The Chicago Wolves, featuring an entirely new roster and almost entirely new coaching staff, opened their season last week with head coach Ryan Warsofsky looking to become the first Wolves head coach since Scott Arniel in the 2012-13 season to win his debut. Aside from the uncertainty and chaos created by playing in the midst of a pandemic, the Wolves also have to balance the needs of two different prospect groups, as the Nashville Predators have also sent the majority of their AHL-bound players to Chicago.
“Tomorrow is not really promised”
With a young, somewhat inexperienced roster, Warsofsky knows that this season may be an uphill battle for the Wolves at times. But if you thought Warsofsky would shelter his young players while they get acclimated to the professional game, you would be incorrect.
“They’re going to make mistakes, but sometimes you need to fail to realize what it takes to get to play at the next level,” Warsofsky said before the start of the season. “They’re going to go through their bumps and they’re going to go through their mistakes. But us as coaches need to make sure that they’re getting better and they’re learning from those mistakes.”
While Warsofsky has players from two different organizations on his roster, he isn’t concerned at all about managing the competing needs of the Predators and the Hurricanes.
“At the end of the day, we are the Chicago Wolves,” Warsofsky pointed out. “We’re not the Carolina Hurricanes, we’re not the Nashville Predators.”
He emphasized the need for players to play as a team in order to both create the best results for the Wolves and for players to maximize their chances for a call-up to the NHL or taxi squad.
Playing as a team is something Warsofsky hit on frequently in his comments before the start of the season, and something that he said has been a constant message to the team during practices.
“If they want to go out and play for Nashville or Carolina, they’ve got to be a team player, and you’ve got to sometimes put your ego to the side and understand we’re here, one, obviously, to get better individually. But we’re here to win hockey games and represent the Chicago Wolves.”
In a season which poses many unique challenges — from limitations on teammates being able to socialize and get to know each other away from the rink, to playing out of their practice facility rather than in an arena — Warsofsky’s approach is that of one game at a time.
“We’re going to take it day by day,” he said prior to the season, a sentiment which he echoed in comments after the team’s first game. “We’re going to try to control what we can control and one thing we can control is our effort, our attitude, our body language, and that’s the only thing we can do… As we know, in this COVID situation, tomorrow is not really promised.”
Game 1: Chicago 3, Grand Rapids 1
In a scene familiar to anyone who tuned in for the Wolves’ lone preseason matchup, the team found itself behind early as Grand Rapids converted on the power play. Also similar to their preseason game, the Wolves then went on to score three unanswered goals to collect their first win.
Notably, Seth Jarvis scored his first professional goal in the second period. Jarvis saw time on the second power play unit with fellow rookies Ryan Suzuki, Dominik Bokk and Philip Tomasino, as well as second-year pro Jeremy Davies. An excellent passing sequence led to a nearly empty net for Jarvis to shoot into.
Warsofsky didn’t hesitate to place his elite young talent on the same power play unit.
“They have a lot of skill, that’s probably their bread and butter,” he said, acknowledging that they’re all players who get a lot of special teams time on their respective juniors teams who can make great plays with time and space.
.@Chicago_Wolves At 19 years, 4 days old, Seth Jarvis becomes the 2nd youngest player in #Wolves history to record his first goal for the team (Zach Bogosian was 18 years, 172 days on 1/5/2009 when scoring his first for the Wolves.#GRvsCHI— Mark Stencel (@Wolves1994) February 6, 2021
Scoring: Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 G, 1 A; Seth Jarvis, 1 G; Tom Novak, 1 G; Philip Tomasino, 2 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A
In Net: Antonie Bibeau, 0.957 Sv %, 1.01 GAA
Game 2: Chicago 5, Rockford 4
The AHL season has already been impacted by COVID-19, with the Cleveland Monsters having to cancel a scheduled trip to Rockford due to COVID protocol issues. Suddenly left without an opponent for their home opener, the Rockford IceHogs turned to the Wolves to fill the empty space in the schedule. The Saturday afternoon game was announced on Thursday morning, and provided little turn-around time for the Wolves after their own home opener the previous evening.
Through two games, the Wolves have been shorthanded 11 times, currently tied for the most in the league with the Iowa Wild. And while an abundance of penalties isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, especially for a young team playing competitive hockey generally for the first time in about 10 months, it is a problem when you surrender three power play goals to your opponent.
The IceHogs took advantage of early mistakes by the Wolves to go up 2-0 early in the game, but the Wolves clawed themselves back into contention, largely on excellent performances from their young players. Jamieson Rees stood out in particular in this game, with a spectacular coast-to-coast effort that drew enough coverage to him that the IceHogs entirely forgot about Seth Jarvis, who had an easy tap-in goal to get the Wolves on the board.
Rees made nearly an identical play later in the game, this time resulting in his first professional goal when he crashed the net after carrying the puck just about 200 feet down the ice.
The final score makes this game seem much closer than it really was; after their penalty kill troubles, the Wolves largely dominated the game, affording few truly dangerous chances to the IceHogs. Goaltender Jeremy Helvig, appearing in just his third AHL game, earned his first win in the league since 2018.
Scoring: Seth Jarvis, 1 G, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 G, 1 A; Tom Novak, 2 A; Tanner Jeannot, 1 G; Rem Pitlick, 1 G; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 G; Joey Keane, 1 A; Jeremy Davies, 1 A; Alexandre Carrier, 1 A
In Net: Jeremy Helvig, 0.875 Sv %, 4.00 GAA