SAN DIEGO GULLS (0-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-0)
HOW WE GOT BACK HERE
The Chicago Wolves’ drive to the organization’s first Western Conference Finals since 2008 has been fueled by a group of players and coaches that never stops striving regardless of the situation.
During the second half of the season, the Wolves lost the league’s leading scorer to the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights (Brandon Pirri), their quarterback on the power play to an NHL trade (Erik Brannstrom) and their top two goal-scorers to injury (eventual AHL MVP Daniel Carr and Brooks Macek). Nonetheless, the Wolves won the Central Division’s regular-season crown by 10 points.
The personification of the team’s persistence can be found in Game 4 of the Central Division Semifinals against Grand Rapids. Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-five series, the Wolves were forced to find a way — after losing three starters to injury in Game 3 — to extend the series on enemy ice despite playing without five of their top eight goal-scorers.
Not only did the Wolves claim Game 4 by a 5-2 count, virtually the same lineup grabbed the winner-take-all Game 5 by a 4-2 score. Carr and Macek returned to the lineup for the Central Division Finals against the Iowa Wild after missing the last eight and six weeks, respectively. Macek scored the opening goal in Games 1 and 2 while Carr scored key goals in Games 5 and 6 to help push the Wolves into Round 3.
HOW SAN DIEGO GOT HERE
The third-seeded San Diego Gulls knocked off second-seeded San Jose 3-1 in the Pacific Division Semifinals before toppling top-seeded Bakersfield 4-2 in the Pacific Division Finals. The Gulls lead all 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs teams with 4.20 goals per game and their +12 goals differential ranks third behind Atlantic Division champion Charlotte (+17) and North Division champ Toronto (+16).
San Diego’s roster teems with players who spent time with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks during the regular season. The current roster boasts 20 players who competed in a combined 326 NHL games during 2018-19. Several of those players rejoined the Gulls in April as the NHL regular season wound down.
THESE COACHES KNOW EACH OTHER
San Diego head coach Dallas Eakins is a local favorite as he spent four great seasons patrolling the Wolves’ blue line. He helped Chicago capture the 2000 Turner Cup and the 2002 Calder Cup and reach the 2001 Turner Cup Final during the International Hockey League’s final season. During Eakins’ second year as the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach (2014-15), Chicago Wolves boss Rocky Thompson served as one of his assistants and Thompson says they’re “great friends.”
Eakins moved on to become the Gulls’ original AHL coach (2015-present) while Thompson took over the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires and guided them to the 2017 Memorial Cup championship. That successful run led Thompson to Chicago, where he has directed the Wolves to two Central Division crowns in two years.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: When the Wolves win Game 1 of a postseason series, good things nearly always ensue. When the Wolves defeated the Iowa Wild in Game 1 of the Central Division Finals — then went on to take the series in six games — it marked the 21st consecutive time that Chicago has taken Game 1 and gone on to take the series as well. The streak began way back in 1998 when the Wolves swept Manitoba in the IHL’s Western Conference Quarterfinal. The Wolves are 21-1 when winning Game 1 — and the only loss came to the Las Vegas Thunder in the 1996 Western Conference Semifinal. One of the key contributors on that Las Vegas squad was high-scoring forward Ken Quinney, the father of current Wolves center Gage Quinney. Gage was nine months old when the Thunder knocked the Wolves out of those playoffs.
4: Left wing Daniel Carr became the fourth Wolves player in the last 13 seasons to earn the AHL’s Most Valuable Player honor. He received the Les Cunningham Award prior to Game 1 of the Central Division Semifinals on April 19 and joined Kenny Agostino (2016-17), Jason Krog (2007-08) and Darren Haydar (2006-07) in this exclusive club. Hershey is the only other AHL team to have more than one MVP since the Wolves joined the league prior to the 2001-02 season.
11: Forward Curtis McKenzie produced the 11th hat trick in Wolves postseason history when he scored twice in the second period and once in the third in Game 5 of the Central Division Finals on May 10 at Iowa. He joined an illustrious group that includes Steve Maltais (twice), Steve Larouche (twice, including a four-goal effort on April 27, 2001), Jason Krog (twice), Greg Pankewicz, Simon Gamache, Derek MacKenzie and Cory Larose.
29: Since the 2019 AHL All-Star Break concluded on Feb. 1, the Wolves have allowed 2 goals or fewer in 29 of their 43 games. In other words, Chicago has been among the league’s stingiest teams for the latter half of the season — giving up an average of just 2.33 goals per game during this extended run. Over the last eight Calder Cup Playoff games, all of which have been handled by Oscar Dansk, the 25-year-old Stockholm, Sweden, native has surrendered 17 goals in 494 minutes, 16 seconds. That works out to a 6-2 record with a 2.06 GAA and .919 save percentage.
358: If you’ve suited up for the Wolves, chances are better than 50/50 that you’ve also played in the National Hockey League. Of the 623 players who have suited up for the Wolves over 25 seasons, 358 also have competed 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 Oscar Dansk and Max Lagace — 38 boast NHL experience (69.1 percent).
374: The Wolves’ 30-man roster boasts 374 games of Calder Cup Playoffs experience. Alternate captain Curtis McKenzie leads the way with 63 AHL postseason appearances while forward Tye McGinn owns 39 games and center T.J. Tynan has 31. McKenzie helped the Texas Stars win the 2014 Calder Cup while Tynan helped guide the Lake Erie Monsters to the 2016 Calder Cup. The roster features 3 games’ worth of Stanley Cup Playoff experience (Griffin Reinhart 2, McKenzie 1), 44 games in the DEL (Brooks Macek) and 24 games in the Czech League (Tomas Hyka).
WESTERN CONFERENCE finals schedule
|Game 1||Friday, May 17||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 2||Saturday, May 18||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 3||Wednesday, May 22||Pechanga Arena||9 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 4||Friday, May 24||Pechanga Arena||9 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 5*||Saturday, May 25||Pechanga Arena||9 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 6*||Monday, May 27||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 7*||Wednesday, May 29||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|