CHICAGO WOLVES (34-10-4-4)
AT MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (30-21-4-2)
IT’S GOTTA BE THE SKATES!
North Americans (particularly Chicagoans) who are a little, uh, older might remember Nike’s ubiquitous marketing campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s that sought to explain why Michael Jordan was so good at basketball. In one commercial, Spike Lee (as Mars Blackmon) declared “It’s Gotta Be The Shoes!”
While it’s a little early to be placing Wolves forward Spencer Smallman in the same sentence as Michael Jordan, we suggest a potential reason for his current season-high four-game point streak that included 1 goal and 1 assist in Wednesday’s 4-2 win at Grand Rapids: It’s Gotta Be The Skates!
Here’s the story: Smallman, who owns 5 goals and 12 assists in 42 games this year, had not scored in his previous 10 games. Then, prior to the Wolves’ March 2 game against Texas, the 25-year-old from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, decided to give his new pair of True Temper skates a try.
“I had the same line of skates (Bauer) since I was probably 13 years old,” Smallman said. “ ‘Fitzy’ (Cavan Fitzgerald) and ‘Reeser’ (Jamieson Rees) got me in this new brand of skates and I’ve loved them so far. I was a little nervous to try them. They are quite a bit different. I was a little stuck in my ways with my Bauers. I wasn’t sure I wanted to switch over. But I finally did and I’m glad I did. I love them. They’re super-comfortable. They feel like a sock.”
Smallman admits he was 15 minutes late for his first practice in his new Trues because he couldn’t squeeze his feet in them, but he made up for lost time. He earned one assist on March 2 and March 5 in wins over Texas, then assisted on two of Jack Drury’s three goals March 6 against Iowa. On Wednesday, he moved to the fourth-line center spot alongside wings Pat Miletic and Stelio Mattheos and earned the goal and assist that pushed his streak to four games.
Considering he’s right there with his career-best point streak — procuring one assist in five straight games for the Charlotte Checkers Dec. 17-28, 2019 — we ask again: It’s Gotta Be The Skates, right?
“I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it,” Smallman said. “I was playing with some great players. A lot of linemates I’ve been playing with have been playing great. They’ve really been helping me out.”
Wednesday’s game marked the first time the the coaches paired Miletic, Smallman and Mattheos together. Miletic and Mattheos set up Smallman at 6:33 of the second for the team’s second goal, then Mattheos and Smallman set up Miletic at 4:07 of the third for what turned out to be the game-winner.
“A big boost for us,” said head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “Mattheos has been really impressive the last month or so — ‘Smallie’ as well. I thought Miletic added a speed element to that line. They kind of drove the bus for us the other night, which was impressive.”
we are the wolves
Remember the Wolves’ 2021 Central Division championship team that was pretty much evenly split between Carolina Hurricanes prospects and Nashville Predators prospects?
The Wolves currently have nine players on their roster who helped that squad: Forwards David Cotton, David Gust, Stelio Mattheos, Jamieson Rees, Spencer Smallman and Ryan Suzuki, and defensemen Cavan Fitzgerald, Joey Keane and Max Lajoie. The Admirals also have nine — a group higlighted by goaltender Connor Ingram and defenseman Jeremy Davies.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves’ new fourth-line combo of left wing Sam Miletic, center Spencer Smallman and right wing Stelio Mattheos teamed for the second and third goals as Chicago won its fourth in a row.
- Miletic, Smallman and forward CJ Smith posted 1 goal and 1 assist apiece while defenseman Josh Jacobs scored the opening goal while Mattheos and defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald had 2 assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 20 shots to run his record to 4-0.
- Iowa broke to a 2-0 lead, but Jack Drury’s first professional hat trick highlighted five consecutive Wolves goals that earned the team’s sixth win in the last seven games.
- Forwards Ryan Suzuki and Josh Leivo also scored goals while Andrew Poturalski, Stefan Noesen, Max Lajoie and Spencer Smallman handed out two assists apiece.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine posted 25 saves to earn the win.
By the numbers
2.56: The Wolves lead the American Hockey League with 2.56 goals allowed per game, which is a smidge ahead of the Atlantic Division-leading Providence Bruins (2.65). If the Wolves can maintain this status, it would mark the first time in franchise history they led their league in fewest goals allowed. The closest Chicago has come was a third-place finish in 2018-19 with 2.62 allowed per game. That’s not to be confused with the team record for fewest goals allowed per game. That was set in 2013-14 when AHL Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen and primary backup Matt Climie led the team to a 2.51 per-game mark.
4: With Wednesday’s 4-2 victory at Grand Rapids, rookie Pyotr Kochetkov became the sixth goaltender in Wolves history to win his first four starts. The 22-year-old from Penza, Russia, joined Norm Maracle (2001-02), Milan Hlinicka (2002-03), Dan Turple (2008-09), Beck Warm (2020-21) and Jeremy Helvig (2020-21) in this small group. Of this group, only Hlinicka went farther than 4-0-0. He earned wins in each of his first six starts during a 12-day stretch Dec. 6-17, 2002. Kochetkov, who’s playing in North American rinks for the first time, has improved steadily in each of his starts since making his Wolves debut Feb. 19. He owns a 2.27 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage.
9.04: The Wolves are still in line to become the first AHL team since the 2007-08 Providence Bruins to lead the league in Shots For (34.71) and Shots Against (25.67) in the same season. Their shots differential per game (9.04) ranks as the AHL’s biggest positive margin since the 2001-02 Saint John Flames managed a 11.51 shots advantage. If the Wolves maintain these averages the rest of the season, they will break the single-season franchise records for Shots For (34.69) and Shots Against (27.93).
10: Ten Wolves have helped the Carolina Hurricanes build the NHL’s best winning percentage (.747). Defenseman Jalen Chatfield and goaltender Alex Lyon are there now while Jack Drury, Joey Keane, Jack LaFontaine, Max Lajoie, Josh Leivo, Stefan Noesen, Andrew Poturalski and CJ Smith have been there.
11: Rookie center Jack Drury saw his 11-game point streak come to a close Wednesday at Grand Rapids. The Winnetka native produced 7 goals and 8 assists during his run that began Feb. 8 and extended through March 6. It marked the Wolves’ longest streak since Tanner Jeannot stacked up 10 goals and 11 assists during a 12-game run from Feb. 6 to April 7 — and ended only because Jeannot joined the NHL’s Nashville Predators on a permanent basis. Drury’s streak was the longest by a Wolves rookie since Lukas Elvenes went on a 11-game stretch (4G, 12A) Oct. 12 to Nov. 7, 2019.
12: We must provide a correction from the previous game’s notes. The official Wolves media guide declared the record for most goals in a single season by an individual against one team is 10, but longtime Wolves TV graphics czar Mark Stencel pointed out Sunday that legendary forward Steve Maltais delivered 12 goals against the Milwaukee Admirals in 1998-99.
21: This is the Wolves’ magic number to clinch their 21st playoff berth in 26 seasons (ignoring the last two years when COVID-19 did not allow anyone to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs). Any combination of 21 points won by the Wolves and lost by the Iowa Wild (currently the sixth-place team in the Central Division) will ensure a playoff berth.
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 with a win over Iowa on Feb. 19, 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, March 13||vs. Grand Rapids||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Wednesday, March 16||vs. Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Saturday, March 19||at Toronto||3 p.m.||Coca-Cola Coliseum||AHLTV|
|Sunday, March 20||at Toronto||3 p.m.||Coca-Cola Coliseum||AHLTV|
|Tuesday, March 22||vs. Texas||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.