CHICAGO WOLVES (20-18-3-2) AT TEXAS STARS (20-18-2-2)
When the Chicago Wolves and Texas Stars met on Jan. 2 for the American Hockey League’s first game of the new decade, the Wolves shared third place in the Central Division with 35 points while the Stars shared last with 30 points.
The Stars earned a 2-1 overtime win over the Wolves that night, which triggered a Texas-sized hot streak that has found them going 7-1-0-0 in January. This spree has vaulted Texas into a share of fourth place in the Central with 44 points. Chicago stands third with 45 points, but the Wolves have played one more game so the Stars actually hold a .524-.523 edge in points percentage.
Basically, these are two similarly ambitious teams trying to continue climbing the ladder — and they’re remarkably well-matched. The Wolves and Stars played a total of 241 minutes, 52 seconds during their four games at Allstate Arena — and they were either tied or within one goal of each other for 194:26. That’s 80.4 percent of the time.
In addition, the team that scored first wound up losing every game except for Texas goaltender Jake Oettinger’s 32-save shutout on Dec. 22.
Since Dec. 14, when the Wolves dropped the division-leading Milwaukee Admirals in overtime, head coach Rocky Thompson’s squad has posted a 9-3-1-2 record. That .700 points percentage ranks second-best in the Central to the Iowa Wild’s .722 (12-4-1-1).
Why have the Wolves vaulted from eighth to third place in the Central during this stretch? It’s because they can count on a defense that doesn’t like to give up goals — or shots for that matter.
Over the last 15 games, the Wolves have allowed just 32 goals. But once you throw out the empty-netter and the two goals that were assessed after dropping shootouts, the Wolves actually have allowed 29 goals in 15 games.
Meanwhile, after surrendering a season-low 18 shots in Sunday’s game against Rockford, Chicago’s defense has allowed their goalies to face just 25.93 shots per game since Dec. 14. If the Wolves had been on this pace all season, then they would rank first in the AHL in shots allowed per game. Laval leads the league for the year at 26.42 shots allowed.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
Since the Chicago Wolves were founded in 1994, there have been 646 athletes who have suited up for the franchise AND played in a game.
Rick Plester accomplished the former but not the latter, which makes his story stand out as one of the more intriguing tales in recent Wolves lore. With just one goaltender in Austin on Jan. 9, 2016, the Wolves signed the 50-year-old Plester to a tryout contract.
They needed the Austin resident — a guitarist and producer who had worked with Elton John, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, The Scorpions and more — to serve in goal during the morning skate and pregame warmups.
If backup goaltender Niklas Lundstrom’s Saturday afternoon flight from Elmira, New York, not arrived on time, Plester would have served as the Wolves’ backup that night to Pheonix Copley. Instead, Plester was given his release.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Rockford goaltender Collin Delia repelled all 34 shots he faced as the IceHogs shut out the Wolves for the first time in the teams’ last 46 matchups.
- The Wolves outshot the IceHogs 34-18 — the team’s best shot differential of the season — led by five shots apiece from forwards Patrick Brown and Brandon Pirri.
- Goaltender Garret Sparks stopped 16 shots.
- Center Gage Quinney recorded his second career AHL hat trick in the opening 29 minutes to hand the league-leading Admirals their second-largest loss of the season.
- Defenseman Jake Bischoff’s first goal of the year stood up as the game-winner while forward Curtis McKenzie and defenseman Zach Whitecloud handed out two assists apiece.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk posted 22 saves to earn the win.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Rookie forward Lucas Elvenes will serve as the Wolves representative in the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 26-27 in Ontario, California. Elvenes earned his spot as the team’s leader in points (33) and assists (26). The 20-year-old from Angelholm, Sweden, has done nearly half of his damage on the power play this season with three goals and 13 assists — the latter number tied for fifth among all AHL skaters. Elvenes shares fourth among all AHL rookies in points and owns second in assists.
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.
10.44: The Chicago Wolves average just 10.44 penalty minutes per game. That’s the fewest among Western Conference teams and fourth-fewest overall among the AHL’s 31 squads. If the Wolves maintain this pace the rest of the year, then they’ll break the franchise record for fewest PIMS in a season. The 2017-18 Wolves set the mark by averaging 11.16 penalty minutes per game.
13: Longtime Texas Stars standout Curtis McKenzie leads the Wolves with 13 goals in 43 games, which means he’s on pace to score 23 goals this season. That’s almost on his usual pace. This marks McKenzie’s fifth full season in the AHL. In his first four, he averaged 24 goals per season and reached the Calder Cup Finals three times. At this point last year he owned just seven goals, but the 28-year-old Golden, British Columbia, native went on a tear during the final third of the season and finished with 20 — then added a team-high eight postseason goals on the way to the Calder Cup Finals.
18: The Wolves’ penalty kill units are on a roll. They have killed 18 consecutive penalties dating back to the opening minutes of their Jan. 10 win at San Antonio. Chicago has not allowed a power-play goal in the last 299 minutes and 48 seconds. How much longer might the streak go? Texas ranks 20th of the AHL’s 31 teams with a 16.1 percent conversion rate on the power play. In the teams’ first four meetings this season, the Stars have converted 2 of 12 power plays (16.7 percent).
83: When the Wolves received center Nicolas Roy and defenseman Nic Hague from Vegas (NHL) on Tuesday and sent forwards Ben Jones and Jermaine Loewen to Fort Wayne (ECHL) on Wednesday, that pushed the team’s number of regular-season transactions to 83. Last year, the Wolves needed just 57 transactions to get through the season.
372: When forward Keegan Kolesar made his NHL debut with the Vegas Golden Knights one week ago today, he became the 372nd player in Wolves history to have NHL experience on his resume. Forward Cam Maclise’s Wolves debut on Sunday vs. Rockford made him the 646th player to don the Wolves uniform since the franchise was founded in 1994, which means 57.6 percent of all Wolves have appeared in the NHL. That percentage is even higher among goaltenders as 40 of the team’s 57 goaltenders over the years (70.2 percent) can say they’ve played in the NHL
|Saturday, Jan. 25||at Texas||H-E-B Center||7 p.m.||Watch|
|Friday, Jan. 31||vs. Milwaukee||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Saturday, Feb. 1||vs. Manitoba||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|