Wolfin’ It Down: Playing Catch-Up with the Wolves over Weeks 25 & 26

I clearly believe in the power of expectations.

My all-nighter's companions. No pressure, eh?

Well hello there, ladies and gentlemen! Since real life made it impossible for me to get a recap of week 25 up, you will be getting a double dose of Wolves hockey today! (And that may be the only thing I manage to be consistently excited about throughout this megapost. Oy.) I hereby dub today “Final(ly) Friday” in honor of the monster that is this post and how freaking long it took to get to all of you!

You might want to get a drink before you start reading. My Wolves cup and I will be waiting.

Let’s look at week 25 first, the week before last. The Wolves sandwiched a win between two losses, a move reminiscent of the week-24 IceHogs—except it didn’t make a difference for the IceHogs, who are securely at the bottom of their division and therefore out of playoff contention. On the other hand, the Wolves have put themselves in a very difficult position due to their inconsistency this week, staying just out of the playoffs and therefore making every remaining game more important. Sound familiar yet, Blackhawks fans? The highlight of this week was probably Edward Pasquale’s goaltending, which oftentimes was the only thing that kept the Wolves in the game. I am 100% impressed with him, particularly because he is so young and is doing so well. The numbers aren’t perfect yet, but he has definitely shown himself to be solid in the net and ready to take on whatever opposing teams bring on. Bravo! Now if only other people showed up to work, too…

Here’s the game-by-game for week 25:

Friday, March 25 at Milwaukee– The final game in the Amtrak Rivalry series, this was a weird game in that the Wolves lost to the admirals but won the Amtrak Rivalry trophy anyway, 6 games to 4. The Admirals opened the scoring, with Grant Lewis scoring at 9:42 in the first. A little over a minute later, Ryan Garbutt answered for the Wolves, tying the game and showing some hunger as he got the puck past the Admirals’ Jeremy Smith. At 12:34 the Admirals pulled ahead again, this time on a goal by Dylan Hunter that beat Edward Pasquale glove side. The second period had the Admirals extend their lead to 3 over 1, with Mark Van Guilder assisting on a Kelsey Wilson goal at 8:35. Both netminders were solid throughout the second and the start of the third, as Wilson’s was the only goal scored until 9:02 in the third. Said goal was scored by Gabriel Bourque, taking the Admirals up 4-1. Shortly after giving up the goal to Bourque, Pasquale, who had thus far stopped 17 shots, was replaced by Peter Mannino. At 11:40 in the third Michael Davies fed Spencer Machacek for a goal that cut the Admirals’ lead back down to two, but the Wolves did not have enough time to rally. The Admirals barely outshot the Wolves by one, but they were definitely hungrier for it, so they took the game 4-2. On top of getting the second goal, Spencer Machacek received honors as the Amtrak Rivalry MVP, who has tallied two goals and seven assists against the Admirals. He was also recently named the Wolves’ IOA/American Specialty Man of the Year and is therefore a candidate for the AHL’s Man of the Year. Congratulations, Spencer!

Saturday, March 26 vs. Hamilton- The Wolves came into this game looking way too much like the Blackhawks in terms of needing to win—and they showed their refusal to give up by playing hard for the entire game (hear that, Hawks?) even though the Bulldogs were just as hungry and playing just as hard. The win was hard-earned, and it let the Wolves hang on one more day to the three-way tie with Peoria and Oklahoma City for the fourth spot in the West Division of the Western Conference. Less than halfway into the first period, J.T. Wyman got the puck past Edward Pasquale to give the Bulldogs the lead at 8:36. The Wolves were not able to tie the game for the rest of the period or even in the second, as they went into the third period trailing 1-0. A little over six minutes into the third period, Mark Matheson received a Riley Holzapfel pass and ripped a goal past Drew MacIntyre (who began this season with the Wolves!). Goaltending was once again solid for both teams, and they went into overtime tied 1-1. The overtime was also scoreless, and the Wolves’ rally took them all the way to my least favorite: the shootout. Pasquale denied three out of the Bulldogs’ five shootout attempts, while MacIntyre only denied two—and so the Wolves took the game thanks to Mike Davies, Ryan Garbutt, and rookie Sergio Somma’s shootout goals. Somma had the game-winner, and this was only his second AHL game ever! The best part of this game was probably seeing Pasquale continue to be a beast in net. Not only did he stop 31 out of 32 shots over 65 minutes, but he also got an assist on Matheson’s goal! Shots on goal were pretty even, with the Bulldogs topping the Wolves 32-29, and both teams failed to convert on their power play opportunities, so not much to see there. The hardest part of this game was probably having to look at Nigel Dawes wearing a different team’s sweater. Sigh. Come back, Nigel!

