MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (31-8-4-2) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (21-19-3-2)
RESTED AND READY TO GO
After scattering across North America for the four-day AHL All-Star Break, the Chicago Wolves returned to Allstate Arena on Thursday for their lone day of practice before tonight’s Central Division showdown with the AHL-leading Milwaukee Admirals.
Not only do the Admirals own the league’s best points percentage (.756), they boast the league’s best goal differential (+50) and the league’s best defense (2.24 goals per game). In the last category, Milwaukee owns a wide advantage over second-ranked Tucson (2.60 GAA).
Meanwhile, the Wolves have climbed from eighth place to third in the Central over the last seven weeks largely due to their stellar defense. Goaltender Oscar Dansk has been a rock in net as he has produced an 11-0-2 record with a 1.60 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage since Dec. 4. As a group, Chicago’s defense has been ridiculously stingy by allowing just 19.0 shots per game over the last three outings and 25.18 shots per game over the last 17.
Dansk was rewarded for his long stretch of brilliance Thursday when the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights recalled him from loan. Vegas needed a goalie for tonight’s game at Carolina after top netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was suspended for one game by the NHL for bypassing the All-Star Game.
To replace Dansk on the Wolves roster, the team has signed 25-year-old Trevor Gorsuch to a player’s tryout contract (PTO). Gorsuch has split time this season between the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye and Reading Royals and the SPHL’s Fayetteville Marksmen.
A SECOND-HALF TEAM
The Wolves have a history of returning from the All-Star Break and cranking up their play to another level. In 2018-19, Rocky Thompson’s squad posted a .614 points percentage prior to the break and a .688 points percentage (20-8-1-3) afterward — jumping from third place to claim the Central Division title.
In 2017-18, Thompson’s crew posted a .578 points percentage before the break and a .694 points percentage (20-8-1-2) afterward. The Wolves trailed the Manitoba Moose by 11 points at the break, but rallied to take the Central Division title by 2 points over the Grand Rapids Griffins and 3 points over the Moose.
In 2016-17, during Craig Berube’s lone season at the Wolves helm, the team notched a .609 points percentage before the break and a .750 points percentage afterward to overtake the Grand Rapids Griffins for the Central Division crown.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
Four local legends with ties to the Wolves were part of the 12-person Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 honored Jan. 26 in Elk Grove Village.
Oak Forest native Tim Stapleton racked up 31 goals and 32 assists in 77 regular-season games for the Wolves in 2009-11. Kenny McCudden served for 16 years as Wolves skating and skills coach before joining the Columbus Blue Jackets’ coaching staff in 2015.
Don Granato succeeded John Anderson as head coach in 2008. Steve Drews, a fixture in the Wolves’ off-ice officials group as a goal judge, enters the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame for his skills as a official.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Texas scored two goals in a 24-second span of the first period and two in an 87-second span of the second period to pick up the win in the Wolves’ final game before the AHL All-Star Break.
- Forwards Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar scored power-play goals in the first period and forward Jake Leschyshyn pulled the Wolves within 4-3 with his third-period tally.
- Goaltender Garret Sparks posted 14 saves.
- Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt ripped a one-timer past screened Texas goaltender Jake Oettinger 2:30 into the third period for the game-winner at H-E-B Center.
- Forward Brandon Pirri pulled the Wolves even with a breakaway goal just 23 seconds before the end of the second period. Defenseman Jake Bischoff set him up with a pinpoint 100-foot pass.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk posted 19 saves to earn the win.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: Rookie forward Lucas Elvenes delivered the goods as the Wolves’ representative at the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic. While competing for the Central Division squad in Monday’s All-Star Challenge, Elvenes racked up two goals and two assists in the team’s four mini-games to help the Central earn second place. The 20-year-old from Angelholm, Sweden owns eight goals and 27 assists while playing in all 45 Wolves games to date. His 35 points rank fourth among AHL rookies and his 27 assists stand second.
4: The Wolves have allowed just four power-play goals during January. The team’s penalty-kill units have taken care of business in 31 of 35 situations (88.6 percent) during the first 10 games in January. That includes a streak of 21 consecutive kills that began in the first period on Jan. 10 at San Antonio and ended on Saturday night at Texas — a stretch of 369 minutes and 4 seconds without allowing a PPG.
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.
10.42: The Chicago Wolves average just 10.42 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.
38: Defenseman Nic Hague was loaned to the Wolves last week after appearing in 38 of the Vegas Golden Knights’ first 52 games. The 21-year-old Hague, who paired with Zach Whitecloud to form the Wolves’ top defensive pairing when the team made a run to last year’s Calder Cup Finals, scored his first NHL goal on Jan. 21 at Boston. He also owns 10 assists this year.
88: When the Wolves recalled forward Jermaine Loewen from loan to Fort Wayne (ECHL) and signed goaltender Trevor Gorsuch to a PTO on Friday, that pushed the team’s number of regular-season transactions to 88. 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 on Jan. 11, he became the 372nd player in Wolves history to put NHL experience on his resume. Forward Cam Maclise’s Wolves debut on Jan. 19 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, Feb. 1||vs. Manitoba||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Thursday, Feb. 6||at Manitoba||Bell MTS Place||7 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Friday, Feb. 7||at Manitoba||Bell MTS Place||7 p.m.||AHLTV|