GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (15-13-5-2)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (24-7-4-1)
THE BIG THREE
Objectively and subjectively, the Chicago Wolves boast the best line in the American Hockey League. Center Andrew Poturalski (who leads the league with 20 goals and 49 points), right wing Stefan Noesen and left wing CJ Smith all rank among the top six scorers in the AHL.
The trio, which has played on the same line for roughly three-fourths of the team’s games this season, has combined for 50 goals and 73 assists in 96 man-games. Who wouldn’t want these three guys on their side and on the ice as much as possible?
But here’s the catch: The Wolves get so much production from their top line that they haven’t necessarily needed as much production from the rest of the team in order to rise to the top of the Central Division and the Western Conference. But head coach Ryan Warsofsky and his staff are actively seeking ways to find more scoring sources.
Using Wednesday’s lineup as an example, the Wolves’ top line of Smith, Poturalski and Noesen entered the game against the Texas Stars with 49 goals and 72 assists. The other nine forwards owned a total of 39 goals and 52 assists while the six defensemen had a total of 14 goals and 48 assists. That meant 48 percent of their goals and 42 percent of their assists came from three of their 18 skaters.
Poturalski opened the scoring Wednesday with a goal set up by Smith and defenseman Max Lajoie, but the Wolves didn’t get anything else out of their 37 shots as Texas snuck out with a 2-1 OT win.
“There are other ways we can score,” Warsofsky said. “There are ways we can create our own confusion in the offensive zone to create some more scoring opportunities.”
The Wolves also could benefit from injured forwards getting back on the ice. Ryan Suzuki, the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2020 first-round pick, posted 1 goal and 2 assists in his first four games but has been out since Oct. 29. Center Spencer Smallman (4 goals, 7 assists) has missed six of the last seven games.
HEALTHCARE HEROES JERSEY SECRETS
The Wolves debut their exclusive Healthcare Heroes jerseys, presented by Turtle Wax, with tonight’s game. The team will wear them tonight and Saturday, then all of the jerseys will be autographed and distributed to the winners of the bid and silent auctions that are underway online and in Allstate Arena. Fans don’t have to attend this weekend’s games to try to win these jerseys. To learn how to bid, click here.
The jersey, created by Wolves graphic designer Troy Mueller, is teal as an homage to health care workers’ scrubs. The center crest features the Wolves logo with the Star of Life (for emergency services) as well as references to 20 different medical professions. The shoulder patches and the jersey striping also have special meaning.
we are the wolves
Twenty-eight years ago today, the Chicago Wolves introduced themselves to the world. Don Levin, Buddy Meyers and Grant Mulvey hosted a news conference at the then-Rosemont Horizon to reveal the expansion Wolves will join the International Hockey League for the 1994-95 season and deliver a team focused on the fans — with ticket prices averaging $11.
On July 14, the Wolves introduced Gene Ubriaco as the team’s first coach/asst. general manager. On July 15, Kevin MacDonald became the first player to sign. On Sept. 13, they signed Chicago favorite Al Secord. And on Oct. 14, the Wolves hosted a sellout crowd of 16,623 that enjoyed a 4-2 win over the Detroit Vipers.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves outshot the Stars 37-17 (just two shy of tying the team record for fewest Shots Against), but Rhett Gardner scored 2:58 into overtime to give Texas the extra point.
- Captain Andrew Poturalski scored his league-leading 20th goal in the first period as forward CJ Smith and defenseman Max Lajoie earned the assists.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine posted 15 saves in his Wolves debut.
- Converted defenseman Nelson Nogier scored two goals in the third period — including an empty-net goal with 18 seconds to go — as the Moose rallied to win at Canada Life Centre.
- Forward David Cotton scored in the first period with assists from defenseman Josh Jacobs and center Maxim Letunov as the Wolves outshot the Moose 41-23.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 20 of 22 shots.
By the numbers
2: As a way to express the organization’s gratitude to health care workers for their dedication to everyone’s health and safety throughout the pandemic, the Wolves offered all health care workers two free tickets to any of this week’s three home games. Thousands have taken advantage of this opportunity, many of whom elected to attend Saturday’s game versus Rockford.
7: Rookie Jack LaFontaine, who turned pro Jan. 9, made his Wolves and AHL debut Wednesday night and allowed just 2 goals in nearly 63 minutes. He became the seventh goaltender to play for the Wolves, which sets the franchise record for most in a season. The Wolves have used five goalies in the last nine games (in order): Michael Lackey, Daniel Mannella, Alex Lyon, Dylan Wells and LaFontaine.
15: The Olympics men’s hockey tournament begins Feb. 9 in Beijing and the Wolves will be well-represented with 15 former players listed on the active 25-man rosters: forward Tyler Wong and defenseman Jake Chelios (China); defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser (Germany), forward Sergey Andronov (Russian Olympic Committee), forwards Daniel Carr, Adam Cracknell, Landon Ferraro and Eric O’Dell and goaltender Edward Pasquale (Canada), forward Kenny Agostino and defenseman David Warsofsky (USA), forward Tomas Hyka (Czech Republic), defenseman Petteri Lindbohm (Finland) and forward Nicklas Jensen (Denmark).
22: The Wolves’ penalty kill units have defused opponents’ last 22 power plays dating back to the 9:44 mark of second period of their Jan. 9 home win over Cleveland, which means it has been 455 minutes and 48 seconds since the last time Chicago allowed a power-play goal. This streak of excellence has enabled the Wolves to leap from 24th place into a tie for sixth with Laval in the AHL’s penalty-kill rankings with an 83.3 percent kill rate.
35.22: The Wolves’ single-season record for shots per game was set by the 1998-99 squad with 34.65 per outing. That led the 16-team International Hockey League that season — and marks the only time in the Wolves’ first 27 years they led their league in shots per game. This year’s crew has a chance to break the team record AND become the second in franchise annals to lead the league. The Wolves average 35.22 shots per game, which owns first in the 31-team AHL with Colorado (34.26) the nearest pursuer.
44: It’s dangerous to try to project full-season totals when a team is just short of the halfway point of a 76-game season, but here we are. Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski leads the league with 20 goals in just 33 games this season, which is the fastest pace the Wolves have seen in years. if Poturalski maintains this .606 goals-per-game pace the rest of the season and has the good fortune to play in the Wolves’ 40 remaining games, then he’s scheduled to finish with 44 goals. No Wolves player has scored that many in an AHL season since Brett Sterling stacked up a league-leading 55 goals on his way to Rookie of the Year honors in 2006-07.
417: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 720 players have suited up for Chicago. Goaltender Jack LaFontaine became No. 720 when he made his Wolves debut Wednesday, but he also became the 417th player to compete for the Wolves and in the greatest league in the world. Put another way, 57.9 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Saturday, Jan. 29||vs. Rockford||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Friday, Feb. 4||at Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, Feb. 5||at Milwaukee||6 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Tuesday, Feb. 8||at Cleveland||6 p.m.||Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse||AHLTV|
|Friday, Feb. 11||at Rockford||7 p.m.||MetroCentre||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.