders Corey Conacher of Syracuse and Phil Varone of Lehigh Valley. Pirri’s riding a five-game point streak.
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.