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Chicago Wolves back in action, win three of four

The Wolves could clinch the Central Division title this week.

With the AHL’s recent announcement that there will be no Calder Cup playoffs this season, the Chicago Wolves are playing largely for pride as they look forward towards their last six games of the season. With no postseason to prepare for, the focus for the Wolves will continue to be developing prospects and equipping them with the skills to be successful, no matter where they play next season.

The Central Division will crown a division champion, awarding the Sam Pollock Trophy to the team finishing in first place in the division ranked by points percentage. The Wolves have been running away with first place all season long, currently holding a points percentage of 0.722, representing 18 wins in 27 games.

First place is a familiar spot for the Wolves. With the exception of the unfinished 2019-20 season, the Wolves captured the top spot in their division for three consecutive seasons. This year, the Wolves can clinch the division title as early as Saturday, depending on how both they and the Cleveland Monsters, the number two team in the division, perform over the week.

Recent postponements due to COVID meant that the Wolves played a very limited number of games, in addition to having little practice time with a fully healthy roster. But this week was a rapid turnaround for the Wolves, who played two sets of three-in-three games, nearly all on the road. While their first post-COVID games were a struggle, the Wolves found their groove this week, winning three of four games.

Game 24: Wolves 5, Griffins 1

After losing five of their previous 10 games, the Wolves were looking to bounce back, and they did it in a big way against the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Wolves wasted no time in this one, coming out strong in the first period and scoring just over two minutes into the game, thanks to Phil Tomasino’s ninth goal of the season.

They put 12 shots on Griffins goaltender Kaden Fulcher in the first frame, with a good number of them coming from the dangerous spot right in front of the net. The Griffins, however, were consistently pushed to the sides of the ice, away from putting many truly dangerous shots on Antoine Bibeau, who was making just his sixth start of the season.

Hurricanes prospects Joey Keane and Dominik Bokk registered assists in the game. Defenseman Max Lajoie, acquired by the Hurricanes as part of the trade that sent Ryan Dzingel to Ottawa, has been excellent for the Wolves. His 18 points in 24 games are a new career high for him, topping the 17 points in 48 games that he recorded last season with the Belleville Senators. While Lajoie may not factor into the Hurricanes’ plans, he’s proven himself to be a steady figure on the Wolves’ ever-changing blue line.

Scoring: Anthony Richard, 2 G; Tommy Novak, 2 G; Phil Tomasino, 1 G 1 A; Joey Keane, 2 A; Max Lajoie, 2 A; Josh Healey, 1 A; Sheldon Rempal, 1 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A; Frederic Allard, 1 A

In net: Antoine Bibeau, saved 23 of 24, 0.958 Sv%

Game 25: Wolves 4, Griffins 2

Goaltender Connor Ingram picked up his first win of the season in this effort against the Griffins. Once again, the Wolves got out to an early lead, with Anthony Richard scoring shorthanded just five minutes into the first period. The early attack is something that had been missing in Wolves games recently, as they repeatedly found themselves surrendering the opening goal in games.

Compared to the previous night, where the teams racked up 34 combined penalty minutes, this game was relatively well-behaved, with just 10 total penalty minutes. The Wolves’ power play, which has struggled at times, was unable to capitalize on their two chances on the man advantage.

The Griffins pushed back in the second period, scoring two goals on 14 shots. The Wolves matched each of those, including a goal from David Cotton just about 90 seconds after the Griffins got on the board.

The Wolves wrapped up their night with a dominant third period, outshooting the Griffins 12-6 in a period where Grand Rapids needed a push to even up the score again. Max Lajoie put that out of reach with an empty net goal at 19:14 in the third period to seal the win for the Wolves.

Scoring: Max Lajoie, 1 G 2 A; David Cotton, 1 G 1 A; Anthony Richard, 1 G; Phil Tomasino, 1 G; Cavan Fitzgerald, 2 A; Tommy Novak, 2 A; Sean Malone, 1 A

In net: Connor Ingram, saved 29 of 31, 0.935 Sv%

Game 26: Wolves 4, Wild 1

In their first home game since April 3, the Wolves put together another dominant performance against the Iowa Wild. While missing five of six opportunities on the power play would usually hurt, the Wolves performed well enough at even strength — plus one power play goal and one shorthanded goal — that the special teams troubles didn’t impact them.

As has been the hallmark of Wolves/Wild games this season, the penalty minutes were sky-high: the teams amassed a combined 80 penalty minutes, including three fights. Perhaps more interesting was the “throwing the stick” penalty taken by Dominik Bokk, who tossed a fallen stick to a teammate, which is, of course, against the Wolves. The team killed off the penalty, but maybe everyone learned a little something new after that.

Also, let it be said that I promise to only use my powers for good:

Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky called this game one of their most complete games of the season, especially considering how emotional and physical the game was. The team continues to work in new players to the lineup; defenseman Marc Del Gazio is the latest to join the team after completing three seasons with the University of Massachusetts.

Scoring: Sheldon Rempal, 1 G 1 A; Sean Malone, 1 G; Phil Tomasino, 1 G; Zach Solow, 1 G; Joey Keane, 1 A; David Cotton, 1 A; Tommy Novak, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Luke Evangelista, 1 A

In net: Beck Warm, saved 26 of 27, 0.963 Sv%

Game 27: Wolves 2, Wild 5

The Wolves’ packed week — this was their sixth game in eight days — appeared to catch up with them. They put out a sluggish effort against a motivated Iowa team. The Wolves allowed a season-high 48 shots on net and took only 27, one of only eight times this season the Wolves put fewer than 30 shots on net.

Iowa set the tone early, scoring just 30 seconds into the game, and while Dominik Bokk scored a highlight reel goal later in the period, walking around the Iowa defense, the Wolves never gathered enough momentum to be able to turn the tide in their direction.

Once again the game was a penalty bonanza, with 102 penalty minutes between the two teams, including a line brawl midway through the third featuring two fights, five misconduct penalties, and a whole lot of wasted time as everything had to be sorted out.

Warsofsky wasn’t pleased with the team’s performance, particularly after the strong game the night before. The team did provide valuable experience for the younger players on the team in terms of playing this many games in a short time span, as well as an understanding of the physical nature of the AHL.

This game completed the season series between the two teams, with the Wolves finishing with a 6-2-0 record. The Wolves outscored the Wild 36-19 in the series.

Scoring: Dominik Bokk, 1 G; David Gust, 1 G; Tommy Novak, 1 A; Cole Smith, 1 A; David Warsofsky, 1 A; Marc Del Gaizo, 1 A

In net: Connor Ingram, saved 35 of 40, 0.875 Sv%; Beck Warm, saved 8 of 8, 1.000 Sv%