ROSEMONT, ILL – The Chicago Wolves looked to continue their success against the Rockford IceHogs Saturday night at home at the Allstate Arena. Prior to Saturday’s game, Chicago had gathered at least one point in all eight previous meetings, going 4-0-3-1.
T.J. Tynan got the Wolves going early when he snagged the puck in the neutral zone and worked it to Keegan Kolesar. Kolesar then threw it back to him, and the Wolves’ leading-scorer found Brandon Pirri for the shot from the left circle. Rockford goaltender Jeff Glass did not stand a chance at making the save on the quick tic-tac-toe play.
While the Wolves entered the first intermission up 1-0 and with a 14-6 advantage in shots on goal, they went 0-for-3 on the power play which included not capitalizing on a 5-on-3 chance.
With as good as the Wolves looked on paper during the first period, the IceHogs did even better in the second as they outshot the home team an astounding 18-4. Chicago Wolves goaltender Oscar Dansk had to stand on his head to make save after save to keep his team ahead, but he could only do so much for so long.
Matheson Iacopelli got the visitors on the board with 2:07 left in the second when he wristed one above the glove of Dansk on the power play. Dansk was screened and did not see the shot until it was too late.
Rockford took the lead… when one of its own players put his team down a man. Tyler Sikura forced a shorthanded breakaway and Dansk came out to challenge the rolling puck. However, he lost an edge and found himself sliding away from both the net and the play itself. It was an easy shorthanded goal for Sikura into the empty net.
“I don’t know. I must’ve misread it or something,” said Dansk, “but obviously it’s unacceptable to do that right now. I don’t really know what happened but I’ll know for next time. I’ll play it better. I gave them life with that, so it wasn’t really good, but we just tried to bounce back and forget about it.”
Having even more momentum than they already had after dominating the second, the IceHogs’ Anthony Louis scored the eventual game-winner at 6:30 of the third.
Paul Thompson would pull his team within one two minutes later when he tipped Jake Bischoff’s point shot low past Glass. The captain then triggered a line brawl moments later, and while the Wolves would come out of it with a power play as the IceHogs had been tagged for too many men in addition to the roughing penalties, Pirri negated that advantage just 24 seconds later with a high-sticking penalty of his own.
Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson would pull Dansk for the extra attacker with 2:17 on the board, and they almost knotted the game – twice. The first chance came when Glass was down on his back and it seemed all the Wolves needed to do was elevate the puck a bit to easily pop it over the goalie and into the net. However, the ref blew the whistle too quickly as he somehow did not see the rebound bounce five feet in front of Glass and the IceHogs found themselves breathing a sigh of relief. Teemu Pulkkinen then beat Glass with less than 20 seconds on the board, but his chance skittered across the goal line and out.
Rockford walked away with the 3-2 victory, its first all season in regulation against the Wolves, largely due to its 5-for-5 performance on the penalty kill.
Rocky Thompson did not beat around the bush when talking about how his team played, saying,
“I think this is one of the worst games we’ve played all year as a team and very few times this year can I say we got outbattled and outcompeted and at the end of the day Rockford wanted it more and it just looked like that on the ice. Some guys should be extremely disappointed in the effort they brought tonight for this team.”
Dansk made 33 saves in net for Chicago and suffered his first regulation loss since returning to the Wolves in February.
“I thought Oscar kept us in the game,” said Rocky, ‘“not just the [penalty] kill, I was really disappointed in our special teams entirely tonight. I thought we got outcompeted. Our power play got outworked from start to finish on every one. We did have some decent looks, actually, on the 5-on-3, I’ll give us that. On the penalty kill, I thought Oscar played really well and was able to keep this game close.”
For a goaltender who seemed to falter under pressure early in the season, Dansk has come a long way. Though he gave up the game-winner to Louis just two minutes after falling while trying to stop the breakaway, the goaltender would go on to make save after save before the game was over. The Dansk in net for Chicago now is one who is able to bounce back better than he could earlier this season, which he echoed postgame.
“A goal is a goal, you know, whatever way it goes in I guess. But obviously it sucks when they put those ones in, it’s just a FREEBIE for that guy, but you’ve gotta just keep focusing on the next one just like any other goal, really. You don’t dwell on it.”
With the loss, Chicago drops to 33-20-17-2 and much closer to the Iowa Wild in the Central Division standings.
The Wild are in town Sunday for a 3 p.m. puck drop which has the potential to shake up the Central Division standings a bit as the Wolves hold just a one point advantage now.