CHICAGO WOLVES (14-16-2-0) AT IOWA WILD (17-11-2-2)
LOTS TO PLAY AFTER THE HOLIDAY
The Chicago Wolves got to enjoy four days away for the holidays before returning to the rink for practice Friday morning. While that was a nice respite, now the Wolves get to play six games in nine days. During this stretch, the Wolves face five of their Central Division foes: Iowa, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Texas, Iowa (again) and Rockford.
Considering just 10 points separate the Central Division’s second-place team (Iowa) from the eighth-place team (Grand Rapids), the next nine days are a golden opportunity for every team in the division to make a statement and set the tone for the second half of the season.
The Wolves have made a decent move in December despite playing the fewest games of any Central Division team. Here’s how the Central teams have fared this month (ranked by winning percentage):
OSCAR EN FUEGO
The last time goaltender Oscar Dansk played before the holiday break, he set a personal American Hockey League-best by stacking up 41 saves in a 2-1 victory over the Texas Stars last Saturday at Allstate Arena. That extended his winning streak to a season-high five games.
During his streak, which began Dec. 4 at Grand Rapids, he has posted a 1.60 goals-against average (8 goals in 300 minutes, 50 seconds) and a .945 save percentage (stopping 138 of 146 shots). The 25-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden needs two more wins to tie his professional-high winning streak of seven games, which he set in the 2017-18 season and equalled last season.
EARLY VALENTIN’S DAY
On Christmas Eve, the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights loaned forward Valentin Zykov to the Wolves for the second time this season. The 24-year-old St. Petersburg, Russia, native posted one goal and three assists in five games for the Wolves from Nov. 29 to Dec. 7. The Golden Knights recalled him on Dec. 9 and he contributed one goal and one assist in eight games as Vegas posted a 5-2-1 record.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
As the 2010s come to a close, the Chicago Wolves are hosting a series of fan votes to determine the franchise’s All-Decade Team. Considering the Wolves have won six division titles in the last 10 years — capped by a run to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals — there are a lot of great players from which to choose.
We’ve saved the most difficult vote for last. From now through Dec. 30, it’s time to vote for the Wolves’ All-Decade Left Wing. You have to choose between two AHL MVPs (Kenny Agostino and Daniel Carr), a potential AHL Hall of Famer (Brett Sterling) and a points-scoring machine (Brandon Pirri).
LAST TWO GAMES
- Starting for the second night in a row, Texas goaltender Jake Oettinger stopped all 32 shots he saw to snap the Wolves’ winning streak at three games.
- The Wolves outshot the Stars 32-19 as Brandon Pirri and Gage Quinney launched four shots apiece while the penalty kill unit erased 5 of 6 Texas power plays.
- Goaltender Garret Sparks posted 16 saves.
- Center Gage Quinney jammed home his own rebound with 1:14 left in regulation to lead the Wolves to their third win in a row and fourth in the last five games.
- Forward Brandon Pirri scored in the second period to erase Texas’ 1-0 lead and he set up Quinney’s game-winner with a pass to the crease.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped a Wolves season-high 41 shots to earn his fifth straight win.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Utica defenseman Brogan Rafferty, who’s listed as being born in suburban Naperville as well as Dundee, has racked up seven points in the last four games to pull in a tie with Wolves forward Lucas Elvenes for the most points by an AHL rookie this season. Elvenes owns seven goals and 22 assists while Rafferty has four goals and 25 assists. They are tied for ninth place on the AHL’s overall scoring list, but they are NOT tied in age. Rafferty was already four years and 82 days old when Elvenes was born in Angelholm, Sweden.
3: When center Nicolas Roy produced three goals against San Antonio on Dec. 17, he became the first Wolves player since Curtis McKenzie in last year’s Calder Cup Playoffs (May 10 vs. Iowa in Game 5 of the Central Division Finals) to post a hat trick. The Wolves’ first hat trick of this season came a little later than last season. By this time last year, Chicago already had four hatties: Brooks Macek on Oct. 13 vs. Grand Rapids, Gage Quinney on Oct. 24 vs. Cleveland, Daniel Carr with 4 goals on Nov. 7 at Milwaukee and Brandon Pirri on Dec. 8 at Rockford.
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.
21: It’s difficult to imagine any professional sports team having more success at an opponent’s venue than when the Chicago Wolves play at Wells Fargo Arena. Since April 2013, when the Houston Aeros moved to Des Moines to become the Iowa Wild, the Wolves have produced a 21-5-3-1 record on Iowa’s home ice during the regular season. That breaks out to a .767 winning percentage. To offer a bit of perspective, the Wolves have fashioned a 98-87-18-12 road record (.526) at every non-Iowa rink since the start of the 2013-14 season.
68: The Wolves have been part of 68 player transactions since the regular season opened on Oct. 5. While a few of those have been paper transactions engineered by the Vegas Golden Knights, the 68 transactions helps to explain some of the inconsistency the Wolves have experienced this season. To help put that number into perspective, the Wolves had been a part of just 18 regular-season transactions as of Dec. 28, 2018. The Wolves finished the 2018-19 regular season with just 57 player transactions as they won the Central Division and wound up in the Calder Cup Finals.
100: When the Wolves defeated the Texas Stars by a 2-1 count on Dec. 21, head coach Rocky Thompson earned his 100th regular-season victory behind the Wolves bench. Thompson boasts a 100-61-15-8 record (.606) and a pair of Central Division titles since taking the reins prior to the 2017-18 season — and also led Chicago to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals. Only AHL Hall of Famer John Anderson (624 wins in 14 seasons) has delivered more wins for the Wolves.
|Sunday, Dec. 29||vs. Milwaukee||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Tickets|
|Tuesday, Dec. 31||at Grand Rapids||Van Andel Arena||5 p.m.||Watch|
|Thursday, Jan. 2||vs. Texas||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|