CHICAGO WOLVES (10-13-2-0) AT MANITOBA MOOSE (12-12-0-0)
THE GREAT WHITE NORTH
For several of the 13 Canadians on the Chicago Wolves’ roster, the team’s trips to Manitoba serve as their best opportunity to play in front of family and friends. In other words, it adds significance to the six games the Wolves will play in Winnipeg this season.
This year’s squad features a pair of Winnipeg natives — right wing Keegan Kolesar, who refers to his hometown as “God’s Country,” and defenseman Brett Lernout — along with Brandon native Zach Whitecloud and Arborg native Jermaine Loewen. The latter figures to have roughly 50 family members and friends in the crowd tonight and Saturday for his first two professional games in Canada.
But this weekend’s games aren’t just about locals showing their stuff in front of the folks who know them best. The Wolves are trying to make a move after struggling for much of November. While the squad has gone 2-1-1-0 over the last four games — averaging 3.5 goals per night in the process — this recent stretch includes a 3-2 overtime loss to the Moose last Saturday at Allstate Arena.
With a regulation win tonight, the Wolves (22 points) can jump into a fifth-place tie with the Moose (24 points) in the Central Division standings.
DECEMBER TO REMEMBER
The Wolves boast a recent history of frustrating Novembers and fantastic Decembers. Take a look:
2018-19: November 4-5-2-0 (.455); December 10-3-1-0 (.750)
2017-18: November 2-6-2-1 (.318); December 9-2-2-1 (.750)
2016-17: November 5-5-1-1 (.500); December 9-2-2-0 (.769)
Each of those years, the Wolves climbed from the middle or the bottom of the division to become Central Division champions. Could this formula could be in effect again this season? Well, the squad posted a 3-10-1-0 record during November, but opened December with a 5-2 win Wednesday night at Grand Rapids as the Wolves built a four-goal lead for the second time all year. The first time occurred during the Wolves’ 4-0 win over the Moose at home on Oct. 26.
The Wolves’ recent improvement overall has coincided with good results on the power play and the penalty kill. Over the last four games, the Wolves have converted 5 of 17 power plays (29.4 percent), which ties for the team’s best four-game stretch this season. The penalty kill unit would have been perfect over the last four games, but Grand Rapids’ Evgeny Svechnikov scored a harmless power-play goal in the final minute of the Wolves’ 5-2 road win Wednesday.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
When the Chicago Wolves were founded in 1994, center Todd Harkins was one of several players with NHL experience signed by the Wolves.
The Calgary Flames’ second-round pick in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft played 20 games with the Flames and 28 with the Hartford Whalers before joining the Wolves. He became a part of Wolves history by scoring the franchise’s first goal at home on Oct. 14, 1994.
Harkins rolled up 18 goals and 25 assists in 52 games for the Wolves before being moved to the Houston Aeros. Now the Wolves get to face Jansen Harkins, Todd’s son, who leads the AHL with 28 points.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves bolted to a 4-0 lead in the first 40 minutes and finished with five goals against the Griffins for the third consecutive matchup.
- Defensemen Jake Bischoff and Brayden Pachal and forwards Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov and Tye McGinn scored goals — Pachal’s serving as his first professional goal.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped 28 shots in the win.
- The Wolves rallied from a two-goal deficit to force overtime, but Moose defenseman Jonathan Kovacevic scored 18 seconds into extra time to give the visitors the victory.
- Forward Curtis McKenzie and defenseman Jimmy Schuldt produced power-play goals while forward Brandon Pirri assisted on both scores.
- Goaltender Garret Sparks notched 17 saves.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: After handing out two assists in Wednesday’s 5-2 win at Grand Rapids, Wolves rookie Lucas Elvenes leads all AHL rookies in points (27) and assists (21) as he holds a healthy lead over Providence’s Jack Studnicka and Springfield’s Owen Tippett in points (20) and Utica’s Brogan Rafferty in assists (14). Elvenes shares second among all AHL scorers — 1 point behind Manitoba’s Jansen Harkins — and owns second in assists behind Harkins’ 22 helpers.
3: Right wing Valentin Zykov has played three games for the Wolves since being loaned to the squad on Thanksgiving Day by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. Zykov has delivered one point in each of the games as he has been paired with left wing Brandon Pirri and center Nicolas Roy. Zykov also has claimed a spot on the Wolves’ top power-play unit. Zykov’s goal Wednesday came on the power play, which is where he excelled for Charlotte in 2017-18 (scoring 17 of his 33 goals).
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.
9: On Thursday, when the Wolves traveled to Manitoba, the team didn’t report any roster transactions. That ended a nine-day streak when the Wolves made at least one transaction every day. In fact, the Wolves posted a total of 16 transactions over that stretch. Goaltender Garret Sparks made two round-trips between Vegas and Chicago during that stretch while center Nicolas Roy made one.
300: Defenseman Brett Lernout appeared in his 300th AHL game Saturday against Manitoba. The affable 24-year-old Winnipeg native, who made his AHL debut before his 20th birthday, has compiled 10 goals and 36 assists while playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs, St. John’s IceCaps, Laval Rocket and the Wolves. During his four-plus seasons in the Montreal Canadiens organization, Lernout played in 21 NHL games and posted one assist.
301: Forward Brandon Pirri raced past the 300-point mark for his AHL career Wednesday night. He earned No. 300 with a goal at 10:31 of the second period against Grand Rapids, then picked up No. 301 at 18:22 of the same period when he helped set up Valentin Zykov’s power-play goal. Pirri also raced past the 100-point mark for his time with the Wolves. In 93 regular-season appearances, he owns 50 goals and 51 assists.
1988: The Wolves boast three players whose fathers were selected in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. Jake Leschyshyn’s father, Curtis, went No. 3 overall to the Quebec Nordiques. Lucas Elvenes’ father, Stefan, went in the fourth round (No. 71 overall) to the Chicago Blackhawks. Jake Bischoff’s father, Grant, went at the start of the 11th round (No. 211 overall) to the Minnesota North Stars. Other intriguing Wolves-related picks in that draft: Longtime general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was picked No. 16 overall by the New York Islanders. Ted Crowley, who scored the first goal in Wolves history on Oct. 1, 1994, went in the fourth round — one pick after Tony Amonte and two before Elvenes. Mike Rosati, who serves as the Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltending development coach and works with the Wolves goalies, was picked in the seventh round by the New York Rangers.
|Saturday, Dec. 7||at Manitoba||Bell MTS Place||6 p.m.||Watch|
|Friday, Dec. 13||at Milwaukee||Panther Arena||7 p.m.||Watch|
|Saturday, Dec. 14||vs. Milwaukee||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|