CHICAGO WOLVES (49-16-5-5)
AT ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (37-29-4-1)
TWO OF A KIND
On Thursday afternoon, the American Hockey League confirmed what Wolves fans have known all season: Captain Andrew Poturalski and alternate captain Stefan Noesen are two of the best forwards in the league. Poturalski and Noesen were named to the 2021-22 First All-Star Team as voted by players, coaches and media in every AHL city.
“They deserved it,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “They’re arguably the two best players in the whole league and I think every coach who has seen them play would say that. They can dominate the game. They set the tone on how we play. It’s that simple.”
For all but a handful of games, Poturalski and Noesen have played together on the top line all season and they have delivered personal bests in every category while reaching heights that the AHL hasn’t seen since 2009-10.
Noesen scored his 46th goal Thursday night against Grand Rapids, which ranks as the most in the AHL since Alexandre Giroux posted 50 for Hershey in 2009-10. The 29-year-old Plano, Texas, native has all but clinched the Willie Marshall Award that goes to the AHL’s goal-scoring champion as he carries a six-goal lead over Ontario’s Martin Frk heading into the final day of the regular season. Noesen also owns career-highs in assists (37), points (83) and plus-minus rating (+35).
Poturalski posted his 98th and 99th points Thursday night against Grand Rapids, which ranks as the most in the AHL since Keith Aucoin posted 106 and Giroux posted 103 for Hershey in 2009-10. The 28-year-old Williamsville, New York, native holds a 1-point lead over Ontario center T.J. Tynan (the other 2021-22 First All-Star Team forward) in the race to be the AHL’s scoring champion and win the John B. Sollenberger Trophy. And, because tonight’s game will be done before Ontario takes the ice at Henderson, Poturalski has a head start to become the 100th player in AHL history to reach 100 points.
Of Noesen’s 46 goals, Poturalski has assisted on 24 of them (16 even-strength, six power plays, one empty-netter and one short-handed empty-netter). Of Poturalski’s 28 goals, Noesen has assisted on 10 (six even-strength, three power plays and one shorthanded).
The duo has teamed up to earn both assists on 18 Wolves goals, including 7 by frequent linemate CJ Smith. Rookie center Jack Drury and defenseman Jesper Sellgren have benefited twice apiece.
HOW TO GET HOME ICE
It’s a pretty simple formula for the Wolves, who are chasing the Pacific Division-champion Stockton Heat for the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy that goes to the AHL’s regular-season champion:
The Wolves need to earn at least one more point from tonight’s game than Stockton gets from its 8 p.m. game at Bakersfield. If that happens, the Wolves claim home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
we are the wolves
Thanks to Rockford’s 3-2 loss Friday night at Milwaukee, tonight’s regular-season finale has no effect on the Calder Cup Playoffs picture in the Central Division. All of the seeds are set:
1) Chicago (bye): Awaits the winner of the best-of-3 series between No. 4 Rockford and No. 5 Texas. The Wolves’ Central Division Semifinals series will begin the second week of May and includes a guaranteed home game at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 14.
2) Manitoba (bye): Opens the Central Division Semifinals at Milwaukee.
3) Milwaukee (bye) Hosts the Moose in Games 1-2 on May 6-7. The Admirals went 5-5-2-0 against Manitoba this year.
4) Rockford: Hosts all three games, if necessary, of the first-round series against the Stars on May 4, 6 and 7.
5) Texas: Posted a 2-1-0-1 record at Rockford this year.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Rookie center Jack Drury scored twice, including the game-winner as part of a four-goal third period, as the Wolves stayed in contention for the AHL’s best regular-season record.
- Forwards Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen, named to the AHL’s First All-Star Team earlier in the day, posted 1 goal and 1 assist apiece while forwards David Cotton and Josh Leivo also scored.
- Goaltender Jake LaFontaine posted 22 saves to pick up his second straight win.
