CHICAGO WOLVES (39-19-5-3) AT SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE (27-33-6-1)
still fighting for every point
The Chicago Wolves will set out to become the first Central Division team to clinch a spot in the Calder Cup race later this week — the Wolves need just four points to secure a postseason berth — but will need to get through San Antonio first.
San Antonio is at the bottom of the division with just 61 points and a 2-7-0-1 record over their last 10 games, but the Rampage are tough to beat at AT&T Center with a 21-9-2-1 home record. San Antonio won the first three games of the season series with the Wolves, outscoring Chicago 11-5, but Chicago has buckled down to go 3-0-0-1 over the last four meetings while holding San Antonio to four goals.
If the recent success the Wolves have been having continues, preparations for a long Calder Cup run shouldn’t be far off. Chicago has gone 12-2-0-2 over the last 16 games, posting nearly double the goals (46-24) as its opponents and pitching two shutouts in the span. The Wolves’ excellence has vaulted them to the top of the Central Division with 86 points, two points clear of Grand Rapids and six ahead of third-place Iowa. The Griffins and Wild meet tonight in Des Moines.
dansk named player of the week
A huge piece of the puzzle for Chicago has been the men between the pipes. Wolves goaltender Oscar Dansk was recognized for his stellar play on Monday when the league named him the CCM/AHL Player of the Week. The 25-year-old Stockholm, Sweden, native started all three Wolves games last week, allowing just two goals on 84 shots for a 2-0-1 record with a 0.65 goals-against average and a .976 save percentage.
Dansk recorded 28 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss at Rockford on Wednesday before stopping 23 of 24 shots in a 4-1 win at Texas on Friday. Dansk posted a 31-save shutout, his second blank slate of the season, during a 5-0 victory Saturday at San Antonio. He has appeared in 35 games for Chicago this season and built a 22-9-4 record to go with his 2.52 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
next man up
No matter who is scratched from the lineup or which line is on the ice for Chicago, the scoring threat is always real. The Wolves scored 10 goals last week (which isn’t unusual considering the Wolves average 3.33 goals per game) off the sticks of eight different players while 14 tallied at least one point.
The Wolves succeeded last weekend despite missing their top three goal-scorers this season for both games (Daniel Carr, Brooks Macek and Brandon Pirri) and their No. 4 goal-scorer (Gage Quinney) for Saturday’s win at San Antonio.
BY THE NUMBERS
3: The Wolves’ prowess during even-strength play shows up in the league’s plus/minus ratings as Chicago owns the top three spots. Center Gage Quinney and rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud share the league lead at +37 while forward Daniel Carr is third with a +35. Rookie defenseman Nic Hague is tied for fourth place with Syracuse’s Dominik Masin at +30.
4: Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Wolves need just 4 points in 10 remaining games to clinch the franchise’s 20th playoff berth in 25 years. Only Bakersfield (3) has a lower number in the Western Conference. The magic number is reduced each time the Wolves earn points, as well as each time teams outside the playoff picture fail to earn points.
16: The Wolves have held firm on their last 16 penalty kills — a stretch that has lasted nearly six full games. Chicago hasn’t given up a power-play goal since Milwaukee’s Adam Helewka struck 2:16 into the March 10 game at Allstate Arena. The penalty-kill unit’s recent excellence has pushed the Wolves into eighth place among the AHL’s 31 teams. San Antonio’s power play has increased markedly as the season has gone along and sits 10th in the league at 19.8 percent.
23: Left wing Curtis McKenzie has been one of the most productive and most consistent Wolves since the All-Star Break. In the team’s last 20 games, McKenzie has stacked up nine goals and 14 assists as the Wolves have fashioned a 14-4-0-2 record. He has been particularly hot against the Rampage lately — when the Wolves and Rampage met on March 16, he rang up two goals and one assist, adding another pair of assists to his total during last Saturday’s win. Overall, he has looked remarkably similar to the standout who captained the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Final last season and led all goal-scorers during postseason play.
50: The Wolves are outscoring their opponents by 50 goals this season (220-170), which trails only Syracuse and Bakersfield for the best goal differential in the AHL. Most of that advantage has been piled up during the first period, when Chicago has outscored its foes 75-44. Nobody in the AHL is close to that +31 margin.
66: With high-scoring right wing Brooks Macek forced to sit out last weekend’s pair of games due to an injury — his first absences from the lineup this season — top line left wing Curtis McKenzie becomes the only Wolves player who has suited up for all 66 games this season. McKenzie never has appeared in all 76 AHL games during his career, but he played 75 games in 2013-14 during his rookie season with the Texas Stars.
357: 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 19-year-old defenseman Erik Brannstrom made his NHL debut Thursday night for the Ottawa Senators, he became the 357th player (out of 621 Wolves all-time) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.5 percent overall success rate is even higher among goaltenders. Of the 55 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 (69.1 percent).
THE NEXT THREE GAMES
All games are streamed on AHLTV.
The March 30 and 31 games will be broadcast on CW50.