CHICAGO WOLVES (1-0-0-0) AT ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (0-0-0-0)
OPENING COURSE: YOUTH IS SERVED
In the days leading up to the Chicago Wolves’ opener Friday night against the Grand Rapids Griffins, head coach Ryan Warsofsky promised that his youngest players would be thrown right into the fire. Sure enough, when the Wolves took the ice, their 12-man forward group featured four players who would normally be playing in juniors.
But with the junior leagues on hold until further notice due to COVID-19, four 19-year-olds — Seth Jarvis, Jamieson Rees, Ryan Suzuki and Phil Tomasino — found themselves in the thick of the action during the Wolves’ 3-1 victory over the Griffins that served as their professional debuts. Each youngster was placed on a different line with more experienced players. But when the power plays came…
Jarvis, who turned 19 Monday, delivered the game-winning goal when he deposited a power-play goal past Griffins goaltender Pat Nagle at the 2:09 mark of the second period. Tomasino and rookie Dominik Bokk (who turned 21 Wednesday) set up Jarvis with a perfect tic-tac-toe while Suzuki was also part of that power-play unit. The only non-rookie, defenseman Jeremy Davies, showed some veteran savvy as he went out of his way to pick up the puck as a souvenir for Jarvis.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time now,” said Jarvis, who was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes with the 13th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. “It was great getting my feet wet and, obviously, scoring is going to make it pretty memorable, I think. On the power play, we have a bunch of young guys and it’s nice to do it with them and make plays with them.”
“We want to put these guys in good spots and where they’re comfortable,” Warsofsky said. “I thought our power play was really good today — I thought both units got really good looks. It’s a learning curve. Every night’s going to be a challenge and I thought our guys, especially our young kids, looked pretty good tonight.”
Tomasino, the Nashville Predators’ 2019 first-round pick, posted two assists in his pro debut as he also set up Tom Novak’s goal late in the first period with a visionary cross-ice pass that sprung defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald for a rush down the left wing. Fitzgerald’s blast was stopped, but Novak crashed the crease and contorted his body perfectly to knock home the rebound.
ENERGY TO BURN
While the Chicago Wolves waited more than 18 minutes to score their first goal of the season Friday night, they wasted no time asserting themselves physically. It seemed like every 10 seconds, Triphahn Center echoed with the sounds of a Wolves player depositing a Griffins player into the boards.
“I loved the energy in the room before the game,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “I thought our leadership’s really stepping up right now, which is something that we need to bring the group together. Even between periods, it was real positive. That was something that we really need and want. I call it ‘juice.’ We want juice in the room and energy and guys excited to play.
“I just liked our physicality. I thought we were ready from puck drop to the end of the game. Our team speed was good. We were playing faster. Obviously there was a lot of stuff we need to work on, but physically I thought we looked like we were in midseason form.”
WE ARE THE WOLVES
Defenseman Dylan Coghlan was a potent scorer from the blue line and a fan favorite the last two seasons for the Wolves. His hard work and improvement paid off Friday when the 22-year-old played 13:15 in his NHL debut with the Vegas Golden Knights. Coghlan became the 378th player in Wolves history to play in the NHL.
Actually, that number jumped to 385 Friday night because seven of the 19 players who made their Wolves debuts Friday nights — goaltender Antoine Bibeau, defensemen Alex Carrier and Tyler Lewington and forwards Rem Pitlick, Sheldon Rempal, Anthony Richard and Cole Smith — also own NHL experience.
That means 385 of the 666 players who have suited up in the Burgundy and Gold (57.8 percent) have reached the pinnacle of the sport.
THE SEASON OPENER
FRIDAY, FEB. 5: (at) CHICAGO 3, GRAND RAPIDS 1
- In his first professional game, center Seth Jarvis scored the game-winner early in the second period with a power-play marker set up by two other rookies: Dominik Bokk and Phil Tomasino.
- Center Tom Novak scored the Wolves’ first goal of the season while defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald set up Novak’s tally and added an insurance goal with seven minutes left in the third.
- Goaltender Antoine Bibeau earned the win as he rejected 22 of 23 shots.
BY THE NUMBERS
0: For the first time since the Chicago Wolves’ first season in 1994-95, every player on the roster is new to the organization. The bulk of last year’s roster was signed to deals with the Vegas Golden Knights organization, so those players made the move to Nevada during the offseason to play for the Golden Knights or the new Henderson Silver Knights (AHL). The Wolves had one familiar name in camp — veteran goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who posted a team-best 2.38 goals-against average for the 2017-18 Central Division-winning Wolves — but Kaskisuo was recalled from loan by Nashville (NHL) on Jan. 25 to join the team’s taxi squad.
2: Defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald, who signed an AHL deal with the Wolves during the offseason, produced two points (G, A) during Friday’s win over Grand Rapids. Considering he managed just five points (2G, 3A) in 25 games for the Charlotte Checkers last year, perhaps Fitzgerald’s outburst seems surprising. But a closer look suggests Fitzgerald was just hitting his stride when the pandemic brought the 2019-20 season to a halt. The Boston native posted two 2-point games in his last three outings — 1 goal and 1 assist Feb. 29 at Lehigh Valley and 2 assists March 1 at Hershey. Fitzgerald clearly has earned the coaching staff’s respect as he joined Jeremy Davies on the Wolves’ top defensive pairing — and Fitzgerald joined forward Tanner Jeannot and defenseman Tyler Lewington in wearing the “A” on their jerseys Friday night.
3: The Wolves always have prided themselves on featuring local players on their roster — and this season should be no exception. There are three players on the Opening Night roster who grew up in the Chicago area: forward Lukas Craggs (Elmhurst), forward David Gust (Orland Park) and defenseman Joey Keane (Homer Glen). Keane, who was born in Chicago and spent several youth hockey season with the well-respected Chicago Mission, was the only one to play in Friday’s opener. The 21-year-old Keane was drafted by the New York Rangers in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He spent most of last year with Hartford (AHL), but was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in February. He earned AHL All-Rookie honors last year with 9 goals and 28 assists in 57 games split between Hartford and Charlotte.
4: Goaltender Antoine Bibeau only played in four games last year — two for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and two for the AHL’s Colorado Eagles — as he battled a hip injury. But Bibeau had a clean bill of health when he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes during the offseason, which has helped him claim the No. 1 spot in the Wolves net. After spending three days with the Hurricanes’ taxi squad, Bibeau was reassigned to the Wolves on Thursday and earned the season-opening win Friday with 22 stops on 23 shots. “Really good,” said head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “I thought he got better as the game went on. His rebound control was really good in the third period when we needed it to be. He’s a calming influence back there.”
5: While Joe and Ted Crowley, who suited up for the Wolves in the organization’s first game on Oct. 1, 1994, there have been five sets of brothers who have played for the Wolves over the last 27 years. The fifth set became official on Friday night when 19-year-old Ryan Suzuki made his professional debut. Ryan’s older brother, Nick, made his lone appearance for Chicago in Game 3 of the 2018 Central Division Semifinals against Rockford. He was still nearly four months shy of his 19th birthday. Nick was part of the organization because he was selected by Vegas in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft, but now he’s a staple in the Montreal Canadiens’ lineup. The other Wolves brother acts, you ask? Shawn and Jamie Rivers, Kip and Kevin Miller and Chicago natives Gregg and Nick Naumenko.
|Tuesday, Feb. 9||vs. Rockford||Triphahn Center||2 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Thursday, Feb. 11||vs. Grand Rapids||Triphahn Center||2 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Tuesday, Feb. 16||at Rockford||MetroCentre||6 p.m.||AHLTV|
All times Central.