CHICAGO WOLVES (29-10-4-3)
AT MANITOBA MOOSE (26-16-2-1)
Saturday, Feb. 26 | 2 p.m. | Canada Life Centre | AHLTV | Facebook Live
Guess who leads the Chicago Wolves in scoring against the Manitoba Moose this season? It’s not captain Andrew Poturalski, who paces the American Hockey League with 64 points. It’s not right wing Stefan Noesen, who leads the AHL with 28 goals and shares fourth in points with 50.
Instead, it’s fourth-year pro Maxim Letunov, who posted two goals and three assists in the first four games between the Wolves and the Moose. Letunov, who turned 26 Sunday, has been one of the Wolves’ more underrated players this season.
For starters, the center from Moscow, Russia, has been the only Wolves player to suit up for every game. Letunov ranks sixth on the squad in goals (9) and ninth in points (18) while seeing action everywhere from the second to fourth line as well as roles on the power play and penalty kill.
“We know what we’re getting each night,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “He’s honestly been better than expected. He came from a team (the San Jose Barracuda) where he played a role that was a little more offensive-minded. We’ve been challenging him to be better defensively, which is a little bit of a different role, but also to bring some secondary scoring. He’s hard on himself to do that. He works really hard. He’s finding the way we play is really his style.”
Letunov, the St. Louis Blues’ second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, fulfills an important role off the ice as well. He moved from Russia to America when he was 16 to become the top scorer on the 2012-13 Dallas Stars Elite 16U AAA team.
And while his English wasn’t great at the time — “I knew some basics because I took English in high school, but you can’t learn much, right, when you only take it for 45 minutes a day and then you speak Russian again?” he said — Letunov was fluent by the time he enrolled at the University of Connecticut in 2015-16.
That enables him to serve as a translator for Russia natives Artyom Serikov and Pyotr Kochetkov and, to a lesser extent, Ivan Lodnia. A couple of times each day, a Wolves coach or trainer will say, “Hey, Letty, can you help…” and Letunov will bridge the gap. For example, Kochetkov took a blow to the face in his North American debut last Saturday, so Letunov made it easy for him to explain to the doctor how he felt. However, they’re all progressing rapidly on the learning curve.
“Sometimes I let them go on their own, but kind of stay behind them so if they do forget or don’t understand, I’ll help them out,” Letunov said. “But I try to make them be on their own.”
Like a proud parent?
“Yeah, you can say that.”
we are the wolves
For both of this weekend’s games, the Chicago Wolves are joining the Manitoba Moose in wearing helmet stickers dedicated to 3-year-old Gordie White.
Gordie, the son of Sarah and former NHL and AHL center Ryan White, was diagnosed Feb. 18 with a brain tumor known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIRG) that is highly aggressive and difficult to treat.
Gordie and his family will be in attendance for Saturday’s game as the Moose are his favorite team (Ryan played for Manitoba in 2018-20).
As Gordie prepares for six weeks of radiation treatment, family friends have created a GoFundMe for the family that has raised more than $189,000 —including a $5,000 donation from Blues captain Ryan Reilly.
LAST TWO GAMES
SUNDAY, FEB. 20: (AT) CHICAGO 5, IOWA 1
- The Wolves scored the game’s first five goals in the opening 28 minutes and cruised to a weekend sweep of the Wild at Allstate Arena.
- Forward Stefan Noesen delivered his league-leading 27th and 28th goals while forwards Andrew Poturalski and CJ Smith and defenseman Jesper Sellgren also scored.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 24 saves to earn the win.
SATURDAY, FEB. 19: (AT) CHICAGO 5, IOWA 3
- Forward Stefan Noesen produced the first professional hat trick of his eight-year career, including the tying and insurance goals in the third period, to spark the Wolves’ rally.
- Forward Josh Leivo scored a power-play goal, defenseman Joey Keane delivered the game-winning goals and two assists while captain Andrew Poturalski handed out three assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 30 shots to win his North American pro debut.
By the numbers
3: On Monday, powerful forward Stefan Noesen earned the Wolves’ third Player of the Week honor this season as he was rewarded for scoring six goals in three games last week. Noesen joined linemate Andrew Poturalski, who was honored Oct. 31 and Dec. 13, on the list. This marks the first time since the 2006-07 season that the Wolves received three such awards. During that season, Darren Haydar won the honor Oct. 22 during the early stages of his AHL-record 39-game point streak, Jason Krog took it Nov. 5 and Cory Larose claimed it Dec. 17.
8: Not only do the Wolves rank second among AHL teams in fewest goals allowed (2.59 per game), they’ve done it while using a franchise-record eight goaltenders this season. Pyotr Kochetkov became No. 8 when he won his North American last Saturday — joining Alex Lyon (21 games), Eetu Makiniemi (14 games), Jack LaFontaine (6 games), Daniel Mannella (3 games), Michael Lackey (2 games), Dylan Wells and Beck Warm (1 game each). The Wolves lead the AHL in most goaltenders utilized this season — one ahead of the Charlotte Checkers. Last year, the Toronto Marlies needed eight goaltenders to get through the 42-game season that was adversely affected by COVID-19. No AHL team has needed more than eight goaltenders since 2013-14, when the Charlotte Checkers and Oklahoma City Barons each required nine to survive the regular season.
10.26: The Wolves are gunning to become the first AHL team since the 2007-08 Providence Bruins to lead the league in Shots For (35.46) and Shots Against (25.2) in the same season. Their shots differential per game (10.26) ranks as the AHL’s biggest positive margin since the 2001-02 Saint John Flames managed a 11.51 shots advantage. The Wolves own just one Shots For title in their first 27 seasons — it happened in 1998-99 — and have yet to lead a league in Shots Against. If the Wolves maintain these shot averages the rest of the season, both will set single-season franchise records. Chicago has not been outshot since Jan. 7 at Rockford — a stretch of 19 games.
28: Forward Stefan Noesen regained the AHL goal-scoring lead last Saturday when he produced his first professional hat trick, then he boosted his league-leading total to 28 with two more goals Sunday afternoon. He owns a one-goal lead over Abbotsford’s Sheldon Dries and finds himself on a pace for 48 goals this season, which would be the most in the AHL since Alexandre Giroux’s 50 for Hershey in 2009-10. Noesen owns 23 goals in his last 22 appearances — an all-time spree that began with an innocent goal Dec. 5 at Iowa.
64: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski has a chance become the first AHL player to win back-to-back scoring titles since Philadelphia’s Peter White in 1996-97 and 1997-98. The 28-year-old Williamsville, New York, native posted 1 goal and 1 assist in Sunday’s win over Iowa to push his point streak to seven games (2 goals, 11 assists). He owns 64 points (22G, 42A) in 43 games, which puts him on track to score 108 points and become the first AHL player to eclipse the 100-point barrier since 2010. Ontario’s T.J. Tynan ranks second with 58 points (10G, 48A).
418: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 721 players have suited up for Chicago. Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov became No. 721 when he made his North American debut last Saturday, while rookie goaltender Jack LaFontaine became the 418th player to compete for the Wolves and in the greatest league in the world when he made his Wolves debut on Jan. 26. Put another way, 58.0 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Sunday, Feb. 27||at Manitoba||2 p.m.||Canada Life Centre||AHLTV|
|Wednesday, March 2||vs. Texas||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, March 5||vs. Texas||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Sunday, March 6||vs. Iowa||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Wednesday, March 9||at Grand Rapids||6 p.m.||Van Andel Arena||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.