CHICAGO WOLVES (26-25-4-2) AT MANITOBA MOOSE (25-32-1-0)
SCRAPPING THROUGH back-to-backs
It’s virtually impossible to figure out a metric that objectively measures a hockey team’s amount of heart. However, the way the Chicago Wolves have performed in the second half of their back-to-back matchups this season suggests that the players don’t know how to quit.
Here’s what we mean: The Wolves’ games Saturday afternoon and this afternoon at Manitoba mark the 12th time this season head coach Rocky Thompson’s squad has played the same opponent on consecutive dates. In the first half of these back-to-backs — including Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss — the Wolves have posted a 4-7-1-0 record. That’s a .375 points percentage. But in the second half of these back-to-backs, the Wolves have forged a 7-3-1-0 record. That’s a .682 points percentage. Clearly this team doesn’t get discouraged by a defeat.
This phenomenon occurred in each of the Wolves’ first two trips to Winnipeg this season. On Dec. 6, Manitoba earned a 3-1 win but the Wolves rallied the next day for a 4-2 triumph. On Feb. 6, the Moose earned a 3-2 win but the Wolves rallied the next day for a 2-0 triumph.
This time around, the Wolves hope to have a full lineup for the second half of the back-to-back. Chicago played one skater short Saturday as veteran forward Brandon Pirri sat out as he prepared to be recalled by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. Without any extra skaters on the trip, the Wolves flew center Matt Boudens to Winnipeg and signed him to a PTO today. It’s the fourth time the Wolves have signed Boudens to a tryout contract this season. He has appeared in nine games for Chicago and posted 10 goals and 8 assists in 40 games for the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets.
SPARKS STELLAR ON SUNDAYS
If Garret Sparks takes the net for the Wolves today, then it will mark the third consecutive Sunday head coach Rocky Thompson has called on the 26-year-old Elmhurst native. Sparks has delivered the last two Sundays as he backstopped the Wolves to a 3-2 overtime win over Cleveland on Feb. 16 and a 5-1 victory over Rockford on Feb. 23.
Sparks appears to be regaining the form that had him at the top of the AHL’s goals-against charts during the first month of the season. He set the franchise record for the longest shutout streak when he blanked foes for 191 minutes and 14 seconds from Oct. 23 to Nov. 10. Sparks rejected 115 consecutive shots during that stretch, which featured back-to-back shutouts on the road against Tucson (32 saves on Oct. 30) and Iowa (35 saves on Nov. 7).
He has faced Manitoba twice this season and posted an 0-1-1 record with a 2.54 goals-against average and .881 save percentage.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
Gene Ubriaco, the Wolves’ original head coach, has stayed with the organization since it began in 1994. Ubriaco, 82, accompanied the team on this trip in his role as the team’s senior adviser.
With the hockey world still abuzz about 42-year-old emergency goalie David Ayres’ yeoman work for the Carolina Hurricanes, maybe now’s a good time to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of Ubriaco’s emergency appearance for the Eastern Hockey League’s Baltimore Clippers during the 1979-80 season.
Ubriaco was head coach, but had to step in for the final four minutes and stopped all three shots he saw.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Moose defenseman Leon Gawanke scored 50 seconds into overtime to drop the Wolves’ record on Leap Day to 0-2-1-1-0.
- Forward Tye McGinn gave the Wolves a 1-0 lead in the first, then rookie forward Paul Cotter scored with 2:24 left in regulation to earn a point for the Wolves.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk rejected 34 of 36 shots in regulation.
- Veteran forward Luke Johnson scored three goals — all on the power play — during the first two periods to lead the Wild to the win at Wells Fargo Arena.
- Forwards Gage Quinney and Tye McGinn scored during the second period to cut Iowa’s lead to 3-2 as Brandon Pirri and Nic Hague earned the primary assists.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk posted 31 saves.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: Forward Lucas Elvenes ranks second among all AHL rookies with 32 assists and shares eighth among all players in assists. Elvenes earned his 32rd assist on Feb. 16 when he picked up the secondary helper on Dylan Coghlan’s game-winning overtime goal. Elvenes owns 11 goals and 32 assists to lead the Wolves in scoring and share 21st place overall in the AHL. The 20-year-old Sweden native has slid down the list a bit after missing his first two games of the season on Feb. 23 and 25 after suffering an injury Feb. 21 at Milwaukee.
4: There are four teams essentially in a dead heat for the third through sixth spots in the Central Division race. The Grand Rapids Griffins and Rockford IceHogs share third place with 59 points apiece, but they’ve both played 59 games and sit at the .500 mark. The San Antonio Rampage and Chicago Wolves are tied for fifth with 58 points apiece, but the Rampage have only played 56 games and the Wolves have played 57 — so their points percentages are over .500.
5: In the final seven days of February, five mainstays in the Wolves lineup were recalled to the NHL by the Vegas Golden Knights. Center Patrick Brown left Feb. 23 (and scored a goal for Vegas in the first period that night). Center Nicolas Roy and defenseman Zach Whitecloud left Feb. 25 — and Roy scored a goal Feb. 28 while Whitecloud notched an assist for his first NHL point. Center Gage Quinney departed Feb. 27 and forward Brandon Pirri headed to Vegas on Saturday.
7: The Wolves enter today’s game ranked seventh in the league with just 2.84 goals allowed per game. If the Wolves can maintain this spot or improve it, this would mark the fourth season in a row that they finished among the eight stingiest defenses in the AHL. Last year’s squad ranked third (2.62), the 2017-18 squad stood sixth (2.74) and Craig Berube’s 2016-17 crew wound up eighth (2.63).
25%: Today’s game marks the start of the final quarter of the Wolves’ regular season. If they rally in March the way they’ve done in years past, then good things are ahead. Last season, the Wolves posted a 9-3-0-2 record (.714) in March. In 2017-18, Rocky Thompson’s first Wolves squad went 9-3-1-1 (.714).
27.19: The Wolves rank last out of the 31 AHL teams with 27.19 shots attempted per game, which is on pace to break the single-season franchise record for fewest shots per game. Last year’s Calder Cup finalists set the mark with 27.71 shots per game. Curiously, the Wolves enjoy a better points percentage when they don’t reach their shots per game average. The squad is 16-14-2-0 (.531) when attempting 27 shots or fewer, but 10-11-2-2 (.480) when trying 28 shots or more.
373: When center Gage Quinney made his NHL debut with Vegas on Saturday night, he became the 373rd player in Wolves history to put NHL experience on his resume. When forwards Dan DeSalvo and Shawn St-Amant made their Wolves debuts Sunday vs. Rockford, they became the 647th and 648th players to don the Wolves uniform since the franchise was founded in 1994. That 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 goalies (70.2 percent) can say they’ve played in the NHL.
|Thursday, March 5||vs. Tucson||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Saturday, March 7||vs. Tucson||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Sunday, March 8||vs. Rockford||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Tickets|