As the saying goes in sports, good teams will find a way to win, and the Chicago Wolves proved that adage over the past week. Whether it was a blowout win against a shorthanded team or having to stave off a last-minute rush from an opponent, the Wolves won all three of their games over the past week.
They are one of two undefeated teams in the AHL; the other, the Tucson Roadrunners, has played only four games to date. The Wolves’ seven-game unbeaten streak is the best in franchise history, and the Wolves show no sign of slowing down — despite the looming deadline for players like Seth Jarvis to be returned to their juniors teams (or, alternatively, called up to the NHL).
.@Chicago_Wolves With a 7-0-0 record, the 2020-21 #Wolves are off to the best start in franchise history— Mark Stencel (@Wolves1994) February 22, 2021
We can now start to look at where the 7 consecutive wins ranks for any time of the season in the teams history pic.twitter.com/N5W2DUvwpJ
The Wolves’ schedule remains light as their only opponent in the coming week is the Grand Rapids Griffins, who currently sit at second in the division. After losing their first two games to the Wolves, the Griffins have gone on to win three in a row and are led in scoring by veteran forward Riley Barber, who has six points in five games.
Game 5: Chicago 3, Rockford 2
Ryan Suzuki saw other first-year players having fun with goal scoring and thought: why not me? Suzuki, who had recorded assists in each of his previous two games, has been slightly overshadowed by the high-scoring performances from Seth Jarvis and Phil Tomasino. Coach Ryan Warsofsky continued to show faith and patience in Suzuki, however, and was rewarded on a first period power play, where Suzuki received a perfectly timed pass from Anthony Richard, giving Suzuki a nearly empty net to shoot at.
The Wolves went into the third period with a 3-0 lead. Predictably, the IceHogs, who had been outshot 15-7 in the first period, roared back over the final two frames, outshooting the Wolves 32-21 during that time. The IceHogs tallied two quick goals in the third period, with Chris Wilkie and Isaak Phillips scoring just 19 seconds apart.
First year goaltender Beck Warm stood tall through the Wolves’ somewhat sloppy play, however. A quick time out helped the Wolves regroup; Warm only faced eight shots over the last ten minutes of the game, all of which he turned away.
Despite the two quick goals against, Warm, signed as a free agent to an AHL contract, has been stellar for the Wolves, particularly given that he wasn’t expected to be seeing this much AHL action. Of course, that was before Antoine Bibeau was called up to the Hurricanes’ taxi squad and Anton Forsberg was claimed on waivers by the Winnipeg Jets.
While it’s hard to gain much meaning from goalie statistics in the AHL at the moment, given that we are so early in the season, Warm’s goals against average and save percentage place him in the ten goalies in the league.
Scoring: Anthony Richard, 1 G 1 A; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Phil Tomasino, 1 G; David Cotton, 1 A; Stelio Mattheos, 1 A; Seth Jarvis, 1 A; Tom Novak, 1 A; Jeremy Davies, 1 A
In Net: Beck Warm 0.949 Sv %, saved 37 of 39
Game 6: Chicago 10, Iowa 2
Yes, you read that right. The Wolves hung 10 goals on the Iowa Wild, depleted due to their NHL club’s COVID issues, playing a goaltender with only one other professional start under his belt. In recent seasons, the Wild have been a divisional juggernaut, but at least for now, they look like an easy win.
The Wolves scored four times in the first eight minutes of the game, and while anyone who watches hockey has seen a team come back from that sort of deficit, it was clear from watching the Wild that they weren’t going to have the sort of push-back needed to challenge the Wolves.
Warsofsky was pleased with the team’s performance from start to finish.
“Our start was outstanding, something we talked about,” he said. “Our effort, puck drop to the buzzer, was really good, and got some good goaltending.”
The Wolves needed that consistent effort and strong goaltending, too, as well as a successful penalty kill, given that the Wolves took six penalties and allowed double digit shots in each period. The physicality of the game was notable as well, as the Wild attempted to bring energy into their game via big hits.
When asked about keeping the team on track and avoiding complacency, Warsofsky emphasized taking the game shift by shift rather than being distracted by the lopsided score.
“Our focus level can’t waver in any way. We’ve got to make sure when we jump the boards, as individuals, we know what we’re doing with and without the puck,” he said after the game. “That was the coaches reminding, especially the younger players, let’s focus on your next shift, and that’s all we can worry about.”
Chicago’s performance was aided by the addition of Morgan Geekie, reassigned to the Wolves earlier that week after going scoreless over nine games with the Hurricanes. He wasted no time getting the Wolves on the board, scoring just 19 seconds into the first period, the team’s fastest opening goal since January 29, 2014. Geekie later added another goal and an assist.
Warsofsky acknowledged Geekie’s likely disappointment in being sent to the AHL, but spoke highly of his positive attitude and contributions to the team.
“Our job as coaches is to build him back up. Let’s try to fix those mistakes … We can’t do that overnight, it’s going to be a work in progress.”
When asked to elaborate on what Geekie needs to do to stick in the NHL, Warsofsky focused on urgency.
“As far as play away from the puck, have him playing with more speed and more pace in his game. … He’s a really good player, it’s just building him back up, getting the confidence back.”
For Geekie, knowing the coaching staff and many of the players helped the transition to the Wolves, despite not being able to spend much time with the team before his first game. Geekie also echoed Warsofsky’s thoughts in regards to what needs to improve in his game.
“I can play with a little more desperation and urgency and I think that’s been something that I’ve always needed to work on,” he said.
Scoring: Tom Novak, 1 G 3 A; Morgan Geekie, 2 G 1 A; Seth Jarvis, 2 G; Rem Pitlick, 2 G; Cole Smith, 1 G 1 A; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Anthony Richard, 1 G; Tanner Jeannot, 3 A; Frederic Allard, 3 A; Jeremy Davies, 2 A; Joey Keane, 1 A; David Cotton, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A
In Net: Jeremy Helvig, 0.946 Sv %, saved 35 of 37
Game 7: Chicago 4, Iowa 1
Both the Wolves and Morgan Geekie continued their strong play in their rematch against Iowa. The Wild played a much more competitive game, putting 41 shots on net and limiting the Wolves to just 14 total in the game. Beck Warm once again was outstanding for Chicago, allowing just one goal against and keeping his team in contention while they struggled to generate offense.
Despite the win, Warsofsky saw plenty of things the Wolves need to work on to keep their hot streak going.
“We were being way too cute in the second period,” he said. “Kind of got away from it a little bit, just trying to do too much, trying to make the pretty play, trying to be on SportsCenter. That’s not really always successful and you saw that tonight.”
There were many teachable moments for the young team, who were bailed out by a strong goaltending performance in a game that could have easily turned into a loss.
Morgan Geekie scored twice, giving him five points over two games. On Monday, he was named the AHL player of the week for his accomplishments.
Want to see @M_14Geekie light the lamp with his butt?— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) February 21, 2021
Our first goal officially has been changed from Keane to Geekie, who now owns four goals in five periods with our squad.#IAvsCHI #WeAreTheWolves pic.twitter.com/yqpcTe73wO
Scoring: Morgan Geekie, 2 G; Rem Pitlick, 1 G 1 A; Tanner Jeannot, 1 G; Joey Keane, 2 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; David Gust 1 A; Tom Novak, 1 A; Jeremy Davies, 1 A; Frederic Allard, 1 A
In Net: Beck Warm, 0.976 Sv %, saved 40 of 41