Welcome to Wolves Insider, presented by Rivers Casino: the weekly report that gives you the latest Chicago Wolves news as the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy winners keep advancing in their quest for the organization’s fifth league championship.
IT’S MiLWAUKEE: THE WOLVES’ ORIGINAL RiVAL
If we’re being logical for a moment, it’s fair to say the Rockford IceHogs have developed into the Chicago Wolves’ fiercest rival. Not only is Rockford’s rink closest in proximity to Allstate Arena, the IceHogs’ affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks adds extra emotional punch to the Chicago-Rockford rivalry.
But the Wolves and IceHogs didn’t start battling until 2007. By that time, Chicago Wolves fans and Milwaukee Admirals fans were 13 years deep into their disdain for each other’s teams. The rivalry between these franchises located just 80 miles apart started as soon as the Wolves were born in 1994 and has not dissipated.
Since the Wolves and Admirals started clashing in the International Hockey League on Oct. 15, 1994, they have faced each other more than any other franchise — in both regular season and the playoffs. While Milwaukee boasts a slight edge in the teams’ 293 regular-season meetings (149-144), Chicago has dominated the six postseason series. The Wolves have taken 22 of the 34 games and five of the six series.
But when the Wolves and the Admirals open their best-of-5 Central Division Finals at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allstate Arena, it will mark their first postseason meeting since the Wolves claimed the 2010 West Division Semifinals in seven games.
While it has been a long time since these franchises met in the playoffs, this year’s teams are more familiar with each other than any other two AHL foes. Not only did the Wolves and Admirals play 14 times this season — the Wolves going 9-4-0-1 — both coaching staffs and 17 players banded together to make the most of the shortened 2021 season that ended with a Wolves’ Central Division title.
When the Wolves played their 33 games last season, Milwaukee head coach Karl Taylor joined Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky and Wolves assistants Patrick Dwyer and Bob Nardella behind the Chicago bench. For most games, the Wolves’ 18 skaters were split evenly between Carolina prospects (the Wolves’ NHL partner) and Nashville prospects (Milwaukee’s usual NHL partner, but not last year because the Admirals did not compete due to COVID concerns).
For example, last year’s Opening Night lineup featured nine players you will find on this year’s postseason rosters: Chicago’s Cavan Fitzgerald, Joey Keane, Stelio Mattheos, Jamieson Rees and Ryan Suzuki and Milwaukee’s Jeremy Davies, Josh Healey, Tommy Novak and Cole Smith. These nine and eight others — Chicago’s David Cotton, David Gust, Max Lajoie and Spencer Smallman and Milwaukee’s Marc Del Gaizo and Luke Evangelista and goaltenders Connor Ingram and Devin Cooley — mixed and matched in the lineup all season.
As an added Wolves-Admirals connection, Milwaukee top-line center Cody Glass played a crucial role in the Wolves’ run to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals. Then a 20-year-old rookie, Glass shared the team’s postseason scoring lead with 7 goals and 8 assists — including game-winning overtime goals in Game 1 of the Central Division Finals against Iowa and Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against San Diego.
CALDER CUP UPDATE
The winner of the Chicago-Milwaukee series will meet the winner of the Pacific Division Finals (pitting top-seeded Stockton vs. third-seeded Colorado) in the best-of-7 Western Conference Finals. The Heat and the Eagles open their best-of-5 series Monday, May 23, in California as Stockton hosts the first two before the scene shifts to Loveland, Colorado.
To keep track of all the latest playoff news for the Wolves and the AHL and to purchase Central Division Finals tickets, click here.
JOIN THE WOLVES ON ARMED FORCES DAY
Armed Forces Day is Saturday, May 21, and the Wolves are proud to offer tickets to Game 1 of the Central Division Finals to members of the military. To register for up to 4 tickets to Saturday’s game, please visit this page.
After playing just one game over the final two weeks of the regular season while healing from an injury, the veteran goaltender stacked up three terrific performances in a 72-hour period to backstop Chicago to the Central Division Semifinals sweep over Rockford. Lyon finished with a 1.34 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage while fashioning a 3-0 record.
The Wolves featured a balanced attack during the Central Division Semifinals as 11 players scored goals and 16 skaters contributed points, but it was the Wolves captain who led the way in points with 1 goal and 4 assists. Poturalski started strongly as he set up Stefan Noesen twice in Game 1, then put a bow on the series with his clinching power-play goal late in Game 3.
One of three Wolves to make their professional postseason debut in the Central Division Semifinals, this Evanston-born and Homer Glen-raised defenseman led everyone in the series with his +5 plus/minus rating. The 22-year-old Keane tied Andrew Poturalski for the series lead with 4 assists as he earned at least 1 point in each of the Wolves’ wins.
- Rookie Ivan Lodnia scored 2:27 into Game 3, then the penalty-kill units stopped four straight Rockford power plays before the offense wrapped up the Wolves’ first playoffs sweep since 2007.
- Forwards CJ Smith, Jack Drury and Andrew Poturalski also scored goals while Richard Panik assisted on the Wolves’ first two markers on the way to a 3-0 lead early in the third period.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon rejected 29 shots to register his third win in a 72-hour span.
- The Wolves outshot the IceHogs 20-1 in the first period — scoring on their final two shots of the frame — to set the tone for a resounding Game 2 victory at Allstate Arena.
- Forwards Josh Leivo, CJ Smith and Vasili Ponomarev and defenseman Max Lajoie scored goals while Jack Drury handed out two assists as the Wolves finished with a 49-16 shot advantage.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 15 saves to pick up the win.
- After spotting Rockford a 1-0 lead, the Wolves scored twice in the final minute of the first period and three more times in the second to roll to the convincing win in Game 1 of the best-of-5 series.
- First All-Star Team forward Stefan Noesen led the way with 2 goals and 1 assist while forwards Stelio Mattheos, Jack Drury and David Gust and defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald also scored.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 18 of 20 shots to earn the win.
THE CENTRAL DIVISION FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Saturday, May 21||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 1|
|Game 2||Sunday, May 22||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Game 2|
|Game 3||Wednesday, May 25||Panther Arena||7 p.m.|
|Game 4*||Friday, May 27||Panther Arena||7 p.m.|
|Game 5*||Sunday, May 29||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Game 5 (if necessary)|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.