IOWA WILD (12-11-4-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (17-5-1-2)
POLLOCK OR BUST
On Thursday, the American Hockey League announced the Calder Cup Playoffs will not be conducted this year due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The decision was not too surprising — given all of the extenuating circumstances surrounding the truncated 2020-21 regular season that began four months later than usual and expects to finish one month later than normal.
With the Calder Cup no longer available to dream on, the Wolves and the other Central Division teams turn their sights toward the Sam Pollock Trophy that has been awarded to the division’s champion since 2016. Named for the former Montreal Canadiens general manager who steered them to nine Stanley Cups in 14 years, the Pollock trophy has belonged to the Wolves three of the last four years.
This time around, because each Central Division team is on pace to play a different number of games, the Pollock will be awarded to the team with the best points percentage. Considering the Wolves won their first seven games this season, they’ve been first in line for the Pollock since Day 1.
So what does Chicago need to do to close out the chase? The Wolves own a .740 points percentage with eight games to play while second-place Cleveland boasts a .636 points percentage with seven games to go.
Presuming the Monsters play all seven of those games and win them all, they would finish with 42 points in 29 games — or a .724 points percentage. That means the Wolves, should they play all eight games remaining on their slate, need to get to 48 points (.727) to clinch the crown. That requires head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s squad to pick up 11 points the rest of the way.
When defenseman Max Lajoie made his NHL debut on Oct. 4, 2018, he scored two points against the Chicago Blackhawks (1G, 1A) before the first period ended. With that in mind, it seems improbable that the fourth-year pro never had earned three points in a game prior to this season.
But on March 27 against Rockford, the 23-year-old Quebec native scored one goal and delivered two assists for his first 3-point night as a professional. On Thursday night at Grand Rapids, Lajoie produced one goal and two assists again — but he did it with even more flair.
In the first period, Lajoie used a swift backhand pass to send the puck two zones ahead to a streaking Anthony Richard for a short-handed goal. In the second period, Lajoie rushed to join a 3-on-2 rush with Tommy Novak and David Cotton. Lajoie accepted a Novak pass in the slot and, while turning his back on Cotton, sent a no-look pass between his legs to set up Cotton’s one-timer for a goal. In the final minute of the third with Grand Rapids seeking a tie, Lajoie intercepted a pass a few feet in front of goaltender Connor Ingram and steered 175 feet down the ice for an empty-net goal.
ONE AWAY FROM 100
With a franchise-record-tying six men sharing the crease over the first 24 games, it has been hard for any Chicago Wolves goaltender to enjoy steady work this season. This is another way of saying it’s hard to predict when Opening Night starter Antoine Bibeau will get his next chance to play, but he’ll be shooting for AHL win No. 100 whenever that time comes. He earned No. 99 Monday night with 23 saves on 24 shots.
we are the wolves
Of the 692 players to suit up for the Wolves over their 27 seasons, just five appeared in the playoffs only.
The ultra-competitive Wolves made their biggest postseason-only acquisitions when they obtained J.P. Dumont and Jean-Yves Leroux from the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks as the 1999 Turner Cup Playoffs began.
Twenty-two years ago today, Dumont started paying quick dividends when he scored the game-winning goal to give the Wolves a 5-4 victory over Manitoba in Game 2 of the IHL’s Western Conference Semifinals.
That kicked off a hot streak for the 21-year-old where he scored four goals in five games to help the Wolves reach Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Dumont went on to score 214 goals in 822 NHL games.
last two games
- Defenseman Max Lajoie scored a goal and handed out two assists for a career-high-tying 3 points as the Wolves never trailed in their road-trip finale at Grand Rapids.
- Forwards Anthony Richard, Phil Tomasino and David Cotton added goals for Chicago while center Tommy Novak posted a pair of assists.
- Goaltender Connor Ingram stopped 29 of 31 shots to pick up his first win with the Wolves.
- Rookie forward Phil Tomasino scored 2:05 into the game to set the tone and the Wolves added three power-play goals to wrap up their 3-in-3 with a convincing win at Grand Rapids.
- Forwards Anthony Richard and Tommy Novak scored two goals apiece (each scoring once in a 5-on-3 situation) while defensemen Joey Keane and Max Lajoie posted two assists each.
- Goaltender Antoine Bibeau posted 23 saves to earn the win.
By the numbers
1: For almost the entire season, the Wolves have ranked No. 1 in the American Hockey League in scoring. Chicago owns 104 goals in 25 games, which works out to 4.16 goals per game and stands .26 goals ahead of second-place Cleveland. The Wolves need to score 33 goals over their final eight games in order to break the franchise record for goals. The only Wolves team that has averaged more than 4 per game is the 2006-07 crew that paced the AHL with 4.14 per game.
6: When the Wolves play Iowa tonight and Saturday, it wraps up a rigorous stretch of six games in an eight-day stretch. This marks the first time since the 2004-05 season that a Wolves squad has been asked to do this and just the sixth time in franchise history. Wolves general manager Wendell Young became quite familiar with such compact schedules during the team’s early years. The first such stretch occurred Nov. 18-25 during the inaugural 1994-95 season — and the Wolves posted a 3-2-1 mark with Young and Ray LeBlanc backstopping the squad. Then the Wolves did it again from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 (posting a 3-2-1 mark) and from Nov. 24 to Dec. 1, 1995 (going 1-3-2).
8: Forward Tanner Jeannot scored Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers to run his totals to 3 goals and 1 assist in 9 games since being recalled by Nashville (NHL). Jeannot has built on the hot streak he constructed with the Wolves. Starting with goals against Iowa on Feb. 21, March 13 and March 14, the 23-year-old holds an eight-game goal streak that’s the longest in the AHL this year. If Jeannot suits up for the Wolves again, which doesn’t seem likely at this point, he can tie Brett Sterling’s franchise record for the longest goal streak (nine games). Jeannot also can tie the AHL’s longest streak over the last nine years. Norfolk’s Tyler Johnson reeled off a nine-game goal streak March 3-24, 2012. Perhaps most important: The Wolves own a 12-1-0-0 record with Jeannot in the lineup, but 5-4-1-2 when he’s not.
33: Iowa and Chicago rank 1-2 in the American Hockey League in penalty minutes per game as the Wild average 17.81 and Wolves 15.6 — for a combined total of 33.41 per game. These teams tend to increase their averages when they face each other as they’ve combined to average 57.7 minutes per game in their first six meetings this year.
45: The Wolves have played just 25 games, but 45 players already have suited up for at least one game after rookie defenseman Marc Del Gaizo’s pro debut Thursday night. This year’s squad is getting close to setting the franchise record for most players used in one season. The 2010-11 crew needed 47 players to complete an 80-game schedule.
50: Defenseman Josh Healey, the only Wolves player to appear in all 25 games this year, has accrued 50 penalty minutes. That leads the team as well as all American Hockey League defensemen and shares sixth place in the AHL overall. The majority of Healey’s PIMS have come, well, via major penalties as he paces the AHL with six fighting majors.
396: Since the Wolves organization played its first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 692 players have donned the Burgundy and Gold. When defenseman Joakim Ryan made his Wolves debut on April 1 in a 4-2 win over Rockford, he became the 396th player in Wolves history who also has appeared in the NHL. Put another way, 57.2 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
|Saturday, May 1||vs. Iowa||Wolves Training Facility||7 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Friday, May 7||at Grand Rapids||Van Andel Arena||6 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Saturday, May 8||vs. Grand Rapids||Wolves Training Facility||7 p.m.||AHLTV|