HOFFMAN ESTATES, IL – What began as a back-and-forth exchange of scoring turned into a Chicago Wolves 4-3 victory over the Rockford IceHogs Friday night at Triphahan Ice Arena, the Wolves’ practice facility. Chicago’s victory was driven by players who are still fighting to earn a roster spot, with three goals scored by players who spent the majority of last season in the ECHL.
Friday night’s preseason game featured the first meeting between freshman head coaches Rocky Thompson of the Chicago Wolves and Jeremy Colliton of the Rockford IceHogs.
It also marked the first time Chicago Wolves fans were able to see many of the new faces on the team as the Wolves’ began their tenure as the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s a lot of new guys. As you see, there’s not many names you’d recognize from last year, so it’s a whole new unit,” said Brett Sterling.
Early on, the game was a battle of puck possession and speed, as the teams traded scoring chances. Rockford broke the tie at 17:09 on a Luke Johnson power-play goal, the only one of the game to not come on even strength. Wary of going into intermission with a deficit, the Wolves evened it eight seconds later on a Josh MacDonald goal.
Rockford opened the second period with six seconds of power play time but was unable to break the 1-1 tie. The IceHogs regained the lead 3:19 into the second on Matheson Iacopelli’s goal. Unhappy with the deficit, the Wolves evened it again two minutes later as Nelson Gadoury one-timed the feed from MacDonald past Collin Delia.
Travis Ewanyk attempted to make up for his own penalty earlier in the game, as he potted Tyler Heinonen’s rebound at 10:43 of the period. Delia made the initial stop on Heinonen, but the puck trickled through his five-hole right in front of Ewanyk.
Proving why he had an “A” on his chest tonight, Sterling notched the eventual game-winner for Chicago with 1:37 remaining in the second. His goal came off of a redirection from Chris Joyaux’s shot from the point.
“We had a couple of chances in front of the net and Brown, my winger, made a great play back to the D. I saw everybody converge on the net, so I didn’t need to go right where everybody was. I hung out at the backside post and D made a great look, put it right towards me and I was just able to tip it in,” said Sterling.
The Wolves shined in the second period after pulling even, seeming to hold true to Thompson’s plan of running a speed and possession game and using the long change to their advantage.
Thompson was enthused by how both his old and young players controlled the second period.
“Our guys were responsible. We have some older players who were playing tonight and they’ve been there before. They knew it. It’s just sometimes quick reminders for our left handed defensemen or our left winger to be responsible and not allow them to make a quick play off the ice. Our guys did it really well, actually in the second.”
Chicago took its 4-2 lead into the third. Rockford would pull to within one with 8:09 remaining after Matthew Highmore put Alexandre Fortin’s pass past C.J. Motte, but could not get the tying goal even after pulling its goaltender with two minutes and thirty-one seconds left.
Sterling was a standout player for the Wolves tonight, being active in all areas of the ice and even sacrificing his body a few times to block a shot.
“[I’m here to] provide and support the team as best I can whether that’s on the ice, off the ice, whatever I gotta do,” said Sterling.
Oscar Dansk was in goal for the Chicago for the first two periods, allowing two goals on nine shots. Motte replaced him for the third, saving 15 out of 16 shots.
Delia was responsible for all four Chicago goals in the two periods of play he saw. Matt Tomkins stepped in for the third, turning away all six shots faced.
Thompson was pleased by what he saw during Friday’s game.
“I thought it was just a good game. It was fun to get out in front of some of our fans. They did a good job packing the place so that was good. It allowed us to evaluate players that potentially could play for the Wolves which was the most important thing. We were able to play everybody and get a really good look and a really good evaluation. I felt comfortable, I felt myself and my staff worked together well.”
The Chicago Wolves finish up preseason play Saturday, September 30 at 6 p.m. as they travel to UWM Panther Arena to face the Milwaukee Admirals.