TEXAS STARS (26-24-6-5)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (41-12-5-5)
tIME TO BUY THE BYE
With Saturday’s 6-1 thrashing of the Milwaukee Admirals, the Chicago Wolves’ magic number to clinch a first-round bye in the Calder Cup Playoff has dropped to 2.
This means either a Wolves win or a Milwaukee regulation loss today (or 1 point for each of them) will assure Chicago one of the Central Division’s three first-round byes once the postseason starts in the first week of May. Remember, five Central teams qualify for the playoffs this season, so only the No. 4 and 5 seeds will battle in the best-of-3 opening round. Texas has won four games in a row to jump into the No. 5 spot.
THE NEW GUYS
The Chicago Wolves have added six new players in the last six days: Forwards Noel Gunler, Richard Panik and Vasily Ponomarev and defensemen Chris Bigras, Griffin Mendel and Tamro Reunanen. Considering Bigras and Reunanen already have played three games with the Wolves and Panik has 521 regular-season NHL games on his resume, we’ll assume there’s some familiarity with their games and so we’ll focus on the three young men yet to make their North American professional debut.
Gunler and Ponomarev are 20-year-olds selected by Carolina in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft (Gunler was picked 41st and Ponomarev 53rd overall). Gunler has spent all or part of the last four seasons playing in Sweden’s top professional league and has compiled 28 goals and 28 assists in 151 games while Ponomarev appeared briefly in 14 games for Spartak Moscow (KHL) this season and contributed 1 goal and 1 assist.
“Ponomarev is a center who can make plays,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “I would say he’s in the mold of a (Jack) Drury, in a way. He can create offense and he has played in the ‘Q’ (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), so he has played the North American style a little bit. Gunler is in the mold of a (Dominik) Bokk, but works a little bit harder away from the puck. With the puck, he can score. He’s got a great shot. Good motor.”
Warsofsky wants to tamp down expectations for both once they make their debut, which could happen Wednesday morning against Texas. “This is the second-best league in the world. These guys aren’t just going to jump in and start lighting it up. There’s going to be a learning adjustment, but I think they’re going to fit in pretty well.”
Mendel joined the Wolves Thursday on an amateur tryout contract (ATO). After being part of the University of Denver’s blue line for four years, Mendel used his super-senior year to transfer to Quinnipiac. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Kelowna, British Columbia, native helped the Bobcats reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament and finished with 5 goals and 10 assists. He caught the eye of Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour while watching his son, Skyler, play for Quinnipiac.
“The last 15 games of his career, he has come into his own,” Warsofsky said. “He moves well.”
we are the wolves
Rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov, Carolina’s 2019 second-round pick, has been an immediate hit since coming to North America Feb. 15. The AHL’s reigning Rookie of the Month improved his record to 9-0-1 and dropped his goals-against average to 1.80 with Saturday’s 6-1 win. He also earned several roars from the crowd for his saves — and his eagerness to try to join a third-period scrum at the opposite end of the rink.
“He’s a gamer. He wants the net. He plays with some emotion. He wants to win….His teammates love him and he fits in really well. He’s done a really good job and we’ve got a really good goalie that I think we’re going to see in the NHL for a really long time.”
LAST TWO GAMES
SATURDAY, APRIL 2: (AT) CHICAGO 6, MILWAUKEE 1
- Forward Stefan Noesen scored his league-leading 36th and 37th goals during the opening xx minutes and Jack Drury added a career-high 4 points as the Wolves avenged Friday’s loss at MIL.
- Forwards David Gust, Josh Leivo, Drury and Jamieson Rees added goals while Noesen notched 3 points and Kyle Marino earned First Star honors for his tone-setting fight 2:56 into the night.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov posted 21 saves for his fifth straight win.
- Milwaukee scored twice in a 1:16 span late in the second period to erase the Wolves’ 1-0 lead and set the tone for the win at Panther Arena.
- Rookie forward Jamieson Rees scored 1:35 into the game as Josh Leivo and Jack Drury picked up the assists.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 21 of 24 shots.
By the numbers
2.51: The Wolves stand atop the American Hockey League at 2.51 goals allowed per game with the Stockton Heat (2.65) serving as their closest pursuers. If the Wolves can maintain their spot at the top of the GAA charts, it would mark the first time in franchise history to lead the league in fewest goals allowed. Prior to this, the closest Chicago came was a third-place finish in 2018-19 with 2.62 goals allowed per game. That’s not to be confused with the team record for fewest goals allowed per game — set in 2013-14 when Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen and primary backup Matt Climie led the team to a 2.51 per-game mark.
4: Rookie center Jack Drury has only been a pro since September 2020 (he spent last year winning the Swedish Hockey League title with Vaxjo), so he doesn’t have a massive amount of games on his resume. But his effort Saturday must rank close to the top of his professional games as he racked up a career-high 4 points (G, 3A) along with a career-high +4 plus/minus rating in the 6-1 win over Milwaukee. Since returning to the lineup March 25 after missing five games due to injury, Drury has produced points in all five games (2G, 6A). Overall, he has gotten on the scoresheet in 16 of his last 18 games (9G, 14A). Also, his four-point effort Saturday enabled him to pass his father, Ted, as the higher-scoring Drury in a Wolves uniform. Ted Drury posted 21 goals and 21 assists in 68 games for the 2001 Turner Cup finalists. Jack owns 18 goals and 27 assists.
8.82: The Wolves are are trying to become the first AHL team since the 2007-08 Providence Bruins to lead the league in Shots For (34.63) and Shots Against (25.81) in the same season, though the Manitoba Moose snuck past them Wednesday to move into first place in fewest shots allowed at 25.72. Chicago’s shots differential per game (8.82) ranks as the AHL’s biggest positive margin since the 2001-02 Saint John Flames managed a 11.51 shots advantage. The Wolves are in position to break the single-season franchise records for Shots For (34.69) and Shots Against (27.93).
37: Wolves forward Stefan Noesen owns an AHL-leading 37 goals, two ahead of Abbotsford’s Sheldon Dries. Noesen also paces the AHL in game-winning goals (9) and first goals (8) as he earned his eighth Saturday night. With his next GWG, he’ll tie the organization’s single-season record shared by Chris Marinucci (1998-99), Brett Sterling (2007-08), Mark Mancari (2011-12) and Shane Harper (2014-15). With his 37 goals in 58 appearances, the 29-year-old from Plano, Texas, is on pace to score 45 goals. Only three Wolves (Sterling, Steve Maltais and Rob Brown) have scored more than 41 in a season.
83: Captain Andrew Poturalski ranks second in AHL scoring with 83 points (24G, 59A). If he can outduel the Ontario Reign’s T.J. Tynan (13G, 72A) down the stretch to win the scoring crown, then he’ll become the first player since Philadelphia’s Peter White in 1997-98 to win back-to-back AHL scoring titles. Poturalski is on pace for 101 points this season as he and Tynan are threatening to become the first AHL players to reach the 100-point mark since Hershey’s Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux scored 106 and 103 points, respectively, during the 2009-10 season.
421: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 723 players have suited up for Chicago. Defensemen Chris Bigras and Tarmo Reunanen pushed that number to 723 when they made their Wolves debuts Tuesday at Cleveland. Because both have played in the NHL, that makes 421 Wolves who’ve appeared in the world’s best league. Put another way, 58.2 percent of all Wolves have suited up in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Wednesday, April 6||vs. Texas||11 a.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 9||vs. Manitoba||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Sunday, April 10||vs. Cleveland||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Wednesday, April 13||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Friday, April 15||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.