CHICAGO WOLVES (18-6-1-2) AT GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (12-10-3-1)
COUNTDOWN TO A CLINCH
No, American Hockey League teams haven’t played a full season. It hasn’t even been half of a normal AHL season. And, yes, COVID-19 and all of its protocols and guidelines have made the 2020-21 season perhaps the most difficult in the Wolves’ 27-year history.
Moreover, per last week’s AHL proclamation, there will be no Calder Cup for players and coaches to aspire to win. Which also means fans can’t dream about seeing their favorites hoisting the Cup at the end of a fierce postseason.
Despite all of these factors, when you make a schedule and hire officials and keep score, it’s always preferable to be on the fat end of the scoreboard at the end of the day. Using that as the benchmark, the Wolves are trying to wrap up one of the most successful seasons in franchise annals.
Thanks to their seven-game winning streak to start the season, the Wolves have been atop the Central Division since Day 1 and are well on their way to being on top on Day 100 (the final day of the regular season). The Central Division champ will be determined by points percentage because each team plays to play a different number of games.
If every team gets to play the rest of the games on their schedule, then the Wolves’ magic number stands at 7 to capture the organization’s fourth division title in the last five years. That number drops each time the Wolves pick up a point or the second-place Cleveland Monsters (15-8-1-1) miss out on a point. Chicago has six games remaining while Cleveland has four.
Third-place Grand Rapids still gets a say in the Central Division race. If the Griffins win their six remaining games — three against the Wolves and three against the Monsters — then they finish their season with 40 points and a points percentage of .625. However, the Wolves can eliminate the Griffins from title contention with a regulation win tonight.
From the wider perspective, the Wolves boast the league’s third-best points percentage (.722) and can catch the Laval Rocket (.783) to finish with the best record. Laval (47 points in 30 games) also has six games remaining.
As the regular season winds down, it’s time to start thinking about candidates for postseason awards. Wolves forward Tanner Jeannot seemed like a definite Most Valuable Player candidate midway through the season, but he has spent the last four weeks with the Nashville Predators. Jeannot rang up 10 goals, 11 assists and a +13 plus/minus rating in his 13 Wolves games — and the team went 12-1-0-0. He owns four goals and one assist in 12 NHL games since being recalled on April 11.
Rookie forward Phil Tomasino seems like the Wolves’ most likely awards candidate as the 19-year-old ranks tied for third among all rooks in goals (11), fourth in points (25) and second in plus-minus (+17).
we are the wolves
It seems weird the AHL’s leader in goals per game wouldn’t have any hat tricks, but no Wolves player has yet to deliver three goals in a game this season.
This would mark the first season in franchise history without a hat trick, but there’s still time to add to the Wolves’ history of May hat tricks.
Longtime pro Greg Pankewicz recorded the first on May 12, 1996, in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals versus Las Vegas.
He has been followed by Steve Larouche (May 11, 1998, vs. Milwaukee), Cory Larose (May 9, 2005, at Cincinnati), Jason Krog (May 16, 2008, vs. Toronto) and Curtis McKenzie (May 10, 2019, at Iowa).
last two games
- Iowa scored two goals in the first period and three in the second to pull away as the Wolves wrapped up six games in an eight-day stretch.
- Rookie forward Dominik Bokk pulled the Wolves even in the first period, then forward David Gust scored in the second for his first goal with the Wolves.
- Goaltender Connor Ingram stopped 35 of 40 shots before leaving due to injury. Beck Warm rejected 8 of 8 in relief.
- Rookie forward Phil Tomasino broke a tie with a second-period power-play goal and center Sean Malone followed 88 seconds later with a short-handed goal to steer the Wolves to the home win.
- Forward Sheldon Rempal scored the Wolves’ first goal and set up Malone’s shortie while rookie forward Zach Solow closed the scoring in the third period.
- Goaltender Beck Warm stopped 26 shots to pick up the win.
By the numbers
1: With six games left in the season, the Wolves seem well on their way to lead the American Hockey League in goals per game for the first time since the 2008 Calder Cup champions accomplished the feat. This year’s Wolves average 4.07 goals per night, which stands 0.25 goals ahead of second-place Syracuse. However, they’re going to need to score 27 goals over these final six 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: The Wolves just completed six games in eight days — the sixth time in franchise history there had been such a rigorous stretch. Now, after five days to recuperate and practice, the Wolves wrap up their season with six games in nine days. While this sounds vigorous, too, maybe don’t tell Wolves general manager Wendell Young about busy season-ending runs. To cap the 1995-96 International Hockey League season, the Wolves played FIVE games in SIX days (April 9-14). Young started and finished all five games as the team went from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Rosemont to Kansas City to Rosemont.
19: Defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald doesn’t get much recognition because he hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 28, but he has been an important part of the Wolves’ success as proven by his team-high +19 plus-minus rating in 25 games. That ranks fourth in the AHL in plus-minus. He’s also a crucial part of Chicago’s top penalty-killing unit.
45: The Wolves have played just 27 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 appears it will run out of time to set the franchise record for most players used in one season. The 2010-11 crew needed 47 players to complete an 80-game schedule.
52: The Wolves’ 14 rookie skaters have combined for 52 goals (or 47 percent of the team’s goals). Nineteen-year-old forward Phil Tomasino leads the rookies (and the Wolves with 11 goals. The other first-year contributors are David Cotton (9), Dominik Bokk (8), Seth Jarvis (7), Ryan Suzuki (5), Jamieson Rees (5), Cole Smith (5) and Zach Solow (2).
64: Defenseman Josh Healey, the only Wolves player to appear in all 27 games this year, ranks second among AHL defensemen and sixth in the league overall with 64 penalty minutes. Healey had been leading the way among blue-liners, but Grand Rapids defenseman Dylan McIlrath earned 19 penalty minutes Wednesday night against Cleveland to surge into first with 68 PIMs.
69.5: The 1999-2000 Wolves’ path to the 2000 Turner Cup began with a .695 points percentage during the regular season (53-21-8; 114 points in 82 games). That points percentage has stood as the franchise record for 21 years, but this year’s group is poised to break that mark. If Ryan Warsofsky’s team picks up 7 points in their last six games, then they’ll finish with a .697 points percentage.
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 8||vs. Grand Rapids||Wolves Training Facility||6 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Monday, May 10||vs. Rockford||Wolves Training Facility||2 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Wednesday, May 12||at Grand Rapids||Van Andel Arena||6 p.m.||AHLTV|