MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (37-27-5-4)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (47-15-5-5)
PANIK THE “MAGICIAN”
When Chicago Wolves general manager Wendell Young acquired veteran forward Richard Panik on loan from the New York Islanders at the AHL trade deadline on March 28, the Wolves knew they’d benefit in several ways.
Panik brought 521 games of NHL experience that includes 88 goals and 107 assists. The 31-year-old Martin, Slovakia, native brought Calder Cup championship experience as he scored 5 goals in 18 postseason games to help the Norfolk Admirals capture the 2012 Calder Cup. Panik also gave the Wolves coaching staff a veteran wing they can put on any line and make it better.
During the Wolves’ 4-2 win Friday night at Grand Rapids, Panik offered a taste of his talents as he racked up one goal and one assist during the first 10 minutes of the second period while playing with captain Andrew Poturalski and Josh Leivo on the top line.
But one bonus byproduct of Panik’s presence? The guy delivers a must-watch stick-handling show before games and during practices. Wolves TV color analyst Billy Gardner watched the Panik display before one of last week’s games in Texas and declared him a “magician.”
When asked to elaborate further, Gardner declared: “It was just plain trickery. Just small things with the puck and stick and using his skate. Flipping, stick-handling, etc. I saw him flip a puck 15 feet into the air and catch it with his stick.”
Panik allowed himself a brief smile when apprised of Gardner’s thoughts. “Sometimes I play with the puck,” Panik said. “He saw me flip the puck in the air, then I whack it from the air (to) behind my leg, kick it and then grab it. Sometimes when guys see that, they’re like, ‘Whoa, what is that?’ Just messing around to get the hands going, you know?
“When I was growing up, I played a lot of other sports. I played tennis, I played basketball, I played soccer. I did judo a long time. So I guess I’m trying to get other sports into hockey.”
Here’s a tiny sample of Panik’s abilities with the puck from Friday’s game:
While Panik wasn’t consulted before the Islanders loaned him to the Wolves (the Bridgeport Islanders had more veterans than AHL teams are allowed to play each game), he’s happy to be back in the town where he enjoyed his finest season as a pro. During his lone full season with the Chicago Blackhawks, Panik recorded career-highs in goals (22), assists (22) and points (44) while playing all 82 games in 2016-17.
“I made a lot of friends when I was playing in Chicago,” Panik said. “It’s good to be back and know someone you can hang out with when going through this transition. I had my best year in Chicago. It has always been my favorite city to play in, so I’m glad I’m back and I’m glad we have a great team.”
we are the wolves
For 22 years, the 1999-2000 team coached by John Anderson has been the Wolves’ gold standard — at least when it comes to regular-season success. Those Wolves finished with the best record in the IHL (53-21-8) before going on to claim the Turner Cup.
No Wolves team has been able to match the 1999-2000 squad’s .695 points percentage, but that will change if the Wolves win tonight. Earning a W would push Chicago’s points total to 106, which means they could do no worse than a .697 points percentage for the year. If they can win three of their last four, they’ll join the 1998, 2000 and 2008 teams with 50 wins.
LAST TWO GAMES
FRIDAY, APRIL 22: CHICAGO 4, (AT) GRAND RAPIDS 2
- The Wolves scored three goals during the first 10 minutes of the second period to take control and sweep all six games at Grand Rapids this season.
- Defenseman Chris Bigras and forwards Andrew Poturalski and Richard Panik scored in the second and rookie Noel Gunler added one in the third while Josh Leivo dished out three assists.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine stopped 27 shots for the win.
- Center Spencer Smallman produced a pair of short-handed goals in the third period to forge a tie, but Rockford’s Mike Hardman scored with 47 seconds left to claim the victory.
- Rookie center Vasili Ponomarev recorded his first professional goal in North America while defenseman Josh Jacobs handed out two assists as the Wolves outshot the IceHogs 47-28.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine recorded 24 saves.
By the numbers
2.56: The Wolves have been leading the American Hockey League in Goals Against since the end of February. They own the lead at 2.56 goals allowed per game and added a little cushion to their lead over the second-place Providence Bruins (2.64). 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 7 goals over the final four games to break that record.
5: When center Spencer Smallman scored a pair of short-handed goals in the third period of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Rockford, he joined Niklas Andersson (Dec. 22, 2000), the late Dan Snyder (Dec. 13, 2002), Jeremy Welsh (March 27, 2015) and T.J. Tynan (Dec. 16, 2017) as the only Wolves players to score two shorties in the same game. Smallman, Andersson and Tynan were the only ones to score their pair in the same period.
9: The Wolves’ magic number to claim home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs has dropped to 9 with four games to play. The Pacific Division-leading Stockton Heat have the inside track as their magic number has dropped to 6 with three games to go. The Ontario Reign is the only other team still in the running to finish with the best points percentage in the AHL, but they need to win their last two games while Stockton loses its last three and the Wolves get no more than 3 points in their final four games.
24: The Wolves earned their 24th road win Friday at Grand Rapids, which is four more than any other AHL team and the most for any Wolves team 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: Forward Stefan Noesen has become 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 three-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.
93: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski and Ontario’s T.J. Tynan have become the first two AHL players in 10 seasons to score more than 90 points, while Poturalski (26G, 67A) has become the first Wolves player since 2007-08 AHL MVP Jason Krog to produce more than 83 points in a season. Poturalski scored 2 points early Friday night to pull within 3 points of Tynan in the race, but Tynan responded with 2 points in Ontario’s late game at Colorado to restore a 98-93 lead in the points race. However, the Wolves have two more games left than the Reign.
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
|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.