ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (12-18-1-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (20-9-1-2)
THE GRAND FINALE
The American Hockey League’s 85th season started four months later than usual. It ends one month later than normal. In addition to wreaking havoc on the league’s traditional timetable, COVID-19’s effects messed with teams’ schedules all season long and canceled the Calder Cup postseason.
Through it all, every AHL team has needed to put safety first and be resourceful, dedicated and disciplined just to get the games they’ve been able to play. For the Chicago Wolves, it has required a swift merging of the Carolina Hurricanes’ and Nashville Predators’ top prospects along with the Wolves’ and Milwaukee Admirals’ coaching staffs in order to make the most of their 33-game schedule.
“I thought our players got better — and that’s what both organizations wanted,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “I’m not just saying that because I’m the head coach. I thought all our coaches worked well together on what we wanted to do and what the plan was.
“There was times where it was challenging — whether it was due to COVID issues that we had, lineup changes where guys went up or injuries. But I thought ultimately it was a positive and success story. Obviously winning helps, but I know both organizations are happy with how it went.”
When the 2021-22 AHL season begins, the Wolves will only be partners with Carolina while the Milwaukee Admirals will resume their longtime relationship with Nashville. Of course, it’s a bit humorous that the Hurricanes and Predators will meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their seven-game series opens Monday in Raleigh, N.C., and Wolves players will be joining both sides as black aces.
A FEW CARROTS LEFT
The Wolves’ 33rd and final game happens tonight. The Central Division crown — the Wolves’ fourth in the last five years and the organization’s ninth division title since joining the AHL 20 years ago — was clinched Wednesday night.
The resulting loss of motivation might have played a role in Friday’s 4-1 loss at Rockford, though the Wolves still had a few achievements for which to play. If they could have earned 3 of 4 points against Rockford this weekend, they would have broken the 1999-2000 squad’s team record for best points percentage (.695).
However, if the Wolves earn a win tonight, they’ll finish with a .682 points percentage. That would rank fourth in organization history behind the 2000 Turner Cup champions (.695), the 2008 Calder Cup champions (.694) and the 1998 Turner Cup champions (.689).
This year’s squad also can set the franchise record for most goals per game, but it won’t be easy. The 2006-07 team (led by AHL MVP Darren Haydar) averaged 4.14 per game. The Wolves need eight goals tonight to get to 4.15 per game.
we are the wolves
The Wolves haven’t played on May 15 since 2002. But in those days, the organization practically made it a habit of playing on May 15 as it did so in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002.
The Wolves won all four of those games — starting with a 6-4 win over Long Beach in Game 1 of the 1998 IHL Western Conference Final.
Wendell Young also backstopped the 2-1 Game 5 win over Houston in the 1999 Western Conference Final. Richard Shulmistra handled the 2001 Western Conference Final clincher at Manitoba, then Pasi Nurminen delivered a 4-1 win in Game 3 of the 2002 Western Conference Final vs. Houston.
last two games
- Playing one skater short due to a rash of injuries, the Wolves fell behind 3-0 after two periods and couldn’t catch up in the IceHogs’ home finale.
- Center Tommy Novak pushed his point streak to nine games with a third-period goal that was assisted by Brandon Hickey and Luke Evangelista.
- Goaltender Beck Warm posted 20 saves.
- Rookie forward David Cotton recorded the team’s first hat trick of the season and the first of his career as the Wolves clinched their fourth Central Division title in five years.
- Forwards Sean Malone and Sheldon Rempal and defensemen Max Lajoie and Frederic Allard also scored goals while rookie forward Phil Tomasino handed out three assists.
- Rookie goaltender Beck Warm stopped 35 shots to earn his second professional shutout.
By the numbers
1: With one game left in the season, the Wolves are virtually guaranteed to lead the American Hockey League in goals per game for the first time since the 2008 Calder Cup champions accomplished the feat. If the Wolves (4.03 goals per game) fail to score tonight, the second-place Syracuse Crunch (3.71) would still need 11 goals at Rochester tonight to overtake the Wolves.
5: Exactly five months from today, the 2021-22 American Hockey League season is slated to begin. The AHL announced earlier this month that the league’s 86th regular season begins Friday, October 15, and concludes Sunday, April 24. The AHL expects to have 31 teams for next season.
9: Wolves centerTommy Novak scored with 5:03 left in regulation to do two things: Ensure the Wolves would not be shut out for the first time this season…and extend his season-best point streak to nine games. The 24-year-old Wisconsin native owns five goals and eight assists during his streak that began April 26. His spree has boosted his season’s totals to eight goals and 22 assists in 26 games — or 1.15 points per game.
14: It’s fair to suggest the Wolves boast the most productive special teams in the AHL. Chicago has scored 32 power-play goals while allowing just 23. That +9 margin is tied for second in the league behind Cleveland (+10). However, the Wolves share the league lead in short-handed goals (7) while giving up just two shorties. That makes the Wolves a net +14 on special teams, which leads everyone. Cleveland stands next at +13.
31: Nineteen-year-old rookie forward Phil Tomasino did not score a point Friday night, which marked just the second time in his last 16 games that he did not dent the scoresheet. A further indignity happened earlier Friday when he lost an assist from Wednesday night’s game as a Sean Malone tip was added on David Cotton’s third goal, which took away Tomasino’s secondary. Nonetheless, he still leads the team in scoring with 31 points and could join Ty Rattie (48 points in 2013-14) and Lucas Elvenes (48 points in 2019-20) as the only rookies to pace the Wolves in scoring.
45: The Wolves have required 45 players to get through their 32 games, which will fall two players shy of tying the franchise record for the most used in a regular season. The 2010-11 crew needed 47 players to complete an 80-game schedule. Of the Wolves’ 45 players this season, all but two participated in victories.
62: Three of the Wolves’ seven goals Wednesday night were scored by rookie David Cotton, which means the team’s 14 rookie skaters have combined for 62 of the team’s 129 goals (or 48 percent of the team’s goals). Cotton has taken over the rookie (and team) lead with 14 goals while forward Phil Tomasino owns 13. The other first-year contributors are Dominik Bokk (9), Seth Jarvis (7), Jamieson Rees (7), Cole Smith (5), Ryan Suzuki (5) and Zach Solow (2).
91.2: The Wolves’ penalty-kill units directed by assistant coach Patrick Dwyer have really come into their own down the stretch. Over the last 10 games, the Wolves have killed 31 of their 34 shorthanded situations — otherwise known as 91.2 percent. This extended stretch of excellence has moved the Wolves into 10th place on the AHL’s penalty-killing list at 83.0 percent (112 of 135). Before this run began on April 25, the Wolves ranked 15th on the kill.
397: 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 Joey Keane made his NHL debut with the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night — wearing No. 44 and playing 19 minutes, 34 seconds — he became the 397th player in Wolves history to compete in the NHL as well. Put another way, 57.4 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.