When COVID strikes, it’s not just the NHL team that’s impacted. Since Dec. 11, the Chicago Wolves have signed two players to PTO agreements and recalled three players from various ECHL squads. This is in order to fill roster holes created by the call-ups of Jack Drury, Josh Leivo, Andrew Poturalski, C.J. Smith and Stefan Noesen, as well as accounting for the injury to previously called-up defenseman Jalen Chatfield.
Much like when looking at an NHL team with a depleted roster, fans would likely have been understanding if the Wolves stumbled this past week. After all, this is a roster missing essentially their top six forwards and filled instead with depth players, journeymen, frequent healthy scratches, and ECHL call-ups.
Instead, the Wolves put together three gutsy performances to extend their winning streak to a league-leading 12 games. This winning streak ties a franchise record, set previously by the 1999-2000 Wolves team which won the International Hockey League’s Turner Cup.
Game 24: Wolves 4, Moose 3
The Wolves and Moose traded goals in this one, with Manitoba striking first. Manitoba had the edge in this game and in fact are the first team to outshoot the Wolves since November 6, ending a 16-game streak. That game also featured Manitoba as the opponent, with a 30-23 shot count in favor of the Moose.
While the Wolves never let the game get out of hand, they also never had a lead in this one. David Cotton’s power play goal in the third period stood as the tying tally and as the clock ticked down, it looked certain that the game would head to overtime.
Josh Leivo had a different idea.
Leivo collected a puck through the neutral zone from Jamieson Rees in the final seconds of the game. On a fantastic individual effort, Leivo carried the puck in, evaded the Moose defenders, and put the puck behind goaltender Mikhail Berdin with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.
The Wolves played this game without Andrew Poturalski, Stefan Noesen, and Jack Drury, all of whom had been recalled to the Hurricanes that day.
Scoring: Josh Leivo, 1 G, 2 A; Maxim Letunov, 1 G, 1 A; Artyom Serikov, 1 G; David Cotton, 1 G; Jamieson Rees, 2 A; Josh Jacobs, 1 A; C.J. Smith, 1 A; Joey Keane, 1 A
In net: Alex Lyon, saved 33 of 36, 0.917 Sv%
Game 25: Wolves 1, Admirals 0 (OT)
Having gotten in their requisite high scoring game with last second dramatics, the Wolves decided to turn to another hockey game classic: the goaltender’s duel.
For nearly 63 minutes, goaltenders Eetu Mäkiniemi and Connor Ingram played perfect games. Ingram in particular saw the bulk of the work, stopping 38 shots from the Wolves. It took a tremendous coast-to-cost play from Dominik Bokk to end the stalemate and earn the win for the Wolves.
The goal was Bokk’s second of the season and his first since November 19 against the Rockford Icehogs. After spending time as a healthy scratch earlier this season, Bokk has been playing more a more consistent game with and without the puck, and has been getting more ice time as a result (or reward). He’s been showcasing not only the scoring prowess that makes him a tantalizing figure to Hurricanes fans, but also the effort and hustle that the Wolves coaching staff has been hoping to get out of him.
Scoring: Dominik Bokk, 1 G
In net: Eetu Mäkiniemi, saved 25 of 25, 1.000 Sv%
Game 26: Wolves 4, Admirals 2
There wasn’t much turn-around time for either team to bounce back from the previous night’s game, which was quite the opposite of this one in terms of scoring. Only one goal in this game — David Gust’s game opening tally in the first period — came at even strength. The Admirals scored two power play goals, while the Wolves scored on the power play, shorthanded, and finally on the Admirals’ empty net.
Special teams have been a consistent struggle for the Wolves this season. The team’s success at even strength has been carrying them, but of course they need to be wary of relying too much on that, given that we know how often a well-timed power play goal can make the difference for a team.
For the Wolves, both the power play and penalty kill are ranked 20th in the AHL. Over this three game span, the Wolves had 20 opportunities with the man advantage and only recorded two goals. And while their struggles shorthanded didn’t come back to haunt them in this game, their penalty kill has caused its fair share of troubles throughout the season.
The Admirals did make this one close when forward Graham Knott scored with just over two minutes to play. The Admirals were already on the power play and then proceeded to pull the goalie to give them a 6-on-4 advantage. Spencer Smallman’s empty net goal a little over 30 seconds later secured the game for the Wolves.
Scoring: David Cotton, 1 G, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 G, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 G; David Gust, 1 G; Artyom Serikov, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Jesper Sellgren, 1 A; Sam Miletic, 1 A
In net: Alex Lyon, saved 29 of 31, 0.935 Sv%
The Wolves had two games scheduled against the Cleveland Monsters this week; however, the games were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols impacting the Wolves. Their next action is December 31 against the Rockford IceHogs. Assuming that the Hurricanes’ COVID situation is cleared up by then, the Wolves will be playing with a full roster as they take on their local rivals.