Eventually, COVID postponements come for us all, and the Chicago Wolves are no exception. The team was originally slated to play the Grand Rapids Griffins last week, on March 19 and March 23, but the games were postponed due to COVID protocols impacting the Wolves. (The AHL, unlike the NHL, does not release a COVID protocol list of players or other personnel who are unavailable to play.)
While those games have since been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 13, and Monday, April 26, that left the Wolves with nearly two weeks in between games. Strange gaps and inconsistent scheduling is nothing new for the AHL, where sometimes teams play three in three, and sometimes they get one game in a week. But two weeks is a significant gap, enough so that one would wonder how exactly the team would fare upon its return, with only two team practices before seeing action again.
Apparently there was nothing to worry about, as the Wolves swept their weekend series against Rockford and are now 5-0 this season against their local rival. The Wolves increased their lead in the Central Division, where they lead both in points (25) and points percentage (0.833).
Game 14: Chicago 6, Rockford 3
Facing off against Rockford goaltender Ivan Nalimov, making his North American professional debut, the Wolves wasted no time in getting on the scoresheet. Hurricanes prospect David Cotton scored just 24 seconds into the first period. Max Lajoie, acquired by the Hurricanes in January, scored just 17 seconds later to give the Wolves a 2-0 lead before the first minute of play was even up.
Cotton scored again on the power play to round out the first period of action, and then spent the rest of the game looking for the elusive third goal to complete the hat trick, which never materialized. He did wind up with five shots on goal, good for second on the team, behind the six shots of Dominik Bokk.
Bokk continued his strong run of play by recording a goal and an assist, giving him goals in four straight games. Coach Ryan Warsofsky spoke about Bokk’s growth after the game, citing his increased engagement in play as one of the biggest factors behind his improved performance.
“Slow start, to be expected for a younger kid that’s coming over from Europe, hasn’t played a North American ice sheet before,” Warsofsky said of Bokk. “Where he is now to where he was day one is much improved. He’s more engaged in the hockey game, he’s holding onto pucks, using his shot more. Obviously the points help and the goals help, but from a coaching standpoint, we’re looking at how he plays away from the puck, how he’s playing with the puck.”
Ryan Suzuki scored his fourth of the season, taking advantage of a Rockford misplay behind its own net.
Scoring: David Cotton, 2 G; Max Lajoie, 1 G 2 A; Tanner Jeannot, 1 G 2 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 G 1 A; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Tommy Novak, 3 A; Anthony Richard, 2 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 A
In Net: Antoine Bibeau, 0.885 Sv %, saved 23 of 26
Game 15: Chicago 5, Rockford 4
Sunday’s game saw two Nashville Predators prospects making their debuts for the Wolves. Forward Luke Evangelista drew into the lineup for the first time, as well as goaltender Devin Cooley, who has played most of the season for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, as well as spending time on Nashville’s taxi squad.
One of the more fascinating stats this season for the Wolves, which also happens to show exactly how dominant the team has been, is that until Sunday, there hadn’t been a lead change in a Wolves game since Feb. 6, when the Wolves came back from a 2-0 deficit to the IceHogs. Rockford opened scoring at 16:34 in the first period on the power play, giving them a relatively short-lived lead.
The Wolves got on the scoresheet with less than a minute to go in the first period thanks to Predators prospect Tanner Jeannot, who now has goals in five straight games, which stands as the longest active goal streak in the AHL. While the Wolves have no captain this season, Jeannot, a third year pro, is somewhat of the heartbeat of the team. He has a knack for scoring a timely goal or landing a big hit, and excels at taking up space at the front of the net to screen opposing goaltenders.
A wild second period saw five total goals — two from Rockford and three from Chicago — including Ryan Suzuki’s fifth of the season, a shot which ricocheted off a Rockford defenseman and into the net.
Jamieson Rees once again showed off his hands and his speed, scoring twice for the Wolves, including the game winner at 4:41 of the third period.
Scoring: Jamieson Rees, 2 G; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Tanner Jeannot, 1 G; Sean Malone, 1 G; Sheldon Rempal, 2 A; Phil Tomasino, 1 A; Matt Murphy, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Josh Healey, 1 A
In Net: Devin Cooley, 0.833 Sv %, saved 20 of 24