- Forwards Stefan Noesen and Vasili Ponomarev scored two goals apiece in the first 30 minutes as the Wolves clinched the best regular-season record in franchise history with the victory.
- Forwards Andrew Poturalski and Noel Gunler posted the other goals while Poturalski, Richard Panik and Stelio Mattheos handed out two assists apiece.
- Goaltender Dylan Wells stopped 26 shots to earn his first AHL win since April 14, 2019.
By the numbers
2.56: There’s a pretty good chance the Wolves are going to finish with the American Hockey League’s best goals-against average and claim the franchise’s first GAA title. Chicago enters tonight’s regular-season finale with a 2.56 GAA while second-place Providence sits at 2.65. Even if the Bruins fashion a shutout in their finale against Utica, the Wolves can allow six goals tonight and still win the title. Coincidentally, the Carolina Hurricanes won the William M. Jennings Memorial Trophy that goes to the NHL team that allowed the fewest goals. Technically, it goes to the goalies who played at least 25 games, so that means Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta get the award. But Alex Lyon, Peter Kochetkov and Jack LaFontaine also get some satisfaction because they helped the Hurricanes finish with a 2.46 GAA.
5: Rookie center Jack Drury scored a pair of goals Thursday night against Grand Rapids to pump his total to 20 for the year. That makes him the fifth Wolves player to hit the 20-goal mark this season — joining Stefan Noesen (46), Andrew Poturalski (28), CJ Smith (24) and Josh Leivo (22) — and that historically means great things for this organization. This becomes the fourth Wolves squad in their 21 AHL seasons to feature five 20-goal scorers. The 2007-08 team won the Calder Cup, the 2009-10 team reached the final eight and the 2005-06 team, uh, became the first Wolves squad not to qualify for the playoffs. Drury’s pair of goals also pushed his point total to 51, which ranks third on the Wolves’ all-time list for rookies. Only Brett Sterling (97 points in 2006-07) and Brian Wiseman (72 points in 1994-95) were more prolific. Assistant coach Bob Nardella ranks fourth on that list with 49 points in 1994-95.
7: When Pyotr Kochetkov made his Wolves debut Feb. 19, it enabled the Wolves to set the franchise record for most goaltenders used in one season with eight. However, another record was set Sunday afternoon when Dylan Wells stopped 26 shots to backstop Chicago to a 6-2 win over Grand Rapids. Wells became the record-setting seventh Wolves goaltender this season to earn a victory — joining Alex Lyon (17), Kochetkov (13), Eetu Makiniemi (11), Jack LaFontaine (3), Daniel Mannella (2) and Michael Lackey (1). What’s crazier? All of these goalies except Lyon and Wells made their AHL debuts this season.
50: With a win tonight, this year’s team would become the fourth in franchise history to record at least 50 victories — and the first to accomplish the feat since the AHL dropped from 80 to 76 games prior to the 2011-12 season. The 50-win marker seems like a great barometer as the other three teams to accomplish the feat — the 1997-98, 1999-2000 and 2007-08 squads — all went on to capture the league championship.
62: This Wolves squad already is assured of setting the franchise record for best points percentage. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s team stands at .720 entering tonight’s finale the previous record (set in 1999-2000) was .695. But here’s another way this team has proven its excellence: Its goal differential of +62. It’s the best in the league (Stockton is next at +59) and ranks third on the Wolves’ all-time charts behind the 2006-07 offensive powerhouse (+79) and the 2007-08 Calder Cup champions (+74).
155: Today marks the 155th consecutive day the Wolves have woken up in first place in the Central Division. They seized the lead with a huge rally on the night of Nov. 26 at Grand Rapids and never let it go.
423: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 727 players have suited up for Chicago. When 22-year-old goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov made his NHL debut Saturday, he became the 423rd Wolves player to play in the NHL. That makes 58.2 percent of all Wolves players — and 70 percent of all Wolves goalies (49 of 70).