Chicago, Ill – After six days off, the Chicago Wolves found themselves staring down a tough pair of opponents away from home. First up was a trip to the Milwaukee Admirals, followed by one to the division-leading Grand Rapids Griffins.
The rusty Wolves walked away with a 3-2 overtime win in Milwaukee after trading goals. Though the Admirals looked good in the final regulation frame, Brooks Macek and co. made easy work on the Admirals in the extra frame, with Curtis McKenzie creating a turnover and dishing it to Dylan Coghlan who then passed to Macek for the game winner.
T.J. Tynan scored the first goal of the game in his first game back from injury. The unofficial head of Chicago’s leadership group reiterated after the game what he displayed on the ice – that he doesn’t like being on the sidelines.
“It’s tough being away. I didn’t miss that many games but actually it was a lot of time with the break and stuff like that, so. I’m just excited to be around the guys and you miss – time off, you want to do your part for your teammates and your team. Once you get out there, it’s a lot of fun with it especially we have a great group of guys.”
Though the Wolves appeared to control a good majority of the game, with a 10-5 shot on goal advantage in the first and a 9-7 advantage in the middle frame, they appeared a bit rusty. There were numerous missed passes and rebounds which could have given Chicago a commanding lead earlier in the game than the Wolves had.
Tynan echoed this sentiment, saying,
“I think if you go a week without a game, you’re going to have some rust. That’s just nature. I don’t think we were clicking – I still don’t think we were clicking that well really at any point, but obviously we got the win which is all that matters. But anytime you take that time off, you’re going to have a little bit of rust and I think we’ll be a lot better tomorrow versus a really good team. Hopefully we can build off that.”
One of the most promising aspects of Chicago’s game from Saturday was the team’s ability to rebound when down a man. Rocky’s boys succeeded in forcing the Admirals to take a penalty while on the power play, and thus the Wolves did not have to kill the entirety of one of their two penalties during the game.
Rocky almost foretold the key to his team’s success against Grand Rapids the day prior, stating,
“I think it’s going to be the tale of two ends. Who can feed their forecheck and really control the midzone. It’s not just about making plays through the midzone – it’s about advancing the puck through the midzone so we can get into the offensive zone.”
From the opening faceoff Sunday, his team did just that. The first period in GR went similar to Saturday in Milwaukee as the Wolves went up 11-5 in shots on goal. The only difference? Chicago struck twine in the first with Nic Hague scoring on the power play with just 18 seconds on the clock, and two on the man advantage. Hague had gone a month and a half without scoring prior to getting his 10th of the year.
An early penalty by former Wolves star Wade Megan put the league’s 8th-best power play back on the ice, and this time it was a patient McKenzie who doubled Chicago’s lead.
In perhaps the funniest interaction of the night, after being knocked down by Dylan McIlrath and booed by the home fans, Gage Quinney took advantage of the turnover forced by Macek to make it 3-0 Chicago.
It the most controversial play of the weekend, GR appeared to have pulled to within one with 1:26 left in regulation, but a lengthy review resulted in an overturning of the call on the ice as it appeared Max Lagace‘s stick knob had moved the twine, not the puck. Chicago would go on to win this one 4-1, and is now a point behind Iowa for second in the division with two games in hand.
Also worth noting is that Daniel Carr is currently riding a four-game goal-scoring streak with a goal each in Milwaukee and Grand Rapids.
It was clear Sunday that the Chicago Wolves had fully shaken off any rust which might have remained from Saturday. All lines were clicking, as were the special teams, and Chicago moved the puck much better than it did against Milwaukee. As Rocky alluded to, Chicago controlled the neutral zone for much of the game, and was able to create space for its skill to shine through.
Though Oscar Dansk was worrisome at times with his play on Saturday – he did have six days off, too – Lagace was a rock star in net against Grand Rapids Sunday, making 34 saves. Lagace bailed his teammates out numerous times in his first game back since being recalled to the Vegas Golden Knights.
If you look by points percentage, the Chicago Wolves have the best record in the Central Division. In addition to the two games in hand over Iowa, the Wolves have three in hand over the Grand Rapids Griffins, who have a three point lead.
The general sentiment in the locker room is that when the Wolves play their game, they’re unbeatable.
When asked last weekend about Chicago’s performance in its rebound after a tough loss in Rockford, Carr said,
“I think when we play with speed, no one can play with us. It’s one of those things where when we play with speed, when we play our game there, we’re all over them. When we get away from it, things like last night [Feb.1] happen. For us, it’s about making sure we bring that every game and we’re going to be good. We’re not going to lose many games the rest of the year if we do that.”
As long as Chicago plays quick, skilled and disciplined, there’s a good chance the Wolves can repeat as Central Division Champions.
Chicago’s next two games are against the last-place Manitoba Moose, and could be the four-point push it needs to regain the number one spot.