Rookie forward Jamieson Rees scored two of the four first-period goals that triggered the Chicago Wolves’ 6-5 triumph over the Rockford IceHogs on Monday afternoon at the Wolves Training Facility.
Forwards Phil Tomasino, Brandon Hickey, David Cotton and Tommy Novak also scored for the Wolves (19-8-1-2), who slashed their magic number to clinch the Central Division to 4.
Former Wolves standout Brandon Pirri scored two goals for Rockford (11-18-1-0), which trailed 5-2 after two periods but pulled within one goal with 8:06 to play.
“I liked our first period for the most part,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “The second was pretty good. We just kind of fell asleep there in the third and fed them some goals. We’ve got to clean up some things, but obviously good to get back in the win column.
The Wolves scored twice in the opening 71 seconds to set the tone for the teams’ first meeting since April 17. Defenseman Marc Del Gaizo pushed the puck up the ice quickly to Tomasino, who escaped a Rockford defender and roared in to score on the game’s first shot at 0:35.
Rees chimed in 36 seconds later by starting and finishing a play near the goal. His between-the-legs pass set up defenseman Frederic Allard’s slap shot that generated a rebound. Rockford goaltender Tom Aubrun stopped Dominik Bokk’s rebound try, but Rees was there to clean it up for a 2-0 lead.
Rees worked hard to get to the right spot again to earn his second goal of the day. Defenseman Josh Healey ripped a shot from the left point and Rees beat a Rockford defenseman to the rebound to tap it home at 10:32 of the first.
Hickey, a defenseman moved up to forward to accommodate injury issues, generated a huge roar from the Wolves bench when he earned his first goal of the year at 15:29. Hickey swatted home a rebound to give Chicago a 4-0 lead at 15:29.
Rockford slowed the Wolves’ momentum with Mitchell Fossier’s goal at 16:40 of the first. D.J. Busdeker led a 2-on-1 rush into the zone and issued a nice backhand dish that allowed Fossier to face goaltender Beck Warm unimpeded.
The IceHogs crept closer when Pirri intercepted a defenseman-to-defenseman pass at the blue line and raced for a breakaway at 14:57 to cut the margin to 4-2.
The Wolves responded just 73 seconds later as Healey issued a blast from the left point and Cotton redirected it for a 5-2 lead at 16:10.
Pirri and Novak exchanged goals to give the Wolves a 6-3 cushion with 14:42 to play, but the IceHogs kept attacking and sneaked within 6-5 on goals by Anton Lindholm and Chris Wilkie. The IceHogs pulled their goalie with more than a minute to play to gain the extra attacker, but the Wolves held them at bay.
Warm (7-3-1) posted 23 saves to earn the win while Aubrun (0-1-0) recorded 25 stops in his first AHL decision.
The Wolves continue their busy final week with Wednesday’s 6 p.m. game at Grand Rapids. Chicago closes out the season with Friday’s trip to Rockford and Saturday’s 7 p.m. finale vs. the IceHogs at the Wolves Training Facility. All Wolves games are streamed on AHLTV.com.