Stefan Noesen and Vasili Ponomarev scored two goals apiece to pace the Chicago Wolves to a 6-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena.
Captain Andrew Poturalski and rookie forward Noel Gunler also scored for the Wolves (48-16-5-5), who clinched the best regular-season record in the franchise’s 28-year history. The Central Division champions will finish with no worse than a .697 points percentage, which nudges ahead of the 2000 Turner Cup championship team that finished at .695.
Noesen’s goals were his 44th and 45th of the season, which gives him a five-goal lead over Ontario’s Martin Frk in the race for the Willie Marshall Award that goes to the American Hockey League’s leading goal scorer.
Poturalski set up both of Noesen’s tallies in addition to scoring his 27th goal, which pushed his point total to 97 with two games to go as he seeks to become the first AHL player in 12 years to reach the 100-point mark.
“Our start was great,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “Noesen’s goal kind of set the tone and then we built off it. Credit to the guys in the room for showing up the way they did.”
The Wolves needed just 1:19 to get on the board. Poturalski and Richard Panik swiped the puck on the forecheck and it wound up behind Grand Rapids’ net, where Poturalski spied Noesen racing into the left faceoff circle for a quick chip into the top corner.
The Wolves’ forecheck paid off again at 5:22 of the first. Forward Stelio Mattheos stole the puck in the neutral zone, zipped down the right wing and found Ponomarev walking down the slot for his second goal.
Veteran forward Riley Barber answered with his 23rd goal of the year to pull Grand Rapids (32-34-6-2) within 2-1 at 18:18 of the first. The tally extended Barber’s point streak to an AHL-best 15 games this season.
Chicago regained control of the game early in the second period when Grand Rapids picked up the game’s first two penalties 17 seconds apart. With the 5-on-3 advantage, Poturalski teed up a Noesen one-time blast from the left faceoff dot to make it 3-1 at 6:17.
Thirty-one seconds later, defenseman Jesper Sellgren found David Cotton open in front of the net. Grand Rapids goaltender Kaden Fulcher blocked Cotton’s two attempts to jam the puck home, but the rebound pinballed into the slot and Ponomarev whipped it into the net for the 4-1 lead.
The 20-year-old Ponomarev earned the first three-point performance of his young professional career when he set up Gunler’s tap-in goal at 14:29 of the second to boost the lead to 5-1.
Poturalski pushed the margin to 6-1 when he whistled home a power-play goal from the right faceoff circle 2:31 into the third. Chicago finished 3 of 3 on the power play.
Wolves goaltender Dylan Wells (1-1-1), who started for the second day in a row after expected starter Jack LaFontaine was scratched an hour before puck drop, rejected 26 shots to earn his first AHL victory since April 14, 2019.
Fulcher (1-3-0) finished with 29 saves while playing in front of a short-handed Griffins lineup.
The Wolves start the final week of regular-season action by hosting Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. Thursday on $2 Beer Night. To get tickets for the regular-season finale or the upcoming Calder Cup Playoffs, contact a team representative at [email protected].