We sensed our 25th anniversary season would turn out to be special. But the way our coaches and players have bonded together on this bumpy road to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals has made this ride more incredible than we dared to dream.
To put this remarkable journey into perspective, we have put together 25 moments from our 25th anniversary season that help to explain why we’re here. Most are moments to celebrate, but the unfortunate ones showcase why this team became even closer as the season progressed.
We’re revealing five each day (in chronological order) leading up to Game 1 of the 2019 Calder Cup Finals at 5 p.m. Saturday in Charlotte.
FEB. 25: BRANNSTROM GETS DEALT
At the NHL trading deadline, the Vegas Golden Knights won the sweepstakes for prized Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone. The catch? They had to include Brannstrom in the deal to get it done. The 19-year-old from Sweden had been the Wolves’ power-play quarterback from Day 1 and, just as importantly, had built close friendships with several players on the team. So his departure had an effect on the team’s performance and psyche.
In one of Brannstrom’s final games for the Wolves, he won a game over Iowa in OT — and then he and his teammates displayed their united front when an Iowa defenseman cross-checked Gage Quinney in the face after the goal.
FEB. 26: MAX BLANKS ROCKFORD
Right about this time of the year, the Wolves’ coaches and players held meetings and determined they needed to become an even stingier defensive team in order to maximize their potential. Over the final 30 games of the regular season, they allowed just two goals per game as the entire group made defense their primary mission.
On Feb. 26, goaltender Max Lagace and the Wolves earned a 1-0 victory at Rockford. His 27 saves included this gem on a breakaway by former Wolves forward (and NHL first-round pick) Jordan Schroeder.
MARCH 5: CARR GETS DECKED
All you have to do is hear Billy Gardner’s involuntary groan. San Antonio’s Jordan Nolan went high on Daniel Carr, the AHL’s leading scorer, and caused an injury that forced Carr off the ice for the rest of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs — a total of 23 games. Nolan, meanwhile, wasn’t penalized on the play and received a mere two-game suspension.
MARCH: EVERYONE STEPS UP
With Brandon Pirri and Erik Brannstrom gone — and Daniel Carr and Brooks Macek (injured on March 20) out — the Wolves went a long time without four of their primary offensive weapons. So what happened? Tye McGinn and Keegan Kolesar and T.J. Tynan and Curtis McKenzie and others picked up the slack.
McKenzie scored nine goals in a 12-game stretch. Kolesar scored eight in his final 16 regular-season games. Tynan handed out 24 assists in his final 17 games to climb to the AHL assists title. And McGinn, who didn’t score any goals in his first 16 Wolves games after being acquired from Manitoba in early January, stepped up and delivered 10 goals in the final 20. That included this overtime beauty to beat Milwaukee on March 10.
APRIL 6: WOLVES CLINCH THIRD STRAIGHT CENTRAL DIVISION TITLE
We didn’t mention rookie forward Ryan Wagner in the previous moment, but the Wolves’ injuries and departures required he and Matthew Weis to move up from the fourth line to the second. Here’s an example of how his persistence and physical play sets up a teammate for a huge goal — in this case the game-winner by Gage Quinney.