CHICAGO WOLVES (44-13-5-5)
AT TEXAS STARS (27-26-6-6)
BRING THE HEAT
After taking 8 of a possible 10 points during their five-games-in-nine-days homestand, the Chicago Wolves have embarked on an adventure they’ve had circled on their calendars for a long time: A six-day, five-night, all-expenses-paid business trip to the greater Austin area.
After spending the last several months in the frigid Midwest — where springtime has been only a rumor — it was a big win for the Wolves traveling party to discover temperatures in the mid-80s when they landed in Texas Tuesday afternoon.
If the Wolves have their way, this trip will feature barbecue and brazilian steak and a chance to play golf at a swanky course. But they won’t have done this trip right if they can’t wrap up the organization’s fifth Central Division title in the last six years.
The Wolves’ magic number is 3. That means if they win tonight, then Manitoba would have to win all seven of its remaining games and Chicago would have to lose all eight of its remaining games in regulation to keep the Wolves from claiming the title. Considering the franchise has never dropped eight straight in regulation in its 28-year history, a win tonight essentially assures the crown.
However, the Wolves won’t have anything handed to them during these three games in four days at H-E-B Center. The Stars are fighting for a Calder Cup Playoff spot and recently reeled off a five-game winning streak, which included the Wolves’ only loss on their homestand. With Iowa (.516 points percentage), Texas (.508) and Grand Rapids (.485) locked in a battle for the fifth and final Central Division playoff spot, the Stars will give their best effort all week.
Chicago Wolves right wing Stefan Noesen became the first American Hockey League player in 11 seasons to reach the 40-goal mark when he scored 51 seconds into the second period of Sunday’s 5-2 victory over Cleveland. Noesen also became the first Wolves player since 2007 (Brett Sterling and Darren Haydar) to crash the 40-goal barrier.
Noesen doesn’t just lead the AHL in goals. He also leads the way in game-winning goals (10) — which shares the Wolves’ single-season record — as well as first goals (8) and insurance goals (9). His +34 plus/minus rating shares the top spot with Bakersfield defenseman Vincent Desharnais. Nobody else ranks higher than +28.
“He plays hard,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “He’s a heavy forward. He’s hard to defend. He can tip pucks like the best of them. He’s got a knack, obviously, for scoring goals. He should probably have more than 40. He was a little snake-bitten early in the season, but he (got) hot. He’s a hard matchup for teams. He’s our engine. He makes us go.”
we are the wolves
With a win tonight, the Wolves would become the AHL’s first team to reach 100 points this season. It would also mark the 11th time in the franchise’s 28-season history to crack the 100-point barrier — and the first time since 2016-17.
Hitting 100 points would also be a decent omen for the Wolves as they’ve always won their first-round series after doing so — and three league championships.
Also, the Wolves, who open the day with 98 points, need just 8 points in their final nine games to clinch the best regular-season points percentage in franchise history. The record of .695 was set in 1999-2000.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Forward Stefan Noesen became the first AHL player since 2011 to reach the 40-goal mark and rookie Noel Gunler scored his first pro goal in North America to highlight the Wolves’ win.
- Forwards Spencer Smallman and Andrew Poturalski and defenseman Jalen Chatfield also scored goals while Smallman and Poturalski also added one assist apiece.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon rejected 23 shots to earn the win.
- Defenseman Jesper Sellgren scored 46 seconds into overtime — set up by Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen — to give the Wolves the win and cut their Central Division magic number to 5.
- Forward Spencer Smallman produced a short-handed goal four minutes into the third — set up by Vasily Ponomarev and Jalen Chatfield — to break a scoreless tie.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov posted 27 saves to seize his seventh straight win.
By the numbers
2.51: The Wolves stand atop the American Hockey League at 2.51 goals allowed per game with the Pacific Division-leading Stockton Heat (2.65) 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 backup Matt Climie led the team to a 2.51 per-game mark.
8.28: This is the difference between the Wolves’ Shots For and Shots Against average. From Dec. 9 through April 9, the Wolves led the AHL in Shots For. For more than two months, the Wolves also led the AHL in Shots Against. However, this marks just the second game in the last four months that the Wolves have led the league in neither category. Chicago (34.19) is barely behind Colorado (34.21) in Shots For. Chicago also ranks second in Shots Against with 25.91 per game versus Manitoba’s 25.62. The Wolves seem assured of setting the franchise’s single-season record for fewest shots allowed per game. The 2014-15 squad set the mark at 27.93 per game.
21: The Wolves already have clinched a first-round bye and their Central Division magic number sits at 3, but their magic number to own home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs stands at 21 with nine games left. The Stockton Heat are the only team with a better chance. The Heat’s magic number sits at 14 with eight games left. The Utica Comets and the Ontario Reign are the only other teams with a chance to finish with the best regular-season record.
40: Wolves forward Stefan Noesen’s 40 goals are five ahead of Abbotsford’s Sheldon Dries, so he’s in good shape to become Chicago’s first goal-scoring champ since Wade Megan posted 33 goals to take the 2016-17 Willie Marshall Award. The next time Noesen earns a game-winning goal, it will be his 11th of the year and will break the organization’s single-season record he shares with Chris Marinucci (1998-99), Brett Sterling (2007-08), Mark Mancari (2011-12) and Shane Harper (2014-15).
88: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski delivered two points in Sunday’s win over Cleveland — his 26th multi-point effort of the season — to stay even with Ontario’s T.J. Tynan at the top of the AHL’s scoring charts. They’re both at 88 points, but the Wolves have nine games remaining and the Reign have seven. If Poturalski outduels Tynan down the stretch, 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 100 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. But there’s a catch to this chase: Poturalski and his wife, Haley, are expecting their first child (a boy) on Easter Sunday. If he gets the word at any point during this road trip that Haley has gone into labor, he’ll be hopping a plane back to Chicago.
422: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 727 players have suited up for Chicago. Veteran Richard Panik and rookies Noel Gunler and Vasily Ponomarev joined the club last Wednesday — and Panik became the 422nd player to boast NHL and Wolves experience. Put another way, 58.0 percent of all Wolves have suited up in the greatest league in the world.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Friday, April 15||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 16||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Tuesday, April 19||vs. Rockford||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Friday, April 22||at Grand Rapids||6 p.m.||Van Andel Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 23||vs. Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.