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Wolves battle back from embarrassing loss and goalie injuries for two spirited wins

No goalies? No problem!

Photo: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Ever wonder why it’s so important to have a strong goalie pipeline? Look no further than the Chicago Wolves’ last three games.

After a nearly three-week layoff thanks to the holiday break and COVID-related postponements, the Wolves prepared for another stint of three games in three days. They’d received nearly all of their players back from the Carolina Hurricanes, except for goaltender Alex Lyon, who was called back up on Jan. 7.

And, well, there’s where the problems started.

Lyon’s absence usually wouldn’t be a point of concern, as Eetu Makiniemi has proven to be more than capable in net. But Makiniemi is dealing with a nagging injury and is likely to miss the next few weeks of games.

Beck Warm, who acquitted himself well enough in the AHL last year to earn an NHL contract from the Hurricanes, has spent the majority of this season with the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals. Warm was recalled to the Wolves and then was promptly injured at morning skate, leaving the Wolves with no available goalies under contract to the organization.

So for Friday’s game against the Rockford IceHogs, the Wolves signed two goalies to PTOs: Michael Lackey and Caydon Edwards.

Lackey, 24, has been serving largely as the backup for the ECHL Indy Fuel, only starting three games this season. He spent last season with the Orlando Solar Bears after finishing up his college career. Lackey had to drive himself the three-plus hours from Indianapolis to Rosemont and arrived dangerously close to warm-ups.

Edwards, 30, is described by the Wolves as a “local semi-pro”. He works for a local goalie gear company and plays occasionally in the Great Lakes Hockey League, a nine-team semi-pro regional league.

With Edwards unlikely to see game action, and three games in three days on the schedule, the Wolves brought on Daniel Mannella for Saturday’s game. Mannella, 26, finished his college career with St. Lawrence University in 2019-20 and did not play this past season. This year, he’s been with the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers and in fact was on the road with them in Texas when he got the call.

But wait, there’s more!

Lackey started Saturday’s game but left halfway through with an injury, pressing Mannella into service. Given how the weekend had played out already, the Wolves made some more calls to find an additional goaltender to back up for Sunday. They called in Billy Christopoulos from the Toledo Walleye for the weekend’s final game. Christopoulos, 27 and a Raleigh native, spent the past two seasons largely in the ECHL but is probably best known for helping lead Air Force to an improbable victory over number one ranked St. Cloud State back in 2018 in the NCAA West Regional games.

All that to say: are you surprised now that the Hurricanes lured Jack LaFontaine away from the NCAA in the middle of the season? You probably shouldn’t be.

Game 27: Wolves 0, IceHogs 8

Some games don’t deserve to be talked about. This is one of them.

Ryan Warsofsky’s quote from the following night regarding the loss says more than any recap ever could: “That is a game that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It was embarrassing. I know we want to move on and we are moving on, but those are the games that coaches remember, until the day I die. It’s unfortunate.”

Scoring: nope

In net: Michael Lackey, saved 27 of 35, 0.771 Sv%

Game 28: Wolves 6, Wild 2

Okay, so we actually do need to talk about that 8-0 loss first.

Despite playing a goalie making his AHL debut, that loss shouldn’t have been pinned on Michael Lackey. The team in front of him put together a terrible performance from start to finish, looking nothing like the Chicago Wolves who had been on a 12-game winning streak. The team probably didn’t need coach Ryan Warsofsky to tell them that they needed to be better in their next outing.

Whatever the message was, it was well received by the team, who were fully in control of this game and never trailed after Stefan Noesen opened scoring just 1:28 into the first period and made his presence known for the whole game, registering another goal and an assist along with five shots on goal.

Lackey was credited with the win, as the eventual gamewinner was Andrew Poturalski’s power play goal at 2:11 in the second period. Lackey was pulled just over eight minutes into the second period and was replaced by Mannella, who stopped every shot he faced.

Warsofsky was pleased with the team’s response after their loss in Rockford. Talking about that loss, Warsofsky admitted that, “as a coach, sometimes when you lose, you don’t know when you’re gonna win again.” After meeting with the players, though, Warsofsky felt that the players were ready to make amends for the prior night’s performance.

The game against Iowa was dubbed a good 60 minute effort, particularly from their goalies. “I thought they gave us a chance to win. Even last night, Lackey played well,” Warsofsky said. “I know he let in eight but that was on us, that’s not on him. We felt terrible for the kid.”

Scoring: Andrew Poturalski, 2 G, 1 A; Stefan Noesen, 2 G, 1 A; Sam Miletic, 1 G, 2 A; Ivan Lodnia, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 2 A; C.J. Smith, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 A; Josh Jacobs, 1 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A; Jesper Sellgren, 1 A

In net: Michael Lackey, saved 11 of 13, 0.846 Sv %; Daniel Mannella, saved 16 of 16, 1.000 Sv %

Game 28: Wolves 4, Monsters 3

In contrast to the Wolves’ strong start on Saturday, Sunday’s game threatened to be more like Friday’s, given the team’s slow start. The Cleveland Monsters opened scoring just 35 seconds into the game after putting several shots on Mannella. While goals from Jack Drury and Artyom Serikov gave the team the lead at the end of the first period, a poor second period saw the Monsters pull back ahead.

While Warsofsky wouldn’t reveal who said what during that intermission, the Wolves came out and played a physical, gutsy third period. Poturalski scored the game tying goal 24 seconds into the third, and Noesen put in the game winner on the power play at 9:53. The Wolves maintained possession for much of the period and weathered a late penalty to Joey Keane without surrendering a goal.

The Wolves allowed zero shots in the third period, marking just the second time in franchise history that they didn’t allow a single shot for an entire period. (The previous occurrence came in 2005.) Several players made huge blocks in the final sequences of the game to not only preserve the lead but also to keep pucks from reaching Mannella.

After the game, Mannella described his whirlwind of a weekend. “I was pretty surprised when I got the call Friday night, but [...] I just wanted to make the most of it.” For him, keeping focus on the game was crucial. “The game is the same no matter what level you’re at. You just try and do what you can do and focus on what you can control and at the end of the day, the results will take care of themselves.”

Mannella called the team’s third period effort incredible. “I can’t say enough about the guys in front of me tonight. They played unbelievable and you know, it was a complete team win.”

Scoring: Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 2 A; Stefan Noesen, 1 G, 1 A; Artyom Serikov, 1 G; Jack Drury, 1 G; C.J. Smith, 2 A; Joey Keane, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 A; Sam Miletic, 1 A

In net: Daniel Mannella, saved 24 of 27, 0.889 Sv%