Chicago Wolves forward Stefan Noesen became the first American Hockey League player in 11 years to reach the 40-goal mark as the Wolves rolled to a 5-2 victory over the Cleveland Monsters Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena.
Forwards Spencer Smallman, Andrew Poturalski and Noel Gunler and defenseman Jalen Chatfield also scored for the Wolves (44-13-5-5), who trimmed their magic number to 3 for the team’s fifth Central Division title in the last six years.
Not only did Noesen become the first AHL player since 2010-11 to score 40 goals, he became the first Wolves player since Brett Sterling and Darren Haydar in 2006-07 to hit 40.
“(Noesen) could probably have more than 40,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “He was snake-bitten early in the season, but he gets hot. He’s just hard to defend. He’s our engine. He makes us go.’
But it was Smallman who opened the scoring for the second day in a row — albeit two periods sooner than Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win over Manitoba. Ryan Suzuki carried the puck into the zone down the left wing, spotted Smallman entering the high slot and fed him for a wrister that whizzed past goaltender Cam Johnson’s glove at the 3:00 mark of the first.
Noesen entered Wolves history 51 seconds into the second period as Chicago’s forecheck forced a turnover deep in the offensive zone. Poturalski fired a shot from the left circle that Johnson stopped, but the puck dropped at his feet. Noesen swooped in and poked the puck across the goal line to join Steve Maltais, Rob Brown, Chris Marinucci, Sterling and Haydar as Chicago’s only 40-goal scorers in the franchise’s 28-year history.
Chatfield took his turn at 2:52 of the second as Ivan Lodnia worked the puck ahead to Smallman on the left wing. He spied Chatfield roaming down the middle and sent the puck back to him for a clear snipe from the high slot to make it 3-0.
Poturalski delivered his 25th goal of the year 5:06 into the second. He chased down a Richard Panik pass at the right boards near the blue line, swept behind the net and stuffed a wraparound past Johnson. Panik earned his first point in a Wolves uniform as the lead moved to 4-0.
Cleveland (24-30-8-5) responded with goals from defenseman Thomas Schemitsch and forward Trey Fix-Wolansky to cut the margin to 4-2 at the 9:47 mark of the second.
After the Wolves killed off a Cleveland power play, Gunler produced his first North American pro goal to regain momentum for the Wolves. The 20-year-old from Sweden, playing his third game in North America, whistled a shot from the left circle that banked off a Monsters defenseman into the net for a 5-2 lead at 13:26. Vasily Ponomarev, the Wolves’ other 20-year-old second-round draft pick playing his third AHL game, earned the primary assist.
Wolves goaltender Alex Lyon (17-7-3) earned 23 saves in the win as the AHL’s No. 2 goaltender dropped his goals-against average to 2.18. Johnson (4-6-3) stopped 20 of 25 shots in the first two periods before giving way to Linden Marshall for the third. Marshall made 12 saves in his AHL debut.
The Wolves head to Texas for a three-game stretch that begins Wednesday, then return home to face the Rockford IceHogs on Tuesday, April 19, for the final Craft Beer Night of the season. To find the best ticket specials, contact a representative at [email protected].