CHICAGO WOLVES (1-2-0-0) AT ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (0-3-0-0)
BECAUSE IT’S THE CUP
The Rockford IceHogs aren’t the Chicago Wolves’ oldest rival. That title belongs to the Milwaukee Admirals, whom the Wolves have been battling since Oct. 15, 1994. The IceHogs might not be the Wolves’ fiercest rival at the moment — an honor that might belong to the Grand Rapids Griffins given the most recent clashes with our Central Division neighbor to the east.
However, the IceHogs are always going to be the Wolves’ closest rival — and we’re not just talking proximity. Since the Wolves and IceHogs met for the first time on Oct. 19, 2007 (a 5-4 overtime win for the Wolves over a Rockford goaltender named Corey Crawford), the Wolves have won 68 regular-season games and the IceHogs have won 68 regular-season games.
Don’t get it twisted: The Wolves have outscored the IceHogs 424-381 over the last 12 seasons, which we’ll take to mean the Wolves have been the better team over time. But when these teams hit the ice and the Illinois Lottery Cup is on the line, everyone understands it’s going to be a battle.
Tonight’s game marks the first of 12 between these teams this season. Whichever team wins more games gets to claim the Illinois Lottery Cup. This marks the ninth season for the Cup, which the Wolves have owned for the last three years. Prior to Saturday’s rematch at Allstate Arena, Illinois Lottery officials will present the Cup to Wolves general manager Wendell Young.
SPARKS COMES HOME
After spending his first six professional seasons in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, goaltender Garret Sparks was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in July. When Sparks was loaned to the Wolves last month, that meant he’d get to play for his hometown team for the first time. Born in suburban Elk Grove Village, the 26-year-old Sparks grew up in Elmhurst and gets to live there while playing with the Wolves.
Sparks made his Wolves debut last Friday at San Antonio as he handled both games of the back-to-back against the Rampage. He delivered two strong efforts as he stopped 56 of 59 shots during regulation and overtime along with all three shootout attempts in Saturday’s 2-1 victory.
He enters this weekend’s games ranked seventh in the AHL in goals-against average (1.46) and eighth in save percentage (.949). The last time Sparks played in the AHL — the 2017-18 season — he backstopped the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup championship and earned the Aldege “Baz” Bastian Memorial Award that goes to the AHL’s outstanding goaltender.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
Heading into Friday’s NHL action, Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian shares the league lead in plus/minus rating with a +8. He also owns three goals and three assists in seven games.
The 28-year-old power forward from Windsor, Ontario, joined the Wolves at the outset of the 2012-13 season while the NHL was in the midst of a lockout. Kassian racked up eight goals, 13 assists and 61 penalty minutes in 29 appearances with the Wolves.
Kassian, selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the 13th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, is one of 50 first-rounders to suit up for the Wolves. He’s also one of the 366 current and former Wolves to play in the NHL.
OUR VISIT TO THE ALAMO
- Center Gage Quinney scored in the first round of the shootout and goaltender Garret Sparks made it stand up at AT&T Center as the Wolves earned their first win of the year.
- Forward Lucas Elvenes snapped a scoreless tie 6:45 into the third period with his second goal of the season.
- Sparks stopped 32 of 33 shots in regulation and overtime and all three shootout attempts.
- Former Wolves goaltender Ville Husso stopped all 26 shots he faced to lead the Rampage to the victory at AT&T Center.
- San Antonio scored a pair of power-play goals (by Nathan Walker and Derrick Pouliot) while Walker added an empty-net goal with 1:31 left. The Wolves went 0 for 6 on the power play.
- Goaltender Garret Sparks stopped 24 of 26 shots.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: There are 32 AHL players who already have scored at least five points this season. Only one of those 32 happens to be a rookie: Wolves right wing Lucas Elvenes. The 20-year-old from Angelholm, Sweden, recorded his fifth point of the season when he scored in the third period of the Wolves’ 2-1 shootout win Saturday at San Antonio. Elvenes, who had never played a pro game in North America prior to this season, owns two goals and three assists in three games. There are three rookies who’ve posted four points so far: Ontario defenseman Mikey Anderson (2G, 2A, in 4 games), Milwaukee center Josh Wilkins (3G, 1A, in 3 games) and Laval defenseman Otto Leskinen (4A in 5 games).
2: The Wolves have managed two power-play goals in 16 opportunities this season, a 12.5 percent conversion rate that shares 18th place among the AHL’s 31 teams. Chicago’s power-play unit delivered two goals in the season opener against Grand Rapids on Oct. 5 before running into a hot penalty-kill crew at San Antonio. The Rampage killed all 11 of the Wolves’ power-play chances last weekend, which enabled San Antonio to remain perfect (18 of 18) through four games this season.
7: When the Wolves captured the Central Division title last April, they became the seventh organization in the American Hockey League’s 83-year history to win back-to-back-to-back division crowns. They joined the company of Toronto (2012-14), Rochester (1999-2001), Philadelphia (1997-99), Hershey (1967-69), Quebec (1964-66) and Springfield (1960-62). If the Wolves win the Central Division this year, they’ll become the first AHL franchise to win four straight titles.
16: Just three games into this season, 25 players have suited up for the Wolves. Sixteen of those players never competed for the Wolves prior to this season — and seven never played at the AHL level prior to this season: forwards Paul Cotter, Lucas Elvenes, Ben Jones, Jermaine Loewen and Jonas Røndbjerg and defensemen Brayden Pachal and Jimmy Schuldt. These seven rookies have combined to play just 16 professional games in North America (Elvenes and Røndbjerg have limited pro experience in Sweden). Goaltender Dylan Ferguson, who turned 21 last month, has yet to make his AHL debut, but played nine minutes for the Vegas Golden Knights during the 2017-18 season.
99: When veteran forward Tye McGinn scored a goal in the Wolves’ opener against Grand Rapids on Oct. 5, it marked his 99th goal at the AHL level. Since making his professional debut on Oct. 8, 2011, for the Adirondack Phantoms, McGinn has delivered 99 goals and 85 assists in 376 regular-season games. He also owns 11 goals in 50 Calder Cup Playoff games, which includes six goals during the Wolves’ run to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals. The 29-year-old Fergus, Ontario, native has played 89 NHL games and contributed nine goals with eight assists.
1,000: The Wolves are slated to play their 1,000th regular-season home game on Nov. 19, 2019, against the San Antonio Rampage. The franchise boasts a 585-301-9-35-62 record at Allstate Arena, which breaks down as a .642 winning percentage. The organization owns a .552 winning percentage on the road as the Wolves have earned an average of 7.24 more points per year in Rosemont than on the road.