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Gameday: Back in first

CHICAGO WOLVES (22-12-3-1) at TUCSON ROADRUNNERS (19-10-3-1)

Saturday, Jan. 12 | 8 p.m. | AHLTV | Facebook Live

a crazy friday in the desert

As the Wolves prepared for Friday’s game at Tucson, they heard the news out of nearby Las Vegas: Golden Knights general manager George McPhee told the media that Brandon Pirri, the leading scorer for the Wolves and the AHL, was expected to play his 10th game in the NHL on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, which would make it impossible for him to return to the Wolves without being exposed to waivers.

Considering the Wolves had scored just four goals in their last four games without Pirri, did this news suggest Chicago might lack a scoring punch for the foreseeable future?

Well, the Wolves needed just one period Friday night to offer a definitive “no” to that question. Rocky Thompson’s crew stacked up four goals in the first period — just the second time this season the Wolves have managed so many in one frame — to set the course for a 6-3 win over the Tucson Roadrunners that enabled the Wolves to reclaim first place in the Central Division.

How did this happen? Well, it helped that Tomas Hyka returned to the lineup after missing almost five full games due to an injury suffered in the opening minutes on Dec. 29 against Rockford. Hyka delivered his first hat trick as a professional in North America, which included a crucial power-play game midway through the third period to stop Tucson’s momentum as the hosts had slashed a 4-0 deficit to 4-3 a minute before.


With Pirri destined to stay in the NHL, veteran forward Daniel Carr becomes the leader of the Wolves offense. Carr has been the team’s steadiest scorer all year — putting up points in 22 of his 31 Wolves games heading into Friday’s action — and he got Chicago on the board Friday night with a goal 7:03 into the game. The goal tied Carr with Pirri for first place on the AHL’s scoring list, then Carr added two assists to take over sole possession of the top.

The 27-year-old has been enjoying his best season from a statistical standpoint. He averaged nearly 1 point per game last year for the AHL’s Laval Rocket (11 goals and 8 assists in 20 games), but he has outstripped that this season with 19 goals and 25 assists in 32 games. The only AHL regular who’s averaging better than Carr’s 1.38 points per game is, well, Pirri at 1.45.

IF It’s FOR free, it’s for Me

All 15 AHL games tonight are being shown for free on AHLTV to celebrate new pricing for the second half of the season. To watch tonight’s action, simply set up a free account at theahl.com/AHLTV. To purchase a pass for all 38 Wolves games during the second half, it’s just $34.99. To buy either a home or away pass for the Wolves’ second half, the price is $24.99.


3: The Wolves had three representatives — forwards Brandon Pirri and Daniel Carr and defenseman Erik Brännström — selected to participate in the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic, joining the San Jose Barracuda as the only other team to have three players selected. It marks Pirri’s fourth selection for the AHL All-Star Classic while Carr and Brännström are first-time picks.

4: The Wolves’ prowess during even-strength hockey can be seen at the top of the AHL’s plus/minus ratings — where they own four of the top five spots. Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud and left wing Daniel Carr share the league lead with +22 plus/minus ratings. Center Gage Quinney share third with Rochester’s Lawrence Pilut at +19 while Wolves rookie defenseman Nic Hague stands fifth at +18.

5: With his hat trick on Friday, right wing Tomas Hyka became the fifth Wolves player to score at least three goals in one game this season — joining Brooks Macek, Gage Quinney, Daniel Carr (4 goals) and Brandon Pirri. The AHL’s other 30 teams have combined for 27 hat tricks this season. The last Wolves team to have at least five players rack up a hat trick in the same season was the 2008 Calder Cup champs — when Jesse Schultz, Brett Sterling, Kevin Doell, Joel Kwiatkowski, Darren Haydar and Jason Krog (two hat tricks) made it happen.

12: Tomas Hyka wasn’t the only Wolves forward to return to the lineup Friday. Ryan Wagner, No. 12 in your program, hit the ice for the first time since Dec. 5. The Wisconsin alum promptly assisted on T.J. Tynan’s first-period goal for his third point of the year.

13: What’s one of the reasons the Wolves are back in first place for the Central Division? They’re the only team in the division with a better road record than home mark. The Wolves boast a 13-5-0-0 record on the road (.722), which ranks No. 1 in the Western Conference and No. 2 in the AHL. The Wolves also are outscoring foes 70-47 on the road, which is the second-best goal differential. Charlotte owns a +28 margin (98-70), so it makes sense the Checkers have the best road record in the league.

139: Thanks to Friday’s six-goal outburst, the Wolves have regained sole possession of first place in AHL scoring with 139 goals — five ahead of the Charlotte Checkers who managed just one goal Friday night against Wilkes-Barre. The Wolves also continue to boast three of the league’s top 10 scorers: League leader Daniel Carr (19G, 25A), No. 2 Brandon Pirri (18G, 24A) and No. 9 Brooks Macek (17G, 20A).

356: 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 recent Wolves forward Mackenzie MacEachern made his NHL debut on Thursday night for the St. Louis Blues, he became the 356th player (out of 617 Wolves all-time) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.7 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 — 38 boast NHL experience (70.4 percent).

Wednesday, Jan. 16 vs. Grand Rapids Allstate Arena 7 p.m. Tickets
Saturday, Jan. 19 vs. Rockford Allstate Arena 7 p.m. Tickets
Sunday, Jan. 20 vs. Milwaukee Allstate Arena 3 p.m. Tickets


All times Central. All games stream on AHLTV.

The Jan. 19 game will be televised by CW50 and the Jan. 20 game will be on The U Too and NHL Network.