ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (34-26-4-1)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (46-14-5-5)
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
It seems like 108 years ago instead of 108 days ago, but today’s clash between the Chicago Wolves and the Rockford IceHogs was supposed to take place on Jan. 1 and be celebrated as the Chicago New Year’s Classic, presented by Planet Fitness.
But COVID-19’s Omicron wave forced the Wolves and the IceHogs to take a few weeks off around the holidays — and forced the AHL schedulemakers to add an extra week to the regular-season schedule in order to find places on the calendar for a handful of postponed games.
Had this game been played on Jan. 1, the Wolves would have entered the night with a 20-4-1-1 record and riding a 12-game winning streak while the IceHogs were sitting at 11-11-1-1.
While head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s Wolves haven’t quite maintained that ridiculous pace, they still own the Central Division’s best record since Jan. 1 and have clinched the organization’s fifth Central Division title in the last six years.
However, the Wolves still have plenty to play for as they’re essentially in a dead heat with the Pacific Division-leading Stockton Heat to win home ice advantage throughout the Calder Cup Playoffs. If Chicago wins its final six games and Stockton wins its final five, they’ll finish tied with a .750 points percentage. However, the Wolves are a good distance ahead on the first tiebreaker (percentage of games won in regulation).
Rockford, meanwhile, has been working on two big incentives. The IceHogs’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot stands at 5 with seven games to play. In addition, even though Milwaukee has clinched a playoff berth and is a spot ahead of Rockford in the standings, the IceHogs still have a chance to finish with a higher points percentage and swipe the Central Division’s third and final first-round bye.
When the Wolves headed to Texas last Tuesday for a three-game set with the Stars, they decided to take just two goaltenders — Pyotr Kochetkov and Alex Lyon — while sending Jack LaFontaine to Norfolk (ECHL) in order to get three or four games of action. Either Kochetkov or Lyon was expected to play in tonight’s game.
But what do they say about the best laid-plans? LaFontaine played two games for Norfolk, then rejoined the Wolves Saturday once Lyon left Friday’s game early due to injury. Then, after Carolina (NHL) starting goaltender Frederik Andersen suffered a lower-body injury Saturday night, the Hurricanes recalled Kochetkov from loan Sunday. With LaFontaine Chicago’s only healthy goaltender remaining at that point, the Wolves recalled Dylan Wells from loan to Norfolk. LaFontaine and Wells are expected to be dressed tonight.
we are the wolves
The Wolves wrapped up their 12th division title in 28 years on Saturday.
Here’s the list of division champions:
1998 Midwest (IHL): 113 pts in 82 games (.689)
1999 Midwest (IHL): 110 pts in 82 games (.671)
2005 West (AHL): 105 pts in 80 games (.656)
2008 West (AHL): 111 pts in 80 games (.694)
2010 West (AHL): 105 pts in 80 games (.656)
2012 Midwest (AHL): 91 pts in 76 games (.599)
2014 Midwest (AHL): 100 points in 76 games (.658)
2017 Central (AHL): 101 points in 76 games (.664)
2018 Central (AHL): 95 points in 76 games (.625)
2019 Central (AHL): 98 points in 76 games (.645)
2021 Central (AHL): 45 points in 33 games (.682)
2022 Central (AHL): 102 points in 70 games (.729)
If the Wolves earn 4 points over their final six games, they’ll break the franchise mark for best regular-season record. The 1999-2000 squad set the standard with a .695 points percentage (53-21-8).
LAST TWO GAMES
- Forward Stefan Noesen’s short-handed goal at 9:28 of the third period snapped the game’s fourth and final tie and wound up the game-winner as the Wolves clinched the Central Division title.
- In addition to Noesen’s 42nd and 43rd goals of the year, the Wolves received goals from defensemen Joey Keane and Max Lajoie and forwards Richard Panik and Josh Leivo.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 25 shots for the win.
- Spencer Smallman scored with 5:28 remaining to wrap up the Wolves’ rally from a 2-0 deficit and drop their magic number to 1 for the Central Division title.
- Rookie forward Ivan Lodnia produced his first two-goal game as a pro, defenseman Chris Bigras scored his first Wolves goal and forwards Vasily Ponomarev and Jamieson Rees added 2 assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov entered for the injured Alex Lyon and posted 12 saves for the win.
By the numbers
2.54: The Wolves lead the American Hockey League in goals allowed at 2.54 per game, but the Providence Bruins (2.60) have been creeping closer. 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. The team record for fewest goals allowed per game was 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. The Wolves allowed 191 goals in 76 games that year, so this year’s crew needs to allow fewer than 13 goals over the final six games to break that record.
4: When veteran forward Josh Leivo scored his 20th goal Saturday night, he became the fourth Wolves skater to reach the 20-goal mark this season. That ties the 2018-19 Calder Cup finalists for the most 20-goal scorers in the last 11 years. Rookie center Jack Drury is just two goals away from 20. If he can nab two more, then this year’s crew would tie the 2005-06, 2007-08 and 2009-10 Wolves for the most 20-goal scorers in the AHL era.
13: The Wolves’ magic number to claim home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs rests at 13 with six games to play. The Stockton Heat’s magic number is 11 with five games to go, so the teams are neck-and-neck to finish with the best points percentage in the AHL. If the Wolves and Heat have the same points percentage at the end of the regular season, then the first tiebreaker is regulation wins divided by games played. Right now, that favors the Wolves (39/70=.557) over the Heat (31/63=.492).
23: The Wolves earned their 23rd road win Saturday at Texas, which ties the 2018-19 Calder Cup finalists for the organization’s most road wins since the AHL started playing a 76-game schedule in 2011. If the Wolves can earn 3 points in their final two road games, then they’ll finish with the second-best road points percentage in franchise history. The 2006-07 squad went 27-8-2-3 (.738).
43: With two goals Saturday night at Texas, forward Stefan Noesen became the first AHL player to score 43 goals in a season since 2010 — and the second Wolves player to score 43 goals in a season since Chicago joined the AHL in June 2001. Brett Sterling’s league-leading 55-goal performance in 2006-07 is Chicago’s only more productive showing in the last 21 years. Noesen owns a four-goal lead over Ontario’s Martin Frk in the race to win the AHL goal-scoring title. To make his odds even better, the Wolves have two more games remaining than the Reign.
91: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski handed out 3 assists Saturday night at Texas to push his points total to 91 (25G, 66A) for the season. He and Ontario’s T.J. Tynan (13G, 79A) have become the first AHL players in 10 seasons to score more than 90 points. They’re both trying to become the first in the AHL to crack the 100-point mark since Hershey’s Keith Aucoin (106) and Alexandre Giroux (103) in 2009-10. Poturalski’s 66 assists are tied with Steve Maltais (1995-96) for the fifth-highest single-season total in Wolves annals. Jason Krog (2007-08) ranks fourth with 73.
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 April 6 — and Panik became the 422nd player to boast NHL and Wolves experience. That’s 58.0 percent of all Wolves players, which doesn’t include former Wolves forward Cody Beach, who made his NHL officiating debut April 12 at Arizona.
FINAL REGULAR-SEASON GAMES
|Friday, April 22||at Grand Rapids||6 p.m.||Van Andel Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 23||vs. Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Sunday, April 24||vs. Grand Rapids||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Thursday, April 28||vs. Grand Rapids||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 30||at Rockford||6 p.m.||MetroCentre||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.