ROSEMONT, Ill – Two games down, and a 2-0 record to show for it. It’s safe to say Rocky Thompson’s team is off to a much better start than it was last year, spoiling the Colorado Eagles’ inaugural American Hockey League home opening weekend with wins of 3-2 (OT) and 5-1.
Not only did they win by such a large margin on Saturday, but the Wolves managed to do so with just four defensemen on the ice after losing both Erik Brannstrom and Zach Whitecloud early in the game to injury.
“Right away, 10 minutes in, we only had four,” said Rocky. “So for the last 50 minutes of the game, pretty much, our guys had to play every other shift… You have Griffin Reinhart, Zac Leslie, Nic Hague and Jimmy Oligny sharing all that ice and I thought they did a really good job of battling… Our forwards really tried their best to pick up their pace and to play with the puck up ice and in the offensive zone… It was a real good team moment I thought. Our guys kinda – you could see it on the bench. They were really encouraging of one another and it was a really nice, unifying moment.”
While there has yet to be an official statement on the status of Brannstrom, Whitecloud returned to practice Wednesday.
Not only did the Chicago Wolves absolutely dominate in Saturday’s win, but Gage Quinney scored his first two goals in a Wolves sweater and Reid Duke got his first (and second!) professional goal during the game. Needless to say, Rocky Thompson was pleased with their performances.
“They were good. They had some offensive opportunities, they were able to capitalize on it. The Quinney – Daniel Carr – Tomas Hyka line generated a lot of chances over both games. 5-on-5, they were our best line and they generated opportunities and they were able to capitalize.
Duke, Curtis McKenzie and Stefan Matteau, we made it a big, heavy line for game two and they had the puck for quite a bit. They were physical and they still had speed… Reid was doing a great job winning draws and getting possession early. I think that’s what allowed them to capitalize and get some offense going on their moments on the ice 5-on-5.”
Duke, who will go down in history as the very first Vegas Golden Knights player, did keep the puck from his first goal, saying,
“For sure [I kept the puck]. It was one I’d been waiting to get for a long time, so I was happy to get that one… It was a long time coming. Long road back from what happened last season, so I was glad to get those out of the way early.”
Though it’s early in the season, I’d argue that Duke looks leaps and bounds to be a different player than he was last season recovering from an early injury. Whereas he would appear slow at times, now he’s fighting for pucks, winning important draws and contributing offensively in a way he did not appear to be able to do last season. If this Reid Duke is here to stay, VGK fans should be excited.
While at first glance one might be worried about Chicago’s 0/9 effort on the power play Saturday, it’s important to note three things. One, they had just four defensemen for the majority of the game, so it was much more conservative systems being played. Two, when winning by a fairly large margin, it allows coaches to mix and match and to try new things to see if something potentially works even better. Three, they scored one goal on the power play and another on a delayed penalty call the previous night, so it’s not as though this team is going a long time without a goal on the man advantage. And like Rocky says,
“Typically, when you see that many power plays handed out, it’s kind of funny. You don’t see a lot of goals scored on it. I don’t know why that is – I think it’s because you can’t get a real flow of the game and guys aren’t feeling great, etc.”
In other news, Hyka earned a call up to Vegas Wednesday evening to replace the injured Paul Stastny and played on the third line Thursday evening in the 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hyka was -1 with 3 shots on goal in 12:42 of ice time. Stastny will be out for a few weeks, so Chicago may have to do without the talented winger for a bit.
Speaking of home openers, the Chicago Wolves have theirs this weekend as they first face the Grand Rapids Griffins at home Saturday for a 7 p.m. puck drop, followed by a 3 p.m. puck drop against the Milwaukee Admirals. For their 25th anniversary season, the Wolves are debuting a new version of their preseason show and are also providing free parking to fans for all games.
The Griffins are currently 0-2 to start the season, having scored just one goal in two road games while allowing seven. The Wolves will catch Grand Rapids in the second of back-to-backs as the team from Michigan will be skating in its own home opener Friday evening against the Hershey Bears. While Grand Rapids was tagged to be an early Central Division heavyweight, they have yet to show this on the ice and they may come into Allstate Arena with something to prove.
Like Chicago, Milwaukee is also 2-0 to start the season with both wins coming on the road, though each win came by a one-goal margin. The Admirals will be catching the Bears on their second of back-to-backs as they host the 0-2 Atlantic team in their home opener Saturday night. When the Admirals come to Rosemont on Sunday, they will be facing a familiar face who is now on the opposing bench.
If his name seemed familiar, Wolves fans, it is because Oligny had spent the past four seasons with the Admirals before signing with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 1st. It’s always interesting when a player chooses to sign with another organization in the same division, and Oligny had this to say,
“I wanted a new start. It has been a while since I was in Milwaukee, I’ve been there for four years. I just wanted some change. I wanted a new start. That’s why I joined the Wolves.”
The heavyweight has brought some much-needed grit to the Wolves blueline, playing for Rocky Thompson in all situations in Saturday’s crazy game against the Eagles, and Rocky made sure to finger the leftie from Quebec as being a large part of that win. Oligny looks to continue to bring this competitive mindset in all games, but especially into Sunday’s game against his former team.
“I’m very excited. I’m going to do everything that’s in my power to beat them, that’s for sure. I just want to win most games against them.”
Look for Oscar Dansk (1-0, 1.98 goals against average, 0.931 save percentage) and Max Lagace (1-0, 1.01 GAA, 0.962 SV%) to split time in net again this weekend. If they continue with the usual rotation, Dansk will get the start Saturday and Lagace Sunday.