MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (0-0)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-0)
ONCE TEAMMATES, NOW FRENEMIES
On May 15, 2021 — about 45 minutes before the Chicago Wolves dropped the puck for their final game of the season — the team’s players (in uniform), coaches, trainers and equipment managers trooped from the locker room to the home team’s bench to take a team picture at the Wolves Practice Facility in Hoffman Estates.
The resulting photo summed up the crazy COVID-19 season that brought together the Chicago Wolves organization and the Milwaukee Admirals organization for four remarkable months. In the front row, Wolves assistant coach Patrick Dwyer sat next to Admirals head coach Karl Taylor. In the back row, Admirals forward Cole Smith and Wolves defenseman Joey Keane posed next to each other. So did Wolves forward Spencer Smallman and Admirals center Tommy Novak.
The Wolves and Admirals came together for their unlikely season in January 2021 when Milwaukee couldn’t field a team. To accommodate Milwaukee’s players who needed a place to skate, the Wolves and their NHL partner, the Carolina Hurricanes, forged a one-year deal with the NHL’s Nashville Predators to share the Wolves’ roster.
On several practice days, there would be 6-8 coaches (representing both teams) on the ice working with 30-35 players. On game days, Taylor joined the Wolves’ braintrust behind the bench while Carolina prospects and Nashville prospects shared the lineup equally.
The teams blended together quickly — winning their first seven games by an average of 2.9 goals per game — and breezed to the Central Division title during a year when no Calder Cup Playoffs were staged.
“It had its challenges for sure, but we made it work,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “We made it the best we could have. We all got along and we learned from each other, but that’s so far in the past. We’re completely moving forward. Last year was last year.”
Smallman remembered fondly how Smith would get out his Kamado Joe smoker and cook a bunch of meat for all teammates, regardless of whether they belonged to Chicago or Milwaukee. Wolves defenseman Max Lajoie enjoyed all of the rounds of golf he played with Smith and others.
“You obviously make a lot of good friends playing with them a whole season,” Smallman said. “But there won’t be any friends come Game 1.”
WE ARE THE WOLVES
The Wolves and the Admirals have not met in the postseason since April 26, 2010, when Chicago claimed a 2-1 Game 7 win in the West Division Semifinals.
ROCKFORD SERIES REWIND
- 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.
By the numbers
1: For the first time in their 28-year history, the Chicago Wolves led their league in Goals-Against Average with a 2.55 GAA. Though the Wolves had 12 days between the end of their regular season and the start of the postseason, their defense didn’t skip a beat as Chicago enters the Central Division Finals with the best postseason GAA as well. Goaltender Alex Lyon backstopped a cohesive unit that surrendered just 4 goals during the three-game sweep of Rockford. Lyon finished the series with a 1.34 GAA and a .939 save percentage as he rejected 62 of the 66 shots he faced. That pushed his career Calder Cup Playoffs numbers to 9-6 with a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage. “The more I play, typically, the better I feel,” Lyon said. “That’s just I’ve always been. I just play for my team. When I get opportunities like this, I just try to seize the moment and have a good time.”
7: This marks the seventh time Chicago and Milwaukee have met in the postseason. The Wolves have enjoyed these encounters more than the Admirals as they advanced in five of the first six series. But don’t be stunned if these teams need extra time to sort out a winner. Of their 34 postseason games, seven have gone to overtime and three of those needed two OTs. Here’s the list of series results:
1998 IHL Western Conference Semifinals: Wolves in 6
2001 IHL Western Conference Semifinals: Wolves in 5
2004 AHL West Division Finals: Admirals in 6
2007 AHL West Division Semifinals: Wolves sweep in 4
2008 AHL West Division Semifinals: Wolves in 6
2010 AHL West Division Semifinals: Wolves in 7
8: The top-seeded Wolves and third-seeded Admirals kick off the AHL’s best-of-5 Division Finals round as eight teams remain in the chase for the 2022 Calder Cup. The North Division Finals that pit third-seeded Laval and fifth-seeded Rochester begin Sunday — as do the Atlantic Division Finals that feature top-seeded Charlotte and second-seeded Springfield. The Pacific Divison Finals get underway Monday as top-seeded Stockton meets third-seeded Colorado, but the Eagles will get three of the five home games if the series goes the distance to May 31.
17: Between the Wolves and Admirals, there are 17 players on the Division Finals rosters who played for the Wolves last season when Chicago had partnership deals with Carolina and Nashville. On the Wolves’ side, there’s forwards David Cotton, David Gust, Stelio Mattheos, Jamieson Rees, Spencer Smallman and Ryan Suzuki and defensemen Cavan Fitzgerald, Joey Keane and Max Lajoie. On the Admirals’ side, there’s forwards Luke Evangelista, Tommy Novak and Cole Smith, defensemen Jeremy Davies, Marc Del Gaizo and Josh Healey and goaltenders Devin Cooley and Connor Ingram. Novak tied for the team lead in points (32) and Cotton led the team in goals (14). Lajoie was the top-scoring defenseman with 6 goals and 15 assists while Healey led everyone with 70 penalty minutes.
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 for the Carolina Hurricanes on 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 FINALS SCHEDULE
|Saturday, May 21
|Sunday, May 22
|Wednesday, May 25
|Friday, May 27
|Sunday, May 29
|Game 5 (if necessary)
All games are streamed on AHLTV.