Sunday, March 27 vs. Rockford- This game was kind of a hot mess, to be completely honest. The IceHogs came in red-hot, having won their previous three games and looking to extend their streak to a season-high four games. The Wolves came in from an unhappy loss, just out of playoff contention—the perfect recipe to come hungry and take the game home. The record between the teams was five wins for the Wolves versus just three for the IceHogs, so really, this game should’ve been in the Wolves’ hands, right? Except ‘should’ turned out to be the operative word, and the Wolves let the IceHogs control the game from the very beginning and take away the victory. To be honest, as much as I was frustrated, I ain’t even mad—the IceHogs have just skyrocketed over the past week or so, and they definitely worked hard for this win. I just wish they hadn’t trolled the Wolves and made their precarious position all the worse. (For a more thorough review of this game, you can read the special presentation post here.) The series is now 5 Wolves – 4 IceHogs, and there is one game left: the last game of both teams’ seasons, April 10 at the Allstate Arena. The IceHogs will want a tie, the Wolves will want to keep the lead… and I’m looking to attend this game somehow. Whether I watch in person or not, expect another special presentation about that match-up!

My brain thinking about week 26. (Image: Erik Swedlund/flickr)

Coming off a less-than-stellar week 25, the Wolves had a very clear mission: nut up or shut up. The AHL’s Western Conference currently resembles the NHL quite a bit in that it is making Kat and I want to hit our heads against hard surfaces, repeatedly—and in that it is such a tight race that several teams are tied for both points and wins, making playoff positions a guessing game even at this point, a scant week from the end of the regular season. In an attempt to regain their standing and secure a playoff position by breaking the three-way tie for fourth in their division, the Wolves came into week 26 needing to win. Things were looking kind of dire with the two-game stint in Texas, seeing as the Wolves have a 1-6-0-0 record in that state this season. They’ve also won more games on the road than at home, however, so there was hope to hang on to. They did manage to win one of the games in Texas—but then dropped the game at home rather spectacularly, making the picture a bit more dire than it has previously been. In the end, the Wolves have managed to stay right on the fringe of the playoffs, tying for fifth in the West Division, one point shy of the Barons’ fourth and final guaranteed playoff spot. I would rage about this week, particularly about the last game, but the Wolves’ head coach Don Lever did it for me: “We beat ourselves in the second period. We were playing frustrated and you can’t do that, you need to control yourself. We shot ourselves in the foot.” Well said, coach. Better luck next time, except we’re running out of time!

Let’s take a look at the game-by-game for week 26 before I rage further:

Thursday, March 31 at Houston- Now, this game is what I’m talking about, what I want to see from the Wolves! They floored the gas early in the first period and never let up, finally breaking the three-way tie with the Rivermen and the Barons, and therefore sitting in fourth place of the West Division on their own. My happiness, let me show you it. Even though the Aeros got on the board first with a Robbie Earl rebound at 5:28, the Wolves did not take long to respond. Spencer Machacek beat Matt Hackett on the power play at 12:01, tying the game. Andrey Zubarev passed the puck to Jared Ross to pull the Wolves ahead 2-1 at 14:36. Going to intermission with a lead was an exciting moment, but being a Blackhawks fan has taught me to not chant victory until the end of the game. As if they knew of my expectation, the Aeros went ahead and tied the game less than three minutes into the third period, with Robbie Earl once again beating Peter Mannino. Lest the Aeros begin celebrating, the Wolves regained the lead when Riley Holzapfel got Andre Deveaux’s rebound at 8:01 in the second. A minute and a half later, Darren Haydar gave the puck to Deveaux, giving the Wolves their second power play of the night and extending their lead 4-1. Hackett, who had stopped 22 shots, was then replaced by Josh Torjdman for the remainder of the game. The rest of the period remained scoreless, as did most of the third—until the Wolves got yet another power play goal, again by Deveaux, at 11:26 in the third. With less than three minutes left to play, the Aeros’ Chad Rau made it 5-3, but it was not to be, and the Wolves took the victory 5-3. Not only did the Wolves outshoot the Aeros 32-18, but they also scored on three power play opportunities out of five. My only gripe with this game was that the penalties were just out of control—including that whole fight situation at 16:55 in the third, where Deveaux, Huxley, and the Aeros’ Almond all got misconducts, not to mention roughing for Klingberg (who got an extra 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct) and the Aeros’ McMillan, and fighting majors for Zubarev and the Aeros’ Morency.

Friday, April 1 at Texas- I should have known better than to get too excited about the last win, as it was bound to explode in my face for this one. Oy. The first period was scoreless, although not for lack of trying, as both teams were working hard to create shots and also to block each others’. Less than three minutes into the second period, Colton Sceviour flipped the puck past Peter Mannino to give the Stars the lead. The Wolves were held scoreless throughout most of the period, and their penalty kill failed to prevent the Stars’ Maxime Fortunus from making the score 2-0 at 15:56 in the second. It was perhaps due to this that the Wolves seemed to get an energy boost, and with 2:26 left to play in the second Riley Holzapfel fed Jaime Sifers to beat Richard Bachman and make the score 2-1. 3:43 into the third period, the Wolves tied the game on an Andre Deveaux game, and then kept the Stars scoreless to force an overtime period. Yet the Wolves did not manage to strike again fast enough in overtime, with the Stars’ Phillip Larsen ending it 38 seconds in to give the victory to the home team. With the Wolves taking 7 penalties and the Stars taking five, I would say that both teams could have used a little bit more discipline. (Each team converted on one of their power play opportunities). The Wolves once again outshot the home team, this time by 7: 31-24. Sadly, it was not enough—but at least the Wolves managed to hang on to their fourth spot due to getting a point, staying above the Rivermen who are one point behind but have a game in hand.

Saturday, April 2 vs. Houston- The Aeros opened scoring with a power-play marker a little over five minutes into the first period thanks to Casey Wellman’s deflection of a Nate Prosser shot. The power play was once again instrumental as Paul Postma passed to Darren Haydar, who then beat Matt Hackett at 10:01. A five-on-three let the Aeros take the lead again, on a shot from Patrick O’Sullivan at 1:04 in the second period—and then they just did not let go of the gas, not once. About two minutes later Matt Kassian beat Edward Pasquale to make it 3-1… and at 8:22 Jon DiSalvatore made it 4-1 with another power-play goal. Peter Mannino came in to relieve Pasquale for the rest of the period, making four saves and allowing two goals: a fourth power play goal at 12:31 by Robbie Earl, and then a Chad Rau goal at 13:20 just as an Aeros power play expired. For those of you who were counting, that was three power play goals in less than twelve minutes. Clearly, the third period was pointless, as the Aeros had the game in the bag with a five-goal lead that held until the final score, 6-1. The Wolves outshot the Aeros 33-24 and still somehow managed to lose—probably because they decided that taking seven penalties in the second period was a wonderful idea. With a 77.6 on the penalty kill this season, you would think we would’ve stopped some more goals. And it’s not like we desperately needed to win this game, right? If you will excuse me, I will be in my corner, crying, as this was painful to watch even before my nerdy brain started calculating stats and making me cry harder.

The Wolves will face the Rivermen in Peoria tonight at 7:00PM, and will then face the San Antonio Rampage at home on Saturday at 7:00, and the Rockford IceHogs Sunday at 3:00PM. They will be playing these final three, decisive games with a pretty altered roster, as they released Adam Huxley and lost Andrey Zubarev to the Thrashers—but have acquired Michael Forney, Chris Carrozzi, and Patrick Galivan from the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, as well as Zach Redmond from the Thrashers and Kip Brennan from the Central Hockey League’s Allen Americans.

Godspeed, Wolves! I’m rooting for you in my Loyola gear right now!

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