ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (0-0)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-0)
FINALLY, IT’S TIME TO PLAY
There’s more than one way to quantify just how long it has been since the Chicago Wolves have had the chance to compete in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
By one measure, it has been almost three full years — two years, 11 months and four days, to be exact — since the Wolves played for the American Hockey League’s biggest prize. It was June 8, 2019, when the Wolves hosted the Charlotte Checkers in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals, but had to watch the Checkers celebrate a championship on Allstate Arena ice after claiming a 5-3 victory.
The AHL didn’t get the chance to crown a champion in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 and all of its associated safety protocols, but the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs got underway on May 2 with 23 teams fighting for the right to hoist the Cup in late June.
Which brings us our next way to measure just how long it has been since the Wolves played for the Cup. The AHL’s best regular-season team owned a first-round bye, which meant the Wolves had to wait for fourth-seeded Rockford and fifth-seeded Texas to play a best-of-3 series before setting their schedule for this best-of-5 Central Division Semifinals series with the IceHogs. That means it has been 12 full days since the Wolves wrapped up the regular season with a 3-2 victory at Rockford. When the puck drops at 7 p.m., they will be the 23rd and final team to make their 2022 Calder Cup debut.
For a team that played 30 games over the final 64 days of the regular season, this break has felt like a lifetime — but the Wolves have made the most of it. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky and his assistants have blended short, sharp practices with concise video sessions and beneficial rest days to create a squad that’s healthy and eager to start the postseason. (Also, Warsofsky and his wife, Caroline, welcomed their second child into the world when Lucy Warsofsky arrived at 8:19 p.m. on May 5.)
“I think we’re in good shape,” Warsofsky said. “This time of year, everyone’s banged up, but I think the rest helped. Once we start, it’s go time.”
HOW WE USED THOSE EXTRA DAYS
For the first time since the 2004 Calder Cup Playoffs, the AHL has invited more than 16 teams to the postseason party and required the top teams to wait an extended period of time before starting play. Considering Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky was in high school at that time, he had not previously been required to plot how to maximize a lengthy wait. He and assistants Patrick Dwyer and Bob Nardella mapped out a plan to prepare their players, but not overprepare them — if that makes sense.
“We looked at all (12) games we played against Rockford,” Warsofsky said. “All situations. Where they scored. Where we scored. We’ve gotten to look at a lot, but you have to manage what the coaches see (vs.) what the players see. Video is endless, so you have to be detailed in what you want to explain to the players. We’re going to keep things pretty much as we’ve done all year. Our meeting at 5:30 before the game will be the same length. Same thing with the power play and ‘PK’ meetings.
“But we know their players. We know their goaltenders’ tendencies. It’s really going to come down to who executes the best and, in my mind, who’s the most focused without the puck.”
we are the wolves
Tonight’s game kicks off the Wolves’ 21st foray into the postseason in 26 seasons (not including the last two seasons when the AHL did not host the Calder Cup Playoffs).
It’s the third time the Wolves have matched wits with the Rockford IceHogs in the playoffs. In the 2008 West Division Finals, the IceHogs won three straight games to take a 3-2 series lead. Then the Wolves shaved their playoff beards (but kept their mustaches) and knocked off Rockford in Games 6 and 7 to resume their run to the franchise’s fourth league title.
In 2018, fourth-seeded Rockford swept the top-seeded Wolves in the best-of-5 Central Division Semifinals.
THE LAST REGULAR-SEASON GAME
- The Wolves fired 54 shots — the team’s highest regular-season total since Dec. 2, 2006 — as they wrapped up the schedule with a win that clinched the AHL’s best regular-season record.
- Captain Andrew Poturalski set up forward Stefan Noesen twice as Poturalski finished as the AHL leader in points (101) and Noesen led the AHL in goals (48). Forward Stelio Mattheos also scored.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 23 saves as the Wolves clinched the AHL’s best goals-against average.
By the numbers
2.55: For the first time in the Wolves’ 28-year history, they led their league in goals-against average. Despite needing to use a franchise-record eight goaltenders to get through the season, the Wolves surrendered just 2.55 goals per game to finish at the top of the 31-team league. Accordingly, the Wolves’ Alex Lyon won the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award as the only goaltender who appeared in at least 25 games for the team with the best GAA. Coincidentally, the Carolina Hurricanes won the William M. Jennings Memorial Trophy that goes to the NHL team that allowed the fewest goals. Technically, it went to the goalies who played at least 25 games, so that meant Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta earned the award. But the Wolves’ Lyon, Pyotr Kochetkov and Jack LaFontaine also get some satisfaction because they helped the Hurricanes finish with a 2.46 GAA. In that vein, Kochetkov, LaFontaine, Eetu Makiniemi, Dylan Wells, Daniel Mannella, Beck Warm and Michael Lackey also get some credit for the Wolves posting the AHL’s best GAA.
4: The Wolves feature four players on their roster who’ve won the Calder Cup. Andrew Poturalski, now the Wolves captain, captured the 2019 Jack A. Butterfield Trophy that goes to the postseason Most Valuable Player as he led the Charlotte Checkers over the Wolves in the Calder Cup Finals. Poturalski posted 12 goals and 11 assists and a +15 plus/minus rating in 18 playoff games that season. Forward Stelio Mattheos notched 3 goals and 1 assist in 14 games for Charlotte that postseason while defenseman Jesper Sellgren added 3 goals and 1 assist in 11 games. Veteran forward Richard Panik hoisted the Cup in 2012 as part of the immortal Norfolk Admirals squad that won 29 straight games at the end of the regular season and into the postseason. Panik, then a rookie, contributed 5 goals and 1 assist in 18 postseason games. And, of course, Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky served as Mike Vellucci’s top assistant for Charlotte’s 2019 championship team and took over the team the following year.
48: Wolves forward Stefan Noesen scored a league-high 48 goals to earn the Willie Marshall Award. His 48 goals are the most in the AHL since Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux notched 50 in 2009-10. Noesen finished third in the AHL scoring race with 85 points, second in plus-minus rating (+35) and first in game-winning goals (13).
50: With a 3-2 win over Rockford in the regular-season finale on April 30, this Wolves squad became the fourth in franchise history to reach 50 wins in the regular season. Each of the other three (1997-98, 1999-2000 and 2007-08) went on to win the league championship. This year’s team, by the way, set the franchise record for best single-season points percentage (.724) and ranks third on the all-time franchise list with its +67 goal differential behind the 2006-07 offensive powerhouse (+79) and the 2007-08 Calder Cup champions (+74).
101: When Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski set up Stefan Noesen for a goal 10:51 into the Wolves’ regular-season finale on April 30 at Rockford, he became the first AHL player in 12 years to score 100 points in a season. Poturalski added another assist on another Noesen goal in the third period to finish with 101 points (28G, 73A) in 71 games. That earned Poturalski the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the league’s leading point-producer — the second year in a row he earned that hardware. Poturalski is the first AHL player in 24 years — and the fifth in the league’s 86-year history — to pace the league in points in back-to-back years.
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 April 23, 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).
THE CENTRAL DIVISION SEMIFINALS SCHEDULE
|Thursday, May 12
|Saturday, May 14
|Sunday, May 15
|Tuesday, May 17
|Thursday, May 19
|Game 5 (if necessary)
All games are streamed on AHLTV.