CHICAGO WOLVES (12-4-1-1)
AT IOWA WILD (9-6-1-0)
WELCOME TO C.J.’S
It’s a huge night for sports in Des Moines. Yes, the Iowa Hawkeyes are playing in the Big Ten football championship game for the first time since 2015 — which is nice — but we’re talking about the other huge event: Des Moines native C.J. Smith playing his first game in his hometown since March 29, 2014, when he was playing for the USHL’s Chicago Steel against the Des Moines Buccaneers.
The 27-year-old Smith, who’s the Chicago Wolves’ No. 2 scorer with 6 goals and 13 assists in 18 games, can’t wait to play on the Wells Fargo Arena ice for the first time.
“I’m really excited,” Smith said. “This is as big of a moment as a pro as it gets for me — just because of where I come from. ”
To put that statement into perspective, Smith has made 14 appearances for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. When he scored the game-winning goal on Jan. 8, 2019, against the New Jersey Devils, he became the first (and remains the only) Iowa native to produce a goal in the NHL.
So, yes, this is a big event. His mom, Liz, has purchased a suite. His dad, Jeff, has purchased a suite. “A ton” of other family and friends are expected to be in the stands. And C.J. expects to get a ton of grief from his teammates about this momentous night, though maybe they also ought to expect a ton of production from the prodigal son. In that March 29, 2014, contest, C.J. put up a hat trick to fuel the Steel’s 5-2 victory.
“They’ll give me a hard time, but they’ll be excited, too,” C.J. said. “So I’m excited.”
LAUNCHING A FIVE-GAME ROAD TRIP
Tonight’s game marks the start of the first of two five-game road trips for the Wolves this season. Coincidentally, both begin with two games against the Wild at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Wolves (7-1-0-0) own the second-best road points percentage in the AHL — and they’re also feeling good about Thursday’s 2-0 victory over Iowa at Allstate Arena — but they realize this weekend’s pair of games represents perhaps their toughest challenge to date.
“Oh, they’ll be ready for us,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “It’s a tough place to play. But it’ll be good for us to get on the road and play someplace we haven’t been this year. We’ll see if we can match our intensity (from Thursday) and get our competitive juices firing again.”
Warsofsky would love to see his team’s penalty kill continue to play at their recent high level. During the Wolves’ four-game winning streak, they have nixed 15 of 16 opposing power plays — including 5 for 5 vs. Iowa. “We’re finding our personnel,” he said. “We’re finding which guys are good at it, which ones we can trust in certain situations. Our ‘PK’ was probably the difference-maker (Thursday) night.”
we are the wolves
If the Wolves win tonight’s game, then they’ll own 13 wins and a .737 points percentage exactly one quarter of the way through the season.
Where would that points percentage rank in Wolves history? Actually, pretty darn well. As with so many other things, the 2007-08 squad that dominated all the way to the Calder Cup championship owns the franchise’s best 19-game start at 16-2-0-1.
After that comes…last year’s crew directed by Ryan Warsofsky. They hit the 19-game mark at 14-4-0-1.
Honorable mention goes to John Anderson’s 2006-07 (13-5-1-0) and 2003-04 teams (10-4-3-2) and his 1997-98 squad (12-5-0-2) that captured the Turner Cup.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves posted as many goals as Iowa had shots (1) in the first period and the home team proceeded to kill all 5 power plays it faced to earn its first shutout on home ice this season.
- Defenseman Jesper Sellgren scored his first regular-season goal in North America 1:57 into the night while forward Sam Miletic added a big insurance goal early in the third.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 30 shots to earn his first shutout in a Wolves uniform.
- The Wolves controlled play throughout as they built a 3-0 lead in the opening 40 minutes and owned a 44-19 shot advantage for the game to stay in first place in the Central Division.
- Forward Stefan Noesen scored one goal and assisted on the other two, which were delivered by forwards Josh Leivo and Andrew Poturalski.
- Goaltender Eetu Makiniemi earned 18 saves, including multiple highlight-reel stops.
By the numbers
1.98: Goaltenders Alex Lyon and Eetu Makiniemi have combined to play all but one of the Wolves’ games this year. In those games, they have combined to allow just 1.98 goals per 60 minutes. Lyon (5-1-1), who shut out Iowa Thursday night, ranks second among AHL goalies with his 1.68 goals-against average. Makiniemi (7-2-1), whose turn it is to play tonight, ranks seventh with his 2.20 GAA. The Utica Comets (Akira Schmid and Nico Daws) are the only other AHL team to have two goaltenders ranked among the Top 15 in GAA.
2: You can count on two fingers the number of times the Wolves have been outshot during their first 18 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 today’s action riding an 11-game streak of outshooting its opponent — the second-longest streak in franchise history. John Anderson’s 1998-99 squad owns the record as it won the shots battle in 14 consecutive games from Jan. 2 to Jan. 30 and posted an 8-4-0-2 record during that run. The current Wolves own a 398-278 shot margin (36.2-25.3 per game) during this spree.
7: Seven players have taken the ice for all 18 games to date — and all are forwards: Jack Drury, Maxim Letunov, Stelio Mattheos, Stefan Noesen, captain Andrew Poturalski, Spencer Smallman and C.J. Smith. This seven-man crew has combined for 30 of the Wolves’ 55 non-shootout goals and 51 of their 94 assists. Smith, Poturalski and Noesen have served as the team’s top line for all but two games while Letunov and Drury have served as valuable two-way centermen every night.
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 34.83 shots per game, which ranks second in the 31-team AHL. The only team ahead of them? Iowa, which launches 35.69 shots per outing.
100: Noday will mark defenseman Joey Keane’s 100th AHL contest. The Chicago-born and southwest suburban Homer Glen-raised blueliner has produced 10 goals and 47 assists in his first 99 games, which have been split between the Wolves, the Hartford Wolf Pack and Charlotte Checkers. As an added bonus, today should be forward Sam Miletic’s 150th AHL game. Miletic, who scored the insurance goal Thursday night, has 25 goals and 52 goals to show for his first 149 games with the Wolves and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
415: Since the Wolves organization played its first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 709 players have suited up for Chicago. Defenseman Daniel Brickley was the latest to make his debut when he played Thursday against Iowa. When forward Ben Jones made his debut with the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 20, he became the 415th Wolves alum to compete in the greatest league in the world. Put another way, 58.5 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|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|
|Saturday, Dec. 11||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Sunday, Dec. 12||at Texas||5 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Thursday, Dec. 16||vs. Manitoba||11 a.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.