ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (5-7-1-0)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (9-4-1-1)
A RALLY FOR THE AGES
For those who were too busy fighting for Black Friday bargains to catch the Chicago Wolves on Friday night, head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s squad scored 5 goals in the third period to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 triumph at Grand Rapids.
There are many ways to explain how improbable Chicago’s rally happened to be. For starters, since the 2017-18 season began, the Wolves entered the night with a 13-65-9-3 record when trailing after 40 minutes. In other words, they rallied to get the win about once every 14 times.
Over these last five seasons, the Wolves had never rallied from a 3-goal deficit after 40 minutes and earned the win. There had been two comebacks that somewhat resembled Friday’s rally: On Dec. 5, 2018, the Wolves fell behind 3-0 early at Iowa and turned it into a 4-3 victory — but the rally started nine minutes into the second period when eventual AHL MVP Daniel Carr scored.
The other comeback? The Wolves trailed 2-0 entering the third period Feb. 13, 2020, versus Milwaukee — but Gage Quinney and Co. scored five goals in the final 11:00 to seize a 5-2 win at Allstate Arena.
The other implausible part? Including the Wolves’ scoreless first two periods Friday at Grand Rapids, you needed to go back 162 minutes and 12 seconds to count Chicago’s last five goals. Yet Josh Leivo’s power-play goal 1:29 into the third period triggering the Wolves’ incredible spree that restored them to first place in the Central Division.
This marks the 15th season the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs have been battling in the American Hockey League. The Wolves are on their eighth head coach since the inaugural game on Oct. 19, 2007 (which the Wolves won, 5-4, after a shootout as Fred Brathwaite got the victory over Corey Crawford). The IceHogs are on their sixth head coach.
Each organization has cycled through a couple hundred prospects and suspects over these 15 years. There have been brilliance and brawls and blowouts and shootouts aplenty.
Yet as we prepare for tonight’s 161st regular-season meeting between Chicago and Rockford, we cannot say one team has performed better than the other. That’s right: The Wolves have 80 wins and the IceHogs have 80 wins. Rockford knotted the all-time series with a 3-2 shootout victory last Saturday at Allstate Arena.
To be honest, the numbers suggest the Wolves should own a decent edge in this fierce rivalry between teams whose home rinks are 73.5 miles apart by car. Chicago has scored 502 goals in the first 160 regular-season meetings while Rockford has managed just 457. But in the games that have been decided by a one-goal margin, the IceHogs own a 50-34 advantage.
we are the wolves
Four years ago on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Wolves stopped a long losing streak at Rockford’s expense and launched their run from worst to first.
Some background: From Nov. 8 to 24, 2017, the Wolves went 0-5-2-1 to move their record to a league-worst 4-9-3-1. But on Saturday, Nov. 25, the Wolves rallied for a 4-3 win over Rockford at Allstate Arena.
Captain Paul Thompson assisted on Stefan Matteau’s game-tying goal at 4:45 of the third, then Ivan Barbashev and Jake Bischoff set up Brett Sterling’s winner at 6:20. The Wolves went 38-14-4-3 (.769) the rest of the way to capture the Central Division crown.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Trailing 3-0 entering the third period, the Wolves scored two goals in the first three minutes and three goals in the last two minutes to stun the Griffins at Van Andel Arena.
- Forwards Josh Leivo, Maxim Letunov, Spencer Smallman, C.J. Smith and Andrew Poturalski scored in the final period while Poturalski added three assists.
- Goaltender Eetu Makiniemi posted 29 saves to earn the win.
- The Wolves seized a 2-0 lead in the opening nine minutes, but the IceHogs caught up in the third period to set up Dylan McLaughlin’s game-winner in the fourth round of the shootout.
- Forwards Stefan Noesen and David Gust gave the Wolves the lead while Andrew Poturalski, C.J. Smith and Max Lajoie earned the assists.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 23 of 25 shots in regulation and overtime.
By the numbers
2: You can count on two fingers the number of times the Wolves have been outshot during their first 15 games this season. The first game was way back on Oct. 22 when the Wolves allowed a season-high 43 shots in a 3-2 win at Milwaukee. The second was Nov. 6 when Manitoba limited the Wolves to a season-low 23 attempts during a 5-1 Moose win at Allstate Arena. Chicago enters tonight’s action riding an eight-game streak of outshooting its opponent. The Wolves own a 288-210 margin (36.0-26.3 per game) in shots during this run.
4: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski tied a franchise record Friday night when he produced four points in the third period. It marked the seventh time in Wolves history that somebody managed four points in one regular-season period — and the first time since Jason Krog posted 2 goals and 2 assists in the second period of a 7-4 win on Dec. 19, 2007, at Peoria. Poturalski earned the primary assist on Josh Leivo’s power-play goal 1:29 into the third, the secondary assist on Spencer Smallman’s game-tying goal with 1:36 left, the primary assist on C.J. Smith’s go-ahead score with 1:24 left and then he threw in an empty-net goal from the red line with 42 seconds to go.
25: The Wolves added a new player Wednesday when they signed rookie right wing Ivan Lodnia to a Standard Player Contract (SPC). He’ll wear No. 25 for the Wolves. The 22-year-old was selected by the Minnesota Wild in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft, just 12 picks after new Wolves teammate Stelio Mattheos. The Los Angeles native stacked up 106 goals during five junior hockey seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters and Niagara IceDogs. In 2017, he was teammates with current Blackhawks Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat on a high-powered Erie Otters squad that reached the Memorial Cup championship game. Alas, the Windsor Spitfires (and new Wolves teammate Jalen Chatfield) won the title game 4-3. Lodnia has played just six pro games in North America. When he was 18, he joined the Iowa Wild on an amateur tryout contract and played six games near the end of the 2017-18 regular season.
34.65: The Chicago Wolves’ single-season record for shots per game was set by the 1998-99 squad with 34.65 per outing. This output led the 16-team International Hockey League that season — and marks the only time in the Wolves’ first 27 years that they led their league in shots per game. This year’s squad has a chance to break the team record AND become the second in franchise annals to lead the league. The Wolves enter tonight’s game averaging 34.47 shots per game, which ranks third in the 31-team AHL.
200: Forward C.J. Smith, author of Friday night’s game-winning goal with 1:24 left in the game, will suit up for his 200th AHL game tonight with his father and friends in the house. The Des Moines, Iowa, native has 66 goals and 91 assists to show for his first 199 AHL games, which have been split between the Rochester Americans and the Wolves. Smith also has appeared in 14 games for the Buffalo Sabres and became the first Iowa native to score a goal in the NHL when he delivered Jan. 18, 2019, at New Jersey.
415: Since the Wolves organization played its first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 707 players have suited up for Chicago. Center Stephen Harper was the latest to make his debut when he played Nov. 12 at Rockford. When forward Ben Jones made his debut with the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, he became the 415th Wolves alum to compete in the greatest league in the world. Put another way, 58.7 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Sunday, Nov. 28||vs. Grand Rapids||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Thursday, Dec. 2||vs. Iowa||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, Dec. 4||at Iowa||6 p.m.||Wells Fargo Arena||AHLTV|
|Sunday, Dec. 5||at Iowa||3 p.m.||Wells Fargo Arena||AHLTV|
|Thursday, Dec. 9||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.