SPRINGFIELD THUNDERBIRDS (1-0)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-1)
TIME TO RESET
If the Chicago Wolves were considered the favorite to win the 2022 Calder Cup Finals — what with their status as the American Hockey League’s regular-season champion and as the team with home-ice advantage and no postseason losses at home — that changed 5:09 into overtime Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena.
That’s when Springfield Thunderbirds rookie defenseman Matthew Kessel, who hadn’t scored a goal since making his professional debut on April Fools’ Day, one-timed a James Neal pass into the net to give the Thunderbirds the 5-4 victory over the Wolves. Obviously Kessel’s first tally in 29 pro games was a rarity, but it wasn’t the only one Sunday. Here’s how the verdict looked compared to the Wolves’ track record in their 76 regular-season games and first 13 Calder Cup Playoff games. It marked:
- The first time in 26 games — since April 3 at Texas — the Wolves allowed 5 goals in a game.
- The first time in 10 games the Wolves lost at home (since April 23 vs. Milwaukee).
- The first time in 15 games (April 28 vs. Grand Rapids) the Wolves trailed at the first intermission.
- The third time all year the Wolves lost when scoring at least 4 goals — moving their record to 43-3.
- The fourth time all year the Wolves lost when leading after 40 minutes — moving their record to 39-4 with none of the losses coming in regulation.
Perhaps most vexing to the Wolves: It marked the second time in 10 days they built a 2-goal lead in the third period — only to surrender a goal within moments that inspired their opponent to rally for an overtime win. The same scenario occurred at Stockton in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
“Puck management is probably the biggest thing we’ve got to be better with,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “We’re turning over way too many pucks and, again, they’re a high-offensive team. They have four lines that can score. They have four lines that can push the pace offensively. When you turn over pucks, you’re giving them odd-man rushes (and) you’re in for a long night.”
IF YOU BELIEVE HISTORY REPEATS
Three years ago in the last Calder Cup Finals, the Chicago Wolves visited the favored Charlotte Checkers for Game 1 — the same Checkers squad that featured current Wolves Andrew Poturalski, Stelio Mattheos and Jesper Sellgren as lineup mainstays and Ryan Warsofsky behind the bench as an assistant. In that game, the Checkers built a 2-goal lead just like the Wolves did Sunday.
But those 2019 Wolves rallied to force overtime, then swiped a road win on Stefan Matteau’s goal 5:30 into extra time — the same minute as Matthew Kessel’s game-winner Sunday. Other similarities: The Wolves outshot the Checkers by 3 in OT (just like the Thunderbirds did Sunday) to finish within two shots of the Checkers for the game (just like the Thunderbirds did Sunday).
After Game 1, however, Charlotte recovered and took the next four games to claim the Cup.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
In the Chicago Wolves’ first seven trips to the Finals, their Game 1 results tended to foreshadow how the series turned out. Sunday marked the third time the Wolves have dropped Game 1. They also did so when falling in the 2001 Turner Cup Finals and 2005 Calder Cup Finals.
Of the five times the Wolves won Game 1, they went on to win it all in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2008. Only 2019, when Chicago claimed Game 1 at Charlotte, did the organization not proceed to bring home the Cup.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves held a 4-2 lead 29 seconds into the third period, but Springfield rookie defenseman Matthew Kessel capped a rally with the Game 1-winning goal 5:09 into overtime.
- Forwards Jack Drury, Richard Panik, David Gust and Stefan Noesen scored goals while Josh Leivo (2 assists) joined Drury and Noesen with 2 points apiece.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 30 saves.
- After 48 minutes, 35 seconds of intense, scoreless hockey, rookie forward Ivan Lodnia scored the opening goal to spark the Wolves to the Game 6 win that finished the Western Conference Finals.
- Linemates Spencer Smallman and Jamieson Rees set up Lodnia’s game-winner, then captain Andrew Poturalski added a breakaway and Josh Leivo an empty-netter in the final 80 seconds.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov rejected 28 shots to earn his first shutout in North America.
By the numbers
1: On Father’s Day, Jack Drury and his father, Ted, became the first father-son combination to play for the Wolves in the league finals. In 2001, the final year of the International Hockey League, Ted Drury was a mainstay on the Wolves squad that was beaten in five games by the Orlando Solar Bears for the Turner Cup. Ted finished those playoffs as the Wolves’ No. 3 goal-scorer with five tallies in 14 games. Jack, meanwhile, opened the scoring in the 2022 Calder Cup Finals when he delivered a power-play goal 10:07 into Sunday’s Game 1. Jack shares second place on this team’s goal-scoring list with eight tallies in 14 games.
2: For just the second time this season, the Wolves wound up on the short end of the final score Sunday despite leading by two goals in the third period. On Sunday, Stefan Noesen gave the Wolves a 4-2 edge when he redirected a Josh Leivo wrister 29 seconds into the third. But Springfield answered 24 seconds later, which turned the rest of Game 1 into a nailbiter that ended in an overtime defeat. A similar script played out last round when the Wolves needed one more win to advance to the Finals. The Wolves took a 3-1 lead on Leivo’s goal at 4:56 of the third in Game 4 at Stockton, but the Heat responded just eight seconds later. Then Stockton, just like Springfield on Sunday, pulled the goalie in the final 90 seconds and made it pay off to force an overtime that the home team eventually won.
3: Springfield’s roster and coaching staff features three people with Wolves organizations experience. Physical forward Mackenzie MacEachern made his pro debut with the Wolves in the 2016-17 opener Oct. 14 at Grand Rapids. He finished with 11 goals and 10 assists in 101 Wolves games over two years. Fourth-line center Tanner Kaspick, at the age of 19, signed an amateur tryout contract (ATO) with the Wolves on April 23, 2017, to serve as a black ace for a few weeks, but he did not get in a game. Thunderbirds assistant coach Daniel Tkaczuk served as an assistant for the Wolves’ 2016-17 Central Division champions and fared well enough to earn an assistant’s job with the St. Louis Blues the following season.
4.15: After finishing the regular season as the AHL’s No. 4 scoring team with 3.43 goals per game, the Wolves have kicked it up a notch during the postseason and pace the AHL with 4.15 goals per game. Chicago has accomplished it with a balanced effort as 17 of its 20 skaters have scored at least one goal. The third and fourth lines have accounted for 10 goals and the defensemen have notched six. Springfield, meanwhile, stands tied for second in postseason scoring with 4.0 goals per game.
5: Head coach Ryan Warsofsky and captain Andrew Poturalski aren’t the only people in the Wolves organization who won the 2019 Calder Cup as part of the Charlotte Checkers. Defenseman Jesper Sellgren came over from Sweden during the second round of the playoffs and jumped right into the Checkers lineup — finishing with 3 goals and 1 assist in 11 games. Forward Stelio Mattheos also notched 3 goals and 1 assist, albeit in 14 Calder Cup Playoff games. Center Spencer Smallman was on Charlotte’s roster, but did not participate in the postseason.
6: The Wolves have relied on the same six defensemen for every postseason game: Jalen Chatfield, Cavan Fitzgerald, Josh Jacobs, Joey Keane, Max Lajoie and Jesper Sellgren. Collectively, they have contributed 6 goals, 26 assists and a +39 plus/minus rating through 14 games.
14: In a similar vein, the Wolves have needed just 14 forwards to get through their first 14 postseason games. Of those 14 forwards, eight have played every game while six have rotated in and out of the lineup. Veteran forward Richard Panik shined brightest out of the rotating skaters as he delivered the game-tying backhard Sunday. “I think he was probably our best player tonight,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “I thought he was going. He’s heavy, he’s physical, obviously (he has) the experience.”
15: If Ryan Warsofsky continues the goaltender rotation he established last round after Pyotr Kochetkov returned from the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, then it should be the 23-year-old Russian rookie’s turn in net tonight. Last time out, he became the 15th goaltender in Wolves history to register a postseason shutout. Kochetkov became the first Wolves rookie to earn a shutout since Ondrej Pavelec on May 28, 2008. No Wolves goaltender ever has earned shutouts in back-to-back postseason starts.
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 CALDER CUP FINALS SCHEDULE
|Sunday, June 19
|SPR 5, CHI 4 (OT)
|Monday, June 20
|Wednesday, June 22
|Friday, June 24
|Saturday, June 25
|Tuesday, June 28
|Wednesday, June 29
All games are streamed on AHLTV.