CHARLOTTE CHECKERS (1-1) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (1-1)
TO BE SETTLED ON THE ICE
The Chicago Wolves and Charlotte Checkers split the first two games of the 2019 Calder Cup Finals at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte. Though the teams hadn’t faced each other since the 2017 Central Division Semifinals — and none of the Wolves players who competed in that series are still with the organization — the temperature between the teams heated up quickly.
There were multiple scraps during the first period of Game 1, which included a pancake and a body slam after the clock hit 0:00, and there was a big scrum in the final seconds of Game 2 that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Rather than go through a blow-by-blow of what happened with 0:00.8 left in Game 2 — and rather than rehash all of the quotes that flew back and forth — let’s go straight to the news: The American Hockey League announced Tuesday that Wolves forward Curtis McKenzie has been suspended for tonight’s game “as a consequence of his actions in Game 2.”
McKenzie, a member of the Wolves’ top line, paces the team with eight goals during the postseason and shares the team lead with 14 points. He has more Calder Cup Playoffs experience than any player on the roster — 71 games spread over the last six springs — and has one Calder Cup ring (2014 Texas Stars) and one trip to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals (2018 Texas Stars) to show for his efforts.
All that having been said, the Wolves are ready to compete without him. After all, this is the same crew that played without AHL MVP Daniel Carr for the final 18 regular-season games and the Central Division Semifinals against Grand Rapids. No. 2 goal-scorer Brooks Macek missed the final 12 regular-season games and the Grand Rapids. Defenseman Dylan Coghlan, the quarterback of the power play, just returned after missing six weeks. And other players, including McKenzie, missed key games down the stretch or during the playoffs.
“When you lose a player of that caliber, it’s tough,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “But we’ve dealt with it. It’s a benefit that we’ve had. It happened to us all season long and our guys know how to deal with these situations. It happened in the playoffs multiple times. Our guys know how to deal with it. So that’s the name of the game. It’s how you deal with adversity and our guys deal with it extremely well — the best I’ve ever seen that I’ve been a part of.”
FLIP ON THE POWER
After coming up empty on 17 consecutive power-play opportunities starting with Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against San Diego, the Wolves delivered on the power play at 11:13 of the second period Sunday when Gage Quinney blasted past a Checkers defenseman to beat goaltender Dustin Tokarski with a nifty backhand flip. Moreover, Keegan Kolesar’s first-period goal came just eight seconds after a Checkers penalty expired — another good sign because the goal came as a result of the work done on the power play.
THE FINALS SO FAR…
- After center Gage Quinney scored two second-period goals to pull the Wolves into a 3-3 tie, the Checkers scored late in the second and added an empty-net goal in the final minute of Game 2.
- Forward Keegan Kolesar scored the Wolves’ first goal and assisted on Quinney’s power-play goal that made it 3-3 while rookie center Cody Glass added two assists.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped 26 of 30 shots.
- Forward Stefan Matteau scored 5:30 into overtime — his second goal of the night — to cap the Wolves’ rally and earn the Game 1 win at Bojangles’ Coliseum.
- The Wolves trailed 3-1 after one period, but defenseman Zac Leslie scored his first goal of the postseason and rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud tied it with 5.7 seconds left in the second.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk posted 35 saves and earned his fourth OT win of the playoffs.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Chicago Wolves general manager Wendell Young is the only person in franchise history to win Cups as a player (1998, 2000) and a coach (2008), but former teammate Bob Nardella has a chance to join the club. Nardella won Turner Cups in 1998 and 2000 and the Calder Cup in 2002 as a high-scoring defenseman (he ranks fourth in Wolves postseason history with 61 points). Now he’s in his second season behind the bench as one of Rocky Thompson’s assistants. In addition to working with the forwards, he handles the pre-scouts of each team.
3: The Wolves boast three players with prior Calder Cup Finals experience: forwards Tye McGinn, Curtis McKenzie and T.J. Tynan. McGinn produced 1 goal and 3 assists for the Syracuse Crunch in the 2017 Calder Cup Finals won by the Grand Rapids Griffins in six games. Tynan posted 1 assist in the 2016 Calder Cup Finals for the Lake Erie Monsters as they swept the Hershey Bears. McKenzie earned his Calder Cup championship ring during his rookie year in 2014 when the Texas Stars defeated the St. John’s IceCaps in five games. He delivered 1 goal and 4 assists in that series. Last year, McKenzie captained the Texas Stars squad that went seven games with the eventual champion Toronto Marlies. McKenzie notched a series-leading 5 goals with 1 assist.
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 against the Grand Rapids Griffins 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.
10: Today marks the 10th game hosted by the Chicago Wolves in June — a sign of the 25-year-old organization’s enduring success. The Wolves played three games in June against the Detroit Vipers during the 1998 Turner Cup Final, one against the Grand Rapids Griffins during the 2000 Turner Cup Final, one versus the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the 2002 Calder Cup Finals, two against the Philadelphia Phantoms in the 2005 Calder Cup Finals and two against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the 2008 Calder Cup Finals. The Wolves are 6-3 in June on Allstate Arena ice and clinched the 1998, 2002 and 2008 championships here.
22: When the Wolves win Game 1 of a postseason series, good things nearly always ensue. When the Wolves defeated the San Diego Gulls in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals — then went on to take the series in six games — it marked the 22nd consecutive time that Chicago has taken Game 1 and gone on to take the series as well. The streak began in 1998 when the Wolves swept Manitoba in the IHL’s Western Conference Quarterfinal. The Game 1 streak includes all four of the Wolves’ championships as they beat Detroit 4-2 in 1998, Grand Rapids 4-3 in OT in 2000, Bridgeport 5-4 in OT in 2002 and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5-4 in 2008. The Wolves’ only loss when winning Game 1 came vs. Las Vegas in the 1996 Western Conference Semifinal.
42: Goaltender Oscar Dansk needed to post just one stop in overtime in Saturday night’s Game 1 before Stefan Matteau came through with the game-winner. That was a far lighter workload than in the Wolves’ three previous overtime wins this postseason. In Game 1 of the Central Division Finals vs. Iowa, Dansk made 10 saves. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals vs. San Diego, Dansk notched 11 saves. And in Game 4’s double-overtime win of the Western Conference Finals, Dansk came through with 20 saves in 26 minutes. For those scoring at home, that’s 42 saves on 42 shots during overtime. The Wolves (4-0) and Milwaukee (1-0) are the only teams during this postseason who are undefeated in overtime.
358: If you’ve suited up for the Wolves, chances are better than 50/50 that you’ve played in the National Hockey League or are on your way. 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).
CALDER CUP FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Wolves 4, Checkers 3 (OT)||Bojangles’ Coliseum|
|Game 2||Checkers 5, Wolves 3||Bojangles’ Coliseum|
|Game 3||Wednesday, June 5||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 4||Thursday, June 6||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 5*||Saturday, June 8||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 6*||Thursday, June 13||Bojangles’ Coliseum||6 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 7*||Friday, June 14||Bojangles’ Coliseum||6 p.m.||Watch|