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WOLVES PUT TOGETHER A MONTH TO REMEMBER
Just when it appeared the Wolves’ season would be lost, the defending Calder Cup champions hit the accelerator and reeled off a 7-3-0-1 mark during February–their first month with a winning record this season.
The hot stretch has put the defending Calder Cup champions right in the thick of a battle to reach the playoffs.
The Wolves currently stand sixth in the Central Division with an identical record as the Grand Rapids Griffins at 22-24-3-2. Both teams are six points out of the fifth and final postseason spot in the division currently held by the Iowa Wild (each with two games in hand) and 11 back of the fourth-place Rockford IceHogs (again, each with two games in hand).
So what’s been the reason for the upswing?
“We’ve had some continuity in our lineup, which we hadn’t had all year,” Wolves coach Brock Sheahan said. “Some of the lines have been together now for weeks. And getting guys like Mackenzie MacEachern, William Lagesson and Cavan Fitzgerald back to give us some veteran presence has made a big difference.
“Then the last piece would be our younger guys have gotten better and as a group they’re more bought in to how we need to play,” Sheahan added.
The Wolves have seven victories in their last 10 contests overall–and picked up a point in another for a shootout loss–as they get set to embark on a three-game road trip. When they do hit the road, beginning Wednesday against the Griffins in Grand Rapids, the Wolves will be in good spirits.
“It’s definitely a good mood right now,” MacEachern said. “We have a couple of games on hand on some of those teams in front of us and if we keep chipping away like we are right now, we can definitely make a push.”
Added Sheahan: “We have a lot of hockey left. We’re on the road a lot. To me, it’s about continuing to build on what we’ve done the last few weeks. Even before we were getting wins we were playing good hockey. Its continuing buying into that and understanding we can still get a lot better.”
During the 11 games in February, the Wolves averaged 3.82 goals per game to raise their season mark to 2.96 per contest. Leading the way has been captain Max Lajoie. The defenseman had five goals and nine assists during the month to give him seven goals and 23 assists his season. Lajoie’s 30 points have him in a tie for 14th in the league scoring by defensemen.
The 25-year-old said he got a boost from being named the Wolves’ representative in the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic on Feb. 5-6 in Laval, Quebec. Lajoie had an assist for the Central Division during the three-on-three tournament held not far from where he grew up.
“Confidence is a big thing and having that All-Star weekend obviously helped. I’m just making sure I play well defensively and the points will come.”
“I’ve just been lucky getting those shots through and getting those nice tips from guys,” said Lajoie, who added that also helping has been grasping the systems of a new coach in Sheahan.
“It’s a tough system to play,” Lajoie said. “It’s a lot of skating, dumping pucks and getting in on the forecheck. It’s hard to comprehend sometimes because you want to make the fancy play.”
Luckily, the simple plays have been working for Lajoie and the Wolves.
IMPACT PLAY of the week
After falling behind by two goals after one period during Friday’s game against the Griffins, the Wolves exploded for three consecutive scores in the second, including this gem from defenseman Griffin Mendel.
REPUBLIC BANK Save of the week
During the first period of the Wolves’ 2-1 victory over the Roadrunners on Sunday, goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stoned Roadrunners forward Ryan McGregor on a breakaway to keep the game scoreless. A short time later, the Wolves took a lead they never relinquished.
Weekly rewind (3-1-0-0)
TUESDAY, FEB. 21
Wolves 4, Wild 1: Max Lajoie had a goal and two assists, Ryan Suzuki a goal and an assist, Malte Stromwall and Josh Melnick also scored and Mackenzie MacEachern added two assists as the Wolves won for the fifth time in seven games.
FRIDAY, FEB. 24
Wolves 5, Griffins 4 (OT): Anttoni Honka notched the game-winner in OT, Max Lajoie scored twice and Jack Drury and Griffin Mendel had goals. Ronan Seeley and Ryan Suzuki each added two assists.
SATURDAY, FEB. 25
Roadrunners 6, Wolves 2: Jack Drury and Josh Melnick scored for the Wolves but it wasn’t enough as Tucson got two goals from Ryan McGregor and four assists from Jean-Sebastien Dea.
SUNDAY, FEB. 26
Wolves 2, Roadrunners 1: Zach Senyshyn and Mackenzie MacEachern scored and Pyotr Kochetkov (28 saves) was strong in net for the defending Calder Cup champions.
First Star of the Week
Where we stand
22-24-3-2, sixth in the Central Division.
|Wednesday, March 1
|at Grand Rapids
|Van Andel Arena
|Friday, March 3
|Canada Life Centre
|Sunday, March 5
|Canada Life Centre
|Saturday, March 11
|Sunday, March 12
|vs. Grand Rapids